Washington County’s new in-house attorney now has official marching orders and can get on with his numerous duties and responsibilities of legally representing the County Commission, county schools and all things in between.
The Legal Services Oversight Committee on Tuesday unanimously adopted a revised four-page description that defines John Rambo’s functions and tasks. The former private attorney took the job on Nov. 1. Just three months before, the County Commission passed two resolutions. The first created the new office as the result of a private act; the second placed Rambo in that office.
He has begun a four-year term and makes about $148,000 annually. The county attorney will be reappointed at the County Commission’s discretion.
Long before Rambo became a county employee, County Mayor Dan Eldridge cited the need for the new attorney not to be stretched too thin. He also had been persistent in 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.
But the first paragraph of the job description — which Eldridge was instrumental in assembling — holds that Rambo will report to the committee and be responsible for implementing its policies and procedures.
“This is directly out of the private act,” Eldridge said. “I’ve spent a fair amount of time going over the responsibilities and duties trying to address some issues. I think we are in full compliance with the private act. I had some concern that this job description was too task oriented. But I think we’ve got something here that the committee can manage the county attorney by.”
Rambo’s essential job functions remain the same. Though he reports to the committee, his legal position is one as any other department head. In this case the new Legal Services Department is Rambo, a paralegal and a secretary. Rambo will be under the direction of the 25-member County Commission, but matters concerning operations of the legal department must first go through the committee.
He said 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.”
He now has the authority to hire, promote, discipline and dismiss employees as long as the actions are consistent with the county’s basic personnel policy. He will meet and confer with commission members, the mayor, Board of Education members, county officials, and county departments and divisions.
He also will represent these bodies in court and play a big part in reviewing and/or approving resolutions, ordinances, contracts, deeds, leases and other legal paperwork.
The matter of whether Rambo will assume the role of the county’s delinquent tax attorney has not been determined, but it does remain an option.
Included in his job description is the heading, “Optional Duties: Delinquent Tax Attorney.” The paragraph below that heading says Rambo will provide that service upon the request of the county trustee and county mayor.
Rambo has said several times he would assume the task at no additional cost if he was told to do so.
Johnson City’s Lawrence Counts currently serves as the county’s delinquent tax attorney. When citizens don’t pay their taxes, the matter is turned over to the county trustee who hires Counts. A suit is filed and the citizen gets a collection notice. Once delinquent, penalty and attorney fees are tacked on, and the amount expands.
Many commissioners had expressed a desire to save money by having Rambo collect attorney fees from the clerk and master’s office that would have gone to Counts, and return that back to the county.
Meanwhile, Rambo will begin by helping with a human resources aspect by scheduling meetings with department heads as a revision of the county’s employment policies is revised and updated.
“Once we work all that out internally, we’ll take it to the County Commission,” Eldridge said. “But it’s really going to take a lot of effort. We’ll need a lot of input. This is our major project right now.”
Although the county attorney reports to the committee, he is not required to disclose secrets or confidential information concerning the representation or requests of officials, commissioners or department heads. This includes things such as passwords and data access.