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Hearing over job nears end
Closing arguments in case expected Thursday
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Forsyth County News

 


Testimony is expected to conclude Thursday in a civil service hearing to determine whether Forsyth County’s former planning director should regain his job.

Jeff Chance has appealed his August dismissal to the Civil Service Board, which will have 30 days after the hearing to render its decision.

Chance contends his firing was politically motivated, while the county has argued the decision was based on an investigation that turned up sexually and racially charged e-mails and other questionable on-the-clock activity.

Since the hearing began Nov. 16, attorney Eric Chofnas has said his client’s employment woes centered around a conditional use permit that United Recycling sought in April for a Friendship Circle site.

Chance has testified he informed United’s attorney, Emory Lipscomb, that a new application would not be necessary because one already existed for the site.

Chance and others have also testified that Planning Commissioner Brant Meadows disagreed with Chance’s decision and wanted to force United to apply for the permit so a public hearing could be held on the matter.

Lipscomb testified last week that he thought Meadows wanted to use the public hearing to bolster his campaign for the District 1 County Commission seat, currently held by Commission Chairman Charles Laughinghouse.

Laughinghouse didn’t seek re-election and Meadows lost his bid for the post in the July Republican primary.

Chance testified Monday that Laughinghouse called him into his office April 23 and tried to persuade him to agree with Meadows.

The conversation reportedly took place prior to a meeting about the matter with Meadows, County Attorney Ken Jarrard and Deputy County Manager Tim Merritt.

Chance said Laughinghouse told him “let’s do it Brant’s way” and that he would vote against the new permit application when it reached the county commission.

“He said it again in front of all those people,” Chance said.

Chance also said Meadows had threatened him and he changed his mind on the issue for fear of losing his job.

He said Meadows also told him he planned to file an open records request for all of Chance’s e-mails since 1995.

“He wanted all of them because it was his plan to strip me of all my authority as director,” said Chance, adding that Meadows also wanted his phone records.

In testimony last week, Laughinghouse denied encouraging Chance to reverse his decision and go along with Meadows. Rather, he said, he asked how Chance was doing out of concern for personal issues the planning director had been going through.

The investigation also found that Chance and his subordinates had putted golf balls in the hallway of the planning department and that Chance had done so in his own office.

Chance did not deny the findings, but said the activity was not a regular occurrence.

“That started as a Christmas tradition,” said Chance, adding that the practice began with his predecessor, Jeff Watkins.

Chance said he and other county employees would take the last 10 to 15 minutes of the days around the Christmas break to putt golf balls. He said he was also on the phone “95 percent of the time” when he putted in his office.

Chance confirmed County Manager Doug Derrer had discussed with him an anonymous e-mail he had received about the putting, but never told him to remove his golf clubs from the office.

Also Tuesday, the three-member civil service board heard testimony from County Attorney Ken Jarrard. Also on the witness list are Meadows, Derrer, who could be recalled for additional questioning, and Patrick Bell.

Both sides are expected to give closing arguments Thursday.

In addition to the civil service hearing, Chance has filed suit against the county under the Georgia Whistleblower Act.

He contends that the investigation was in retaliation for him reporting that Meadows had threatened his job.

Chance contends in the lawsuit that Meadows told him he would “destroy him” if he failed to reverse his decision on the permit.

The county has denied the allegations. Its 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.