Wash. Co. wants to make attorney full-time employee

Gary B. Gray • Jan 23, 2012 at 10:39 PM

John Rambo is easy to spot at any given Washington County Commission meeting, whether he’s standing to recite the letter of the law or to make recommendations based on his experience and expertise.

As county attorney, he already is an employee who is paid a retainer fee of about $30,000 a year to be at the county’s disposal. He also receives an hourly rate as set by his private practice, Rambo Law Firm.

But considering he spends most of his time functioning as a county employee, the County Commission is in the process of creating a new office for an already familiar face that would officially crown Rambo County Attorney for Washington County.

To make this happen, the county has drafted a description of Rambo’s duties and other provisions that will go to the General Assembly in the form of an act. If there are no hang-ups there, the office would be managed and supervised exclusively by Rambo with the aid of two staff members currently employed at his private practice.

“This is something we want to consider, and we’re in the process right now of generating the numbers,” said County Mayor Dan Eldridge. “We’ll hopefully be able to take action on this in February.”

This move would go hand-in-hand with the creation of a Legal Services Advisory Committee to help establish the office. This seven-member committee would be comprised of the county mayor, highway superintendent, sheriff and four commissioners.

“The mayor approached me about working for the county full time,” Rambo said. “The General Assembly has not created an across-the-board ordinance that governs all counties. Sullivan County’s attorney is elected, for example, others are appointed. What we came up with is this committee that would make recommendations.”

While currently he reports to 40 people, plus department heads, the new configuration is expected to improve communication.

“I work a total of about 55 hours a week — 40 of those hours are with the county,” he said. “I would shut down the private firm and relocate to an office here. And, instead of billing the county by the hour, I would receive a salary.”

The annual salary of a full-time county attorney — which would be recommended by the committee and confirmed by a majority vote of the County Commission — would begin at $148,000, the minimum established salary for Washington County Sessions Court judges, according to Washington County’s Accounting & Budget Department. It’s unclear at this point what his staff members would be paid, but they too would be eligible for all benefits offered to county employees.

“Some officials and departments rely on me more than others,” he added. “The committee would provide oversight. I can go to them and explain litigation and other matters, meaning they will be working exclusively with me. I can go to them and tell them what I’m working on, and they can tell me about county concerns. That means I can concentrate more specifically on things, and I can do that since the level of communication should improve.”

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