Forsyth County commissioners have begun reviewing thousands of questionable e-mail messages in determining planning director Jeff Chance’s fate.
Commissioners have received copies of the investigative report from staff and likely will make a decision on Chance in the next couple of weeks, said Chairman Charles Laughinghouse, who declined to comment further on the matter.
Chance, a 15-year-county employee, has been on paid administrative leave since May 12.
His suspension, which was again extended by 20 days Wednesday, is expected to come to a close no later than the end of July.
Commissioner Patrick Bell said he received his copy of the investigation Tuesday and has since spent hours reviewing the thousands of messages it contains.
Bell said Chance’s e-mails, which range from private messages sent to his girlfriend to receiving photos with inappropriate images, contain photos and jokes that are in “poor taste.”
“It’s not tasteful, but it’s not pornographic,” Bell said. “It’s not illegal and it’s not immoral.
Prior to Wednesday, officials had said only that the investigation involved Chance’s county e-mail correspondence and “some questionable management practices.”
The county has not publicly released the e-mails or the report, since they “are currently subject to an investigation,” County Attorney Ken Jarrard said.
Jarrard added that county e-mail policy is dictated by internal county documents, as well as the employee handbook.
Chance could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Bell said the photos in question had been sent to Chance, who didn’t forward them out.
“Somebody sent them to him,” Bell said. “That was unfortunately one of his staff members, and he didn’t take care of that.”
It could not be determined what, if any, punishment the staff member may face.
Some of Chance’s e-mails had also been deleted, Bell said, though they still remained on the county’s server.
Bell felt that none of the messages compromised county business and therefore didn’t warrant the harshest punishment possible.
“While it’s certainly a lapse in judgment — and I would expect that a director would hold themselves to a higher standard — to me, I can’t see the guy losing his job over it,” he said.
Bell said the e-mails were brought to the county’s attention by Brant Meadows, a member of the county’s planning board and a candidate for the District 1 county commission post.
Meadows submitted an open records request for Chance’s e-mails shortly after a decision on United Recycling that the two officials had disagreed over, Bell said.
The company’s request for a conditional-use permit was withdrawn without prejudice during an April 27 planning board meeting.
Planning documents show the firm sought permission for an open storage yard and recycling center off Friendship Road in District 1.
“This is a man’s 15-year career that we’re talking about because one planning commissioner got upset that [Chance] made an administrative decision that he didn’t like,” he said.
“It’s the wrong way to force a zoning issue, it’s the wrong way to get revenge and it’s the wrong way to run for office.”
Contacted Wednesday, Meadows cited the pending investigation.
“Out of respect for the individuals involved, I’ve got no comment,” he said.
Chance has been an employee of the county since June 26, 1995, and has an annual salary of $92,104.
Staff Writer Jennifer Sami contributed to this report.