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Planning official: Sought information, not revenge
Arguments to wrap up in hearing today
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Forsyth County News

 


The planning commissioner at the center of an investigation that ultimately cost Forsyth County’s former planning director his job said Tuesday he could not remember whether he had threatened the official.

Brant Meadows made the statement as part of testimony in Jeff Chance’s Civil Service Board hearing, which could conclude today.

“I don’t recall threatening Mr. Chance in that meeting,” Meadows said. “I don’t recall threatening him but his perception of what a threat might be, I don’t know, he’s being called on the carpet and so he’s being asked rather poignant questions about his decision.

“If it’s possible he felt threatened, I don’t believe I made any threats during that conversation.”

Chance has appealed his dismissal to the board, arguing that the county commission’s motivation to fire him was political.

The county has countered that Chance was fired for failure to comply with and enforce county policies.

Those violations were discovered in an investigation launched after Meadows brought to the county’s attention questionable e-mail activity on Chance’s account.

Chance’s attorney, Eric Chofnas, has argued that his client’s employment woes stem from issues with a conditional use permit United Recycling sought in April for a site on Friendship Circle.

Chance and Deputy County Manager Tim Merritt have testified during the hearing that Meadows threatened Chance’s job during an April 23 meeting about the permit.

Chance has testified that he decided a new application wasn’t necessary because a permit existed for the site. However, he later changed his mind for fear of losing his job.

Emory Lipscomb, an attorney who represents United, has testified that Meadows, who serves on the county’s planning board, disagreed with Chance’s original decision and wanted to force United to apply for the permit. Doing so would have required a public hearing on the matter.

Meadows testified Tuesday that he took issue with the application being withdrawn because he was never given appropriate documentation to prove there was a pre-existing permit on the Friendship Circle site.

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, who did not seek re-election, appointed Meadows to the planning board and supported Meadows in his commission bid, which was unsuccessful.

Meadows said he asked to review Chance’s county e-mail activity not because of a vendetta, as the ex-planning director has contended, but rather because of conflicting information he had received about the permit.

The e-mail request turned up messages of a sexually and racially charged nature between Chance, other county employees and his girlfriend.

As a result, the county launched an investigation, whose findings included that Chance had been surfing the Internet, putting golf balls and using profanity at work.

A report of the investigation also shows that Chance was allowing some employees to take extended breaks.

County Attorney Ken Jarrard testified Tuesday that Meadows did not have the authority to discipline Chance. The attorney didn’t remember if Meadows threatened Chance’s job during the April 23 meeting.

He also testified that he helped Laughinghouse draft a letter to Meadows, asking him to avoid having further contact with county employees.

The letter was the result of a complaint by an employee in the engineering department about a phone call he received from Meadows.

“(The employee) had had some discomfort about how that discussion had gone and was troubled by it,” Jarrard said. “I think the issue was raised to the administrative level.

“The end result was the chairman writing a letter to Mr. Meadows just asking if he had additional concerns with county staff that he run them through the county manager.”

The county commission voted 3-1 in August to dismiss Chance, who had worked for the county since 1995 and at the time was making about $92,000 a year.

County Commissioner Patrick Bell, who cast the dissenting vote, testified Tuesday that he argued against firing Chance.

“I had talked to (Laughinghouse) several times to come up with some other solution, to tell him I didn’t think termination was appropriate,” Bell said.

After Chance filed a whistleblower suit against the county in July, Laughinghouse reportedly told Bell there would be no other discussions.

Bell said he also took issue with the investigative report and doubted its accuracy. He talked about it with County Manager Doug Derrer.

“I was fairly upset with it, and I said this thing looks like when you get pulled over by a renegade cop and he writes you up for everything he can find in your car to make sure something’s going to stick,” Bell said.

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

The county, in its response to the complaint, has denied the allegations.

The 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.

Derrer is expected to be recalled to testify today. Attorneys for both sides are also expected to give their closing arguments.

The Civil Service Board has 30 days to render its decision on Chance’s appeal.