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Chance presents his side of story
Ex-official details allegations, e-mails
Chance
Chance

 

Jeff Chance testified Tuesday that he may have spent about an hour over a four-month span sending e-mails to his girlfriend.

He and his attorney maintain, however, that activity was not the real reason Chance lost his job.

The county's former planning director, Chance told the local Civil Service Board that all of the correspondence with her amounted to about 1,300 words.

“Estimate it takes me about three seconds to write a word,” Chance said. “I think in four months time that gets to be about an hour. Break that down. I think that’s less than a minute a day.”

Chance is appealing his August termination to the local board. Its hearing, which began Nov. 16, is expected continue after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, with Chance again taking the stand.

Several county officials have previously testified that Chance lost his job for failing to enforce and comply with several policies.

In addition to the e-mails to his girlfriend, some of which were sexually suggestive, the investigation turned up questionable Internet activity.

Some employees interviewed during the probe also contended Chance allowed certain staff members to take extended smoke and lunch breaks, which it was later estimated cost the county about $19,500 to $39,000.

Chance’s attorney, Eric Chofnas, has argued that the investigation was “biased and shockingly incompetent” and instigated for political reasons.

Chance testified briefly Tuesday about the e-mails and allegations.

He admitted some of the messages he and his girlfriend exchanged were suggestive and inappropriate, but the county's policy was "conflicting.”

He said he had communicated with a college friend via e-mail about getting on a social networking Web site, but he didn’t remember accessing it.

Chance also denied reading a series of e-mails sent to him by employee Missy Pruitt, although the county's interim information technology director, Bryan Converse, had previously testified that the e-mails were marked as having been read.

At least one of the e-mails contained images of half-naked women, while others contained racist jokes. Chance didn’t deny that the e-mails were inappropriate, adding that he should’ve read them and “put a stop to it.”

“In regards to these e-mails, I wish I would’ve done things differently,” he said, explaining that he just hadn’t gotten around to speaking with Pruitt and her supervisor about the issue.

According to earlier testimony, Pruitt was suspended for three days without pay, as was her supervisor, Deborah Ertzberger, in connection with the inappropriate e-mails.

Chance also denied giving certain employees permission to take extended breaks, as well as having any knowledge that was happening.

Also this week, the civil service board has heard testimony from Deputy County Manager Tim Merritt, who said Chance told him on April 21 he thought Planning Commissioner Brant Meadows was “out to get him.”

The issue stems from a conflict surrounding a conditional use permit application by United Recycling for property on Friendship Circle.

Chance had determined it was not necessary for the company to apply for the permit because one already existed for the site.

However, according to testimony presented during the hearing, Meadows disagreed with Chance, who later reversed his decision.

Merritt said an April 23 meeting to discuss the application began with a “loud confrontation” between Meadows and Commission Chairman Charles Laughinghouse. 

Merritt said Laughinghouse reprimanded Meadows for accusations and conversations that the planning commissioner reportedly had with planning department staff.

Laughinghouse has previously testified that he was angry with Meadows because he thought the issue had been resolved. Furthermore, the chairman didn’t understand why Meadows changed his mind and maintained the permit wasn’t valid.

Merritt said much of the conversation about the application centered around whether the permit was appropriate.

“I was there really in support of Jeff because Jeff had some concerns about Brant Meadows,” Merritt said.

He said Meadows threatened Chance’s job during the April 23 meeting.

“I do not recall his exact words," Merritt said. "The words were something to the effect of, ‘I’ll have your job’ or something to that effect."

He said he didn’t take Meadows’ threats seriously because Meadows didn’t have the power or authority to put Chance’s job in jeopardy.

The company was allowed to withdraw its application, with prejudice, and a public hearing that was scheduled for April 27 on the matter was cancelled.

Meadows eventually filed an open records request for Chance’s e-mails, which led to the discovery of the questionable activity.

Chofnas and at least one witness have contended that Meadows may have wanted to use the issue in his campaign to succeed Laughinghouse as District 1 county commissioner.

Laughinghouse chose not to seek a third term, but Meadows lost his Republican primary bid.

Chance has also filed suit against the county under the Georgia Whistleblower Act.

He contends that the investigation was in retaliation for Chance reporting that Meadows had threatened his job when the two disagreed on the United Recycling matter.

Chance contends in the lawsuit that Meadows told him he would "destroy him" if he failed to reverse his decision.

The county, in its response to the complaint, has denied the allegations.

The response states the county would've taken the same action against Chance in the "absence of (Chance's) alleged disclosure."

The county also contends Chance doesn't qualify as a whistleblower and the local government didn't take retaliatory action with respect to the Georgia Whistleblower Act.

Testimony is expected to continue Monday. Along with Chance, County Attorney Ken Jarrard, County Commissioner Patrick Bell and Meadows are expected to testify.