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Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge laments Rambo’s departure

Gary B. Gray • Aug 7, 2013 at 7:24 AM

On Nov. 1, 2012, John Rambo became Washington County’s first full-time, in-house attorney.

He stayed in that position for only 10 months, accepting Gov. Bill Haslam’s appointment as the next 1st Judicial District chancellor on Monday.

“I worked with him personally for three years,” County Mayor Dan Eldridge said Tuesday. “And quite honestly, he was my single greatest resource. He just has a wealth of information about county issues and the connection of those issues to state law.”

Long before the former private attorney became a county employee, he was being paid to handle Washington County’s legal issues. He also worked for former County Mayor George Janes for more than 10 years.

Eldridge cited from the beginning 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.

That would not happen. Instead, the County Commission wrested top-down authority for Rambo’s services for themselves, and the 25-member body ultimately will be responsible for naming his successor.

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. A new Legal Services Department also was created and will remain intact. So will the relatively new Legal Services Oversight Committee, formed in early August 2012.

In January, the committee established Rambo’s specific job description and locked in who would be his “boss,” for lack of a better term.

“I’ve already provided a job description,” Rambo said at the time. “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.”

“I expect the Legal Services Committee will advertise for the position and come back with a list of candidates for the full commission to consider,” Eldridge said. “In all honesty, the county cannot replace his experience — that’s a fact. From my standpoint, I literally work with the county attorney almost every day. The office holders also interact with him on a daily basis.

“I want to find someone as knowledgeable and experienced as possible,” he added. “I also want someone I can trust. That’s crucial.”

Rambo was among the first tenants in the Jonesborough Courthouse’s renovated second floor, where Eldridge’s new office will be relocated when renovations are complete.

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