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Manager defends firing
Other employees also disciplined
Chance
Chance

 

Testimony is expected to continue Thursday in a hearing to determine if Forsyth County’s former planning director can get his job back.

Jeff Chance has appealed his termination, which this summer came after an investigation that turned up several questionable, personal e-mails sent and received on his county account.

The hearing before the Forsyth County Civil Service Board began Tuesday.

County Manager Doug Derrer, the county’s first witness, testified for several hours in the afternoon and defended the county's decision to terminate Chance. His testimony will resume Thursday.

Others on the witness list include Commission Chairman Charles Laughinghouse, County Attorney Ken Jarrard, Personnel Services Director Pat Carson and Planning Commissioner Brant Meadows.

In opening arguments earlier Tuesday, attorneys for both sides laid out their case.

Chance's attorney, Eric Chofnas, said his client was a casualty of a political campaign and terminated after a biased and incompetent investigation.

Denny Brown, attorney for the county, countered that Chance repeatedly failed to follow and enforce county policies.

Tuesday, Derrer said Chance was fired following an investigation of his computer use at work in which several sexually suggestive e-mails between the former planning director and his girlfriend surfaced. Racially charged e-mails between Chance and other employees also turned up in his county account.

In addition, phone records for Chance’s county issued cell phone showed the number he called the most was that of a company where his girlfriend was employed.

Derrer said termination was a more appropriate step to take than progressive discipline.

“Considering the volume of e-mails, the content of e-mails, the fact that he’s a director, he condoned this activity for I don’t know how long -- many months -- and didn’t take action, directors are held to a higher standard, they are to set an example,” Derrer said.

“Those are all reasons that, in my opinion, a director should be removed.”

The probe also uncovered profanity-laced messages between Chance and Forsyth County Engineering Director John Cunard.

Derrer said Cunard received a written reprimand after a review of his e-mails.

“John Cunard had very few e-mails that were inappropriate,” Derrer said.

Other county employees who had sent questionable e-mails to Chance were suspended for three days without pay.

Derrer said that he’d sent a directive to department heads in 2009 detailing proper use of county computers, cell phones and other equipment.

The county manager said Chance responded with an e-mail asking if checking a school Web site or 401K information was appropriate.

At that point, Derrer said he went to Chance’s office to reiterate the rules against personal use of county equipment laid out in the directive were to be followed.

A 15-year employee of the county, Chance had led the department since 2003. His annual salary was $92,104.

The commission voted in August to fire him after he had been suspended with pay since May.

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

He asserts that his rights were violated when the county launched its investigation, which Chance contends was in retaliation for reporting that Meadows, the planning official, had threatened his job.

The threats were allegedly made when the two disagreed on a matter involving a conditional use permit for property on Friendship Circle.

Chance contends in the lawsuit that Meadows told him he would “destroy him” if he failed to go along with a decision to require 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."

It 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.