It appears the Forsyth County Civil Service Board will have to revisit its decision to uphold Jeff Chance’s termination.
In an order signed Thursday, Forsyth County Chief Superior Court Judge Jeffrey S. Bagley reversed the board’s finding and ruled it must reconsider the issue of whether the former planning director’s dismissal was made under false pretenses.
The order goes on to note that Chance must prove the reason given for his termination was not the true reason he was fired.
Further, it shows that he must either persuade the three-member panel that the county more likely ended his employment for a discriminatory reason or that the county’s explanation was not credible.
The board is not required to reopen the evidence presented during Chance’s appeal hearing, which spanned parts of three weeks beginning Nov. 16.
Once the board has made its findings on the claims, Chance may again petition the court.
Chance’s attorney, Eric Chofnas, filed a petition in January asking that a judge either sustain his client’s appeal or order the board to reconsider it.
Chofnas said Friday he was pleased with Bagley’s ruling and noted that he had asked the judge to order his client’s reinstatement.
“But he didn’t go all the way,” Chofnas said. “He basically took us down to the five-yard line … and we’ve got to get back in front of the board and punch the ball across the goal line. And I think we will.”
Chofnas said while there will not be a new hearing on the matter, he plans to file a request for argumentws before the board.
He said Chance, if reinstated, would likely receive back pay.
The civil service board has scheduled a special called meeting this week to discuss Bagley’s order.
Tim Buckley, who represented the county during the appeal hearing, could not be reached for comment.
Chance, who worked for the county wfor about 15 years, was fired in August 2010 after an investigation of his management practices and computer use.
He contends his termination was politically motivated, while the county has held the decision was based on his failure to comply with and enforce policies.
In a decision released in December, the board upheld the county commission’s decision to dismiss Chance.
The report shows the board found that the investigation and discipline against the former planning director was “motivated in large part by improper political motives and accompanied by a poor quality investigation. That wrong, however, cannot diminish the wrong of your behavior.”
In addition, the board asserted it lacks the proper authority to take action against the improper political behavior, except for an ethics complaint it lodged against former Planning Commissioner Brant Meadows.
The complaint, which was ultimately dismissed, was the result of testimony during Chance’s eight-day civil service appeal hearing.
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.
The county’s investigation was prompted by Meadows’ review of Chance’s county e-mail, which revealed messages of a sexually and racially charged nature between Chance, his girlfriend and other county employees.
The county’s investigation found that Chance, who was making about $92,000 a year, used profanity at work and permitted employees to waste county time.
The civil service board supported three of the 12 findings in the county’s investigation and partially upheld four other findings. The remaining five were not sustained.
Chofnas has argued that Meadows wanted to publicly oppose a request for a conditional use permit and Chance’s decision removed the matter from the planning commission’s jurisdiction.
Chance, who contends that Meadows threatened to “destroy him” if he failed to reverse his decision on the planning issue, filed suit against the county last summer on the grounds his rights as a whistleblower had been violated.
Chofnas said paying his client for the time he has been out of work wouldn’t resolve all the potential claims under the whistleblower case, “but it would certainly be a good start toward resolving this entire situation.”
He noted that a ruling has not yet been issued on the county’s motion for summary judgment in that case, which was filed in spring.