Johnson City continues search for new city attorney

Zach Vance • Jan 10, 2019 at 7:35 PM

The city of Johnson City has been without an in-house city attorney since Oct. 19, when Jim Epps IV suddenly retired following a 20-year tenure. 

And that vacancy will remain for at least another month as the city continues its search for Epps’ replacement, Human Resources Director Steve Willis told the Johnson City Press on Wednesday. 

Willis said the city closed its application process in early December with roughly 18 candidates submitting resumes.

“So far, we’ve conducted three interviews and that’s still ongoing. I certainly hope within the next month or so, we’ll be in a position to move forward with someone,” Willis said. 

“Most of the candidate applications we’ve received were from outside the area, so that’s slowed us down a little bit. But that’s not surprising to me that most of the interest has come from outside the area, because you’re looking for a very specific skill set.”

Willis said he and City Manager Pete Peterson hope to develop a short list of finalists in the coming weeks. 

“You don’t have a lot of city attorneys that are willing to make a move within the state, to be quite honest. There’s just not a lot of movement there,” Willis said. 

“We’re really looking for someone in the five-to-seven-year range with municipal experience, which really narrows your pool down significantly when you’re looking for that specific type of experience. I think it is quite different than an attorney practicing in the private sector. You’re just not dealing with the same types of issues.” 

During his tenure, Epps’ legal duties were mainly focused on administrative tasks, while the city also paid an external law firm, Herrin, Booze & McPeak, to litigate court issues. 

Depending on the candidate selected and his or her experience, Willis said the city might look to expand the city attorney’s job description. 

“I think (the job) will be everything that Mr. Epps had been doing, and doing very well for the past 20 years. But we would certainly look to expand that role maybe in the form of litigation. I know Jim had not been involved in much litigation, but part of that is just because the time wasn’t available,” Willis said. 

“So that might be something, if the department were to grow into that, it would just be essentially bringing that type of activity in-house versus utilizing external council like Erik Herrin and his group. ... We’re really looking for someone who can touch all those areas and not necessarily specialize in just one specific function.” 

Epps’ official last day was Oct. 19, as he submitted his notice of resignation shortly after Labor Day. 

“He had some discussions with me, but quite honestly, I was a little surprised that he decided to pull the trigger. I felt like he would probably work a few more years,” Willis said about Epps’ departure. 

Epps was also handling personal issues at home, including the recent death of his mother. 

“(Epps) definitely was your quintessential municipal attorney, without question. He could quote state statues and things related to city government off the top of his head,” Willis said. 

“He is missed, and he will have tough shoes to fill, but we’ll get it done.”

Willis and Peterson plan to meet next week to determine the next steps for finding Epps’ replacement.  


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