On Nov. 1, John Rambo became Washington County’s first full-time, in-house attorney.
Three months before he officially took the position, the County Commission passed two resolutions. The first created the new office; the second placed Rambo in that office.
But long before the former private attorney became a county employee, County Mayor Dan Eldridge cited the need for the new attorney not to be stretched too thin. He also was not bashful about pushing for the most limited, most streamlined chain of authority in that everyone would be best served if Rambo report to the county’s top executive.
Eldridge has not changed his position.
“You can’t manage by committee,” he said. “This (Rambo) is a department head. You don’t write in a job description what might happen from day to day. Otherwise, you’ve got 25 county commissioners trying to manage the attorney.”
Many county commissioners felt — and still feel — that the 25-member body is the executive board Rambo should answer to. Enter the Legal Services Oversight Committee, formed in early August. Some feel that body should be the ultimate overseer.
That committee asked Rambo if he could move his operations into the county courthouse. No problem. But the courthouse’s second floor is undergoing renovations, and on that floor Rambo’s office is situated alongside County Mayor Dan Eldridge’s new digs — a convenient spot if the right way to go about this is to have the county’s legal eagle near its elected CEO.
And there’s the rub.
On Jan. 8, the matter will be put to bed — maybe — when the committee meets to rake through and establish Rambo’s specific job description and to lock in just who will ultimately be his “boss,” for lack of a better term.
“I’ve already provided a job description,” Rambo said Wednesday. “I look at it as a corporation with the County Commission being the executive body, or the board of directors. I was hired by 25 commissioners, and the 25 commissioners can ultimately fire me. So my obligation is to them. The private act and resolution setting up the Legal Services Oversight Committee set up the legal department we now have, which is myself, a paralegal and a secretary.”
In August, Rambo told the Johnson City Press that, “as far as who my boss is, it’s that committee.”
He said Wednesday that he will serve the County Commission when called, the county mayor, the Sheriff’s Department and other departments when needed.
“It’s almost like I’m working for a law firm; I have many clients,” he said. “I don’t bring suit on behalf of Washington County unless it’s authorized. An example would be if the Zoning Administrator made a request. In that case, I would respond to it.”
Commissioner and Legal Services Oversight Committee Chairman Dave Cloyd said the final decisions will be made on Jan. 8. Of course those decision must go before the full commission in the form of a resolution.
“He has an office just like the county clerk and anyone else,” Cloyd said. “He knows his job. He and Mayor Eldridge know what to do, but we’re just trying to iron some things out. John Rambo works for the committee, but we’re still working on a job description.”