Termination hearing set over racy county e-mails

The Forsyth County Commission voted Wednesday to hold a July 15 termination hearing for Planning Director Jeff Chance, but not before some acrimony broke out.

Commissioner Patrick Bell complained the action was a "witch hunt" orchestrated by Planning Commission member Brant Meadows, who is running for a seat on the county commission.

"I can't believe this board is progressing to terminate a 15-year employee that had continual satisfactory reviews based on a vendetta by Brant Meadows," Bell said.

Meadows disagreed with a land-use decision Chance made earlier this year. Meadows asked for copies of Chance's e-mails to see his communications about the issue.

He discovered a trove of inappropriate e-mails, including explicit sexual messages between Chance and his girlfriend as well as e-mails from others in his department with sexual, vulgar and racial comments and nude photos. Meadows wrote a scathing summary and sent it to county leaders, who  began an investigation.

Meadows said Wednesday Bell should not be commenting on undecided personnel issues. “Given that Patrick is publicly supporting my opponent, a comment like that is not totally unpredictable,” he said.

Commission Chairman Charles Laughinghouse said he found it insulting that Bell was politicizing the issue. The commissioners voted 4-1 to hold the hearing, during which they will discuss a range of  possible disciplinary actions, not just firing.

Chance has been on paid administrative leave. He said in a June interview he regretted embarrassing the county and not curtailing the inappropriate e-mails circulating in his department.

In other discussion Wednesday, the commissioners talked about the county budget for 2011. Departmental requests have come in at $93 million, about $13 million above projected income. They discussed cutting services, such as not opening the new 85-acre Fowler Park, and cuts to road repaving.

They also talked about a millage rate increase. There is a proposal to raise the rates so that a homeowner of a $200,000 house could pay as much as $118 more a year in 2011.

The commissioners asked the county manager to review a combination of cuts and rate increases and bring them the numbers.

There will be three public hearings for citizens to learn more at the Forsyth County Administration Building, 110 E. Main Street in Cumming, at 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. on July 15; and 5 p.m. on July 22.