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Keeling named county communications director

After learning it was not necessary for commission approval to hire a director of communications and community relations, new Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge wasted no time filling the position.
At Wednesday morning’s called commission meeting, County Attorney John Rambo announced he had been “asked to clarify” the rules regarding creating positions within the county.
“You are not required to adopt a job description,” Rambo told commissioners. “There is no action required by the commission. The mayor has authority.”
According to Rambo, commissioners are only required to approve such things when the people being hired do not report directly to the mayor. Since the director of communications will report to the mayor and is being funded through the mayor’s office, commissioners took no action regarding the issue.
Immediately following the meeting, Eldridge told the Herald & Tribune he was already prepared to “extend an offer” to someone for the position that same day. A short time later it was learned Jeff Keeling, the business editor for the Johnson City Press, had accepted the job.
Eldridge said he had been in talks with Keeling prior to last week and did not advertise for the position because he had “specific requirements” he was looking for in an individual. He said he talked with “several people” about the position and was “very quickly able to narrow it down.”
Eldridge announced plans to create the position weeks prior to taking office as the county’s new mayor. He said there was “an element of faith involved” in talking with candidates for the job, since it had not even existed yet.
In previous meetings, Eldridge had discussed with commissioners his plan to hire a director of communications and originally had sought their approval to do so with a promise that the salary would not be higher than $50,000. In those meetings, commissioners approved funding for the position, however, Eldridge said that approval was only sought because the original plan was to hire someone before his term began as mayor.
“We were looking at this position starting prior to Sept. 1 so we did ask commissioners,” Eldridge said. “But we realized we had to back it up.”
According to Eldridge, Keeling will be making $48,000 a year, not including benefits.
Keeling has worked as the business editor at the Johnson City Press since 2007. Prior to that, he worked at the Keystone Housing Authority for several years.
As the county’s new director of communications and community relations, Keeling will direct, organize and participate in community relations activities that inform and build support of Washington County’s mission and goals, Eldridge said.
He will also be responsible for developing and managing a county website and social media platforms and writing grant applications for county government.