Forsyth County's suspended Director of Planning is suing the county for political interference and coercion, claiming whistleblower status for his uncovering the alleged corrupt political process that led to his suspension.
Jeff Chance, a 15-year employee, was put on paid leave May 12 over racy and inappropriate emails that were uncovered when a Planning Commission member looked into Chance's approval of the location of a recycling center. The member, Brant Meadows, disagreed strongly with the recycling center decision and asked for copies of Chance's emails to review his correspondence on the matter.
Chance's suit, filed last Friday, says Meadows was angry over Chance's decision to allow the recycling center and threatened to "destroy" him and strip him of authority. Meadows, who is running for a seat on the county commission, is politically motivated, the suit alleges.
Meadows and county Board of Commissioners Chairman Charles Laughinghouse pressured Chance to successfully to reverse his decision and colluded in the actions taken against him despite his reversal, the suit says. It says Meadows continues to seek Chance's ouster by obtaining and exposing the emails.
The County Board of Commissioners is scheduled to hold a disciplinary hearing for Chance next Thursday, during which a range of actions could be considered, including firing.
Chance's attorney Eric Chofnas said that a personnel issue, such as inappropriate emails, would have been handled more quietly by the county. The emails are a pretext for Meadows bringing about what he threatened to do, destroy Chance, Chofnas said.
"[Meadows] is clearly on a witch hunt," he said.
Meadows was appointed by Laughinghouse to the Planning Commission member and has no authority in personnel issues. The board of commissioners voted for an investigation into Chance's emails. But Meadows did write an scathing eight-page report about the emails included in the investigation, questioning Chance's professionalism and whether he exposed the county to harm.
Meadows, reached by phone, said he could not comment on the suit.
Laughinghouse said he did not know if the suit would affect Thursday's disciplinary hearing.
"Why did he file a lawsuit now? Is that a little bit of intimidation?" Laughinghouse said.
He declined further comment.
"At present, the Board of Commissioners has not met to determine whether the new lawsuit will have any bearing on Thursday’s agenda item involving Mr. Chance, County Attorney Ken Jarrard said. "However, I expect this litigation matter will be discussed at the Board’s executive session prior to the regular meeting and options will be discussed at that time."
Chance's suit ask for his reinstatement, return of lost benefits and unspecified damages and attorney fees.
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