Chance will receive $325K, drop lawsuits
By Alyssa LaRenzie
August 3, 2012
Forsyth County commissioners have approved a settlement agreement with former planning director Jeff Chance.
Chance was terminated from his 15-year employment with the county in August 2010 after an investigation of his management practices and computer use.
He filed two lawsuits against the county: one in 2010 that contended his rights as a whistleblower had been violated and another in 2011 appealing the civil service board’s decision to uphold his firing.
The settlement states that Chance will drop both cases against the county and cannot make future claims.
He would also receive $325,000 from Forsyth, with $225,000 paid by the county’s insurance and $100,000 from the general fund.
Commissioners voted 4-0 during their meeting Thursday, with Brian Tam absent, to approve the agreement, which will become final once signed by both parties.
Attorney Tim Buckley, hired by the county to litigate the suits, said the matter was mediated in May.
“The parties reached terms which were recommended for resolution by counsel and the insurer,” Buckley said.
Each side will be responsible for its own attorney fees, he said.
Figures from Buckley’s office estimated that about $150,000 had been charged in fees on the Chance cases, with about $100,000 paid by the county’s insurance and about $50,000 by the county.
Chance’s attorney, Eric Chofnas, did not return calls Friday seeking comment.
Chairman Jim Boff said after the meeting that the county felt comfortable with the settlement in part because the insurance company “was willing to foot most of the bill.”
Also, he said “it closes out something that’s been hanging around for a long time.”
In his appeal and lawsuit, Chance contended his dismissal was politically motivated, while the county has argued it was based on failure to comply with and enforce policies.
The county's investigation was prompted by former planning board member Brant Meadows' review of Chance's county e-mail.
That probe turned up messages of a sexually and racially charged nature
between Chance, his girlfriend and other county employees.
Chance, who was making about $92,000 a year, used profanity at work and permitted employees to waste county time, according to the investigation.
In its first review in December 2010, the civil service board upheld three of the 12 findings in the county's probe and partially supported three others. The remaining six were not sustained.
Chance appealed to the Forsyth County Superior Court, which remanded the case back to the civil service board.
In November, the board once again upheld his termination, stating in its decision that Chance “met his burden of proving that a discriminatory/retaliatory motive was a factor in the decision to terminate his employment."
However, it continues, "The civil service board finds that the county would have made the same personnel decision based on non-retaliatory/nondiscriminatory grounds."
Since Chance’s dismissal, former assistant planning director Tom Brown was named director of planning and community development.
The commission also approved a change in the job description. The position now reports to the county manager instead of the commission and the director serves at will instead of falling under civil service.