Decision at a glance
The following is an abbreviated breakdown of the Forsyth County Civil Service Board's ruling on the 12 findings in Forsyth County's investigation of Jeff Chance, its former planning director:
1. Chance continually used county cell phone, computer equipment and systems during working hours for personal use; Chance spent extensive time talking to his girlfriend on the phone and through e-mails containing sexually explicit content; Chance's other personal e-mails also included profanity.
2. Chance was copied on an extensive number of personal e-mails and attachments from staff, content which was inappropriate and could be considered pornographic, offensive and racial in nature.
3. Chance used county equipment during working hours to visit several Internet sites that were not business related.
4. Chance knowingly allowed planning and development staff to continually use county equipment and systems during work hours for personal use.
5. Chance regularly used verbal profanity in the office and allowed staff to do so as well.
Evidence substantiates the finding, however, the violation is not sufficient to justify termination.
6. Chance used written profanity directed toward staff, fellow employees and friends. Some e-mails contained messages that could be considered as racial innuendoes.
The first sentence is sustained, but insufficient to justify termination. The second sentence is not sustained.
7. A specific group of seven planning and development employees have regularly taken up to an additional hour of break time for several years.
No evidence that Chance participated in extended breaks, but did tolerate them. Sustained in part, not sustained in part.
8. Chance continued to receive and allow exchanges of personal and inappropriate e-mails within the business license division. He did not share this knowledge with the assistant planning director when the assistant planning director took responsibility of the division in January. The inaction undermined the assistant planning director's authority and diminished his ability to reallocate duties within the division.
First sentence is sustained. The rest of the finding is not sustained.
9. Even though the inspection division reports to Chance, inspectors have rarely seen or even knew what he looked like.
10. There was a split of divisions within the department due to a lack of uniform application and enforcement of policies.
11. Chance failed to follow directives of county manager.
12. Chance regularly practiced putting golf balls in the planning and development department hallway during county time.
Sustained in part. Is not sufficient to justify termination.
Source: Forsyth County Civil Service Board
It may be up to a judge to determine if Jeff Chance can get his job back.
Despite misgivings about the investigation leading up to his dismissal, the Forsyth County Civil Service Board has denied Chance's appeal.
In a decision released this week, the three-member board upheld the county commission's August decision to fire Chance, the county's former planning director.
"The board finds that the investigation and eventual discipline against you was motivated in large part by improper political motives and accompanied by a poor quality investigation," the report shows. "That wrong, however, cannot diminish the wrong of your behavior."
Chance's attorney, Eric S. Chofnas, said he and his client would decide soon if they want to appeal the board's decision in Forsyth County Superior Court.
The civil service board's report goes on to say that it lacks the proper authority to take action against the improper political behavior, other than the ethics complaint it lodged against Planning Commissioner Brant Meadows.
The ethics complaint stemmed from testimony during the eight-day civil service appeal hearing, which began Nov. 16 and spanned parts of three weeks.
Witnesses testified that Meadows had threatened Chance's job and tried to force a public hearing on a zoning matter in an effort to bolster his unsuccessful campaign for county commission.
It was Meadows' review of Chance's county e-mail activity that prompted the county's investigation.
As a result of the open records request, Meadows discovered messages of a sexually and racially charged nature between Chance, his girlfriend and other county employees.
The county's investigation concluded that Chance, who had worked for the county since 1995 and was making about $92,000 a year, used profanity at work and permitted employees to waste county time.
Chofnas had argued that the decision to investigate and fire Chance was politically motivated. Attorneys for the county countered the dismissal was due to the former planning director's failure to comply with and enforce county policies.
The civil service board supported three of the 12 findings in the county's investigation of Chance's on-the-clock activities. Four other findings were partially upheld, while the remaining five findings were not sustained.
In its report, the board tells Chance that "while others may have acted improperly and unethically, you repeatedly violated numerous county policies."
County Manager Doug Derrer reviewed the findings of the investigation, conducted by Personnel Services Director Pat Carson with help from Deputy County Manager Tim Merritt, and recommended Chance be fired.
He stood by his recommendation during the hearing, saying the investigation produced overwhelming evidence against Chance. In a statement released Tuesday, Derrer welcomed the board's decision.
"Forsyth County has an established procedure to address matters such as these," he said. "I trust that the civil service board’s decision was based on the facts and merits of the case and is consistent with established procedures."
Chofnas said the board's decision didn't make sense.
"If you go through and you read it, you'll see that they basically adopted rulings that supported everything that we argued," Chofnas said. "They found that the report the county produced was not accurate and was poorly prepared.
"And then at the end they say that the investigation and the action against him were based on improper political motives, but then they just sort of throw up their hands and say that, 'There's nothing we can do about that, we don't have the authority.' And that's not true."
Chofnas said he and his client are disappointed by the result.
"It's obviously also going to invite the county to use the same type of tactics the next time it has an employee it wants to get rid of," he said.
The attorney added, however, that the decision likely will strengthen their lawsuit against the county.
In July, Chance filed a whistleblower suit, contending that Meadows told him he would "destroy him" if he failed to reverse his decision on the planning issue.
"The particular finding that this was based on improper political motivations, that's the essence of the whistleblower lawsuit," Chofnas said. "So that, if anything, strengthens our claim here."
The county, in its response to the lawsuit, has denied the allegations. The response states the county would've taken the same action against Chance in the "absence of (his) alleged disclosure."