Hearing wraps up as Jeff Chance appeals firing

At the end of an eight-day hearing to appeal the firing of Forsyth County Planning Director Jeff Chance, the arguments had a familiar ring.

Chance was a victim of politics and a shoddy investigation by the county to terminate him, his attorney Eric Chofnas told a Civil Service Board in his closing argument Thursday.

In fact, countered County Attorney Tim Buckley in his closing argument, the issue was far simpler. Chance broke a long list of county regulations -- including sending numerous sexually explicit e-mails to his girlfriend -- and created such a permissive culture in his department there is no way to justify the board giving him his job back, said Buckley.

“If the general is not leading his people properly, then he needs to be removed, and history shows that,” said Buckley.

From the first day of the appeal, county attorneys and Civil Service Officer Dana Miles sought to keep the case and evidence allowed confined to whether Chance is guilty of the county violations he is charged with as Chofnas tried repeatedly to bring county zoning regulations and politics into the hearing room.

Chofnas finished Thursday the way he started, telling the board that, yes, Chance was guilty of sending “naughty” e-mails to his girlfriend, but his transgressions weren’t nearly as egregious or as voluminous as the county charged.

“This county’s goal was never to get to the truth,” said Chofnas. “The county’s goal was to terminate Jeff Chance.” Over the course of the hearing, the county’s case fell apart until all that was left “were naughty words paraded in front of you,” Chofnas told the three-member board.

Chofnas said that two witnesses who appeared in the hearing who are two of the most powerful figures in county government -- Forsyth County Commission Chairman Charles Laughinghouse and County Manager Doug Derrer -- did not give “truthful” testimony to the board.

He said the allegations and publicity surrounding them had destroyed Chance’s reputation and hurt his ability to find another job. “I ask you,” said Chofnas, “where does he get his reputation back?”

Buckley reminded the board, again and again, that it was a simple matter, and Chance simply broke the rules, and he admitted as much on the stand, and that he, too, told untruths when he testified he said he had not read some of the racially charged e-mails found on his office computer.

“You cannot believe that he did not look at those e-mails,” said Buckley.

Chofnas urged the board to give Chance back his $92,000-a-year job without any punishment, and consider the time he’s spent without work or pay since his termination in August as punishment enough.

Buckley countered that not even perhaps Chance’s best witness in the hearing, Forsyth County Commissioner Patrick Bell -- who testified that he believed Chance was a victim of politics -- was in favor of no punishment for the fired planning director.

Bell said "something needed to be done” to punish Chance when Bell testified, said Buckley. “He didn’t say do nothing.” The board has 30 days to render its decision in writing.