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No decision yet on planning director
Hearing set for next week
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Forsyth County News

Forsyth County commissioners on Wednesday took what was described as the next step in deliberating the fate of the county's suspended planning director.

Jeff Chance has been on paid administrative leave since May 12 while the county investigated his e-mails and what County Manager Doug Derrer has described as some "questionable management practices."

With the county's investigation complete, the commission moved forward with the process, which includes releasing the findings to Chance, getting his feedback and conducting a pre-termination meeting next week.

Chairman Charles Laughinghouse explained that those were simply the actions required in considering whether to end Chance's employment.

Several options will be discussed at the July 15 meeting.

"This board has taken no official action and has reached no decision, but in order to comply with civil service regulations it is necessary that we do this," Laughinghouse said.

The commission voted 4-1, with Commissioner Patrick Bell opposed, to move forward on the time-sensitive matter.

Chance showed no reaction while attending the work session.

Bell noted the complaint that sparked the investigation was filed by Brant Meadows, a planning commissioner and candidate for the District 1 commission post that Laughinghouse is vacating.

"I can't believe we're continuing this process for the potential termination of a 15-year employee that's had continual satisfactory reviews based on an apparent vendetta initiated by ... Meadows," Bell said.

"His vendetta toward the director is based the director's refusal to reverse an administrative decision, even in the alleged threat of losing his job."

Meadows said in a statement Thursday that Bell "should know better" than to comment on personnel matters that haven't been resolved.

"Given that Patrick is publicly supporting my opponent, a comment like that is not totally unpredictable," he said.

Meadows faces Pete Amos in the July 20 Republican primary for the District 1 seat.

According to the complaint filed by Meadows, Chance's e-mails sent and received at work contained several messages "laced with profanity and personal use with sexual vulgarity."

Meadows alerted county officials to the e-mails on April 29, triggering the investigation.

County e-mail policy states that "all county communications systems ... are intended for business use only" and that "failure to comply with these provisions will result in discipline, up to and including, termination."

An internal memo from Derrer in June 2009 states: "It is your responsibility as department head to ensure compliance with these and other county policies."

Prior to Chance's suspension, he submitted a statement on April 28 to Derrer describing his view of the events that led up to his conflict with Meadows.

The document was released Thursday morning at the end of the records moratorium for the investigation.

As of Thursday afternoon, the county had not released the full investigative report, for which the Forsyth County News has submitted an open records request.

For his part, Chance wrote in his statement that he and Meadows were in a debate about Chance's administrative decision to allow a conditional use permit issued in 2000 to apply to United Recycling's request for a salvage yard in 2009.

According to Chance, the discussion became a heated argument when the two men couldn't agree.

"The debate moved from the issue at hand to me personally," he wrote. "Brant stated to me that in the eight months or so he has left on the planning commission, he was going to make it his mission to strip me of all my authority as planning director."

After the discussion, Meadows made an open records request for all of Chance's e-mails, which only went back to Dec. 1, 2009 because many had been deleted.

"I mistakenly thought that even deleted e-mails could be retrieved somehow," Chance wrote.

Chance, Meadows and county officials held a meeting April 23 during which Chance reversed his administrative decision regarding the conditional use permit due to the "ambiguity with the old CUP."

The following week, Meadows submitted the complaint to the county that began the investigation.

Chance wrote: "No doubt [the e-mails] will be presented in a way that would have the biggest negative effect on me and the county that they could possibly muster."

More than Chance's e-mail was brought into question in Meadows' letter, including questions regarding "preferential treatment" and "patterns of behavior."

He also detailed the administrative decision made by Chance, which was later revoked, allowing the conditional use permit for United Recycling.

Planning documents show the firm sought permission for an open storage yard and recycling center off Friendship Road in District 1.