Three Washington County officials to serve on legal panel

Gary B. Gray • Sep 13, 2013 at 11:21 AM

Washington County’s Committee on Committees voted Thursday in a special called meeting to recommend to the full commission three county officials to serve on the Legal Services Oversight Committee.

County Mayor Dan Eldridge, Zoning Administrator Mike Rutherford and Assessor of Property Scott Buckingham will round out the committee should the County Commission accept the nominees Sept. 23. All committee members serve one-year terms.

Commissioner Mark Ferguson, Committee on Committees chairman, ended the extremely quick meeting when the nominations were complete.

“I think the idea was to give those officials some say since they’ll be using legal services so much,” said Commissioner Mitch Meredith, who sat in on the brief meeting.

The Legal Services Oversight Committee recently was reformed, and particular interest is focused on its members in the wake of former County Attorney John Rambo leaving that post in early August to become the 1st Judicial District chancellor.

On Sept. 3, the Legal Services Oversight Committee confirmed Commission Chairman Greg Matherly as committee chairman and Doyle Cloyd as vice chairman. Steve Light, Phyllis Corso and Alpha Bridger also are committee members.

Rambo’s departure created somewhat of a vacuum that was partially filled earlier this week when the County Commission unanimously voted to appoint Keith Bowers as interim county attorney for a term beginning Sept. 6 and lasting 120 days. Bowers, who operates a private practice and serves both Elizabethton and Carter County, will receive $150 an hour for his services.

After taking his seat, Bowers advised commissioners they may have flirting with a violation of Tennessee’s Sunshine Law by not giving proper public notice before a vote to approve attorney Tom Seeley’s services to exclusively represent the county’s zoning administrator’s office. The matter was deferred until the next regular meeting Sept. 23.

Rutherford informed committee members that an interim attorney would not have time to properly tend to zoning law matters within a 120-day period.

The committee agreed to recommend to the full commission that Seeley, with Jonesborough’s Wheeler & Seeley, provide services to the zoning administrator’s office at the rate of $150 per hour, plus $75 per hour for paralegal service, for an undefined period of time.

Rutherford made a motion to task Eldridge to work with the Budget Committee to decide which line item should be used to include Seeley’s expenses. That motion passed unanimously, but a vote by the full commission still is needed on Seeley’s hiring and rate of pay.

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