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Supporters speak out for Rambo

A closer look at legal expenses may lead Washington County to hire a full-time attorney.
“I don’t have a position for or against, but I think it should be considered,” said John Rambo, who has served as the county’s contracted attorney since 1999 in addition to operating a private practice.
Rambo attended the July 20 budget talks meeting at the invitation of Commissioner Mark Larkey.
“I read some questions about me in the newspaper,” Rambo said, referring to an article in the Herald & Tribune about the July 13 budget meeting. During that meeting, commissioners discussed the scope of Rambo’s work billed at an hourly rate.
Rambo said he contacted the attorney for Johnson City to ask if he is in line with his billing.
According to Rambo, the city pays staff attorney Jim Epps $185 per hour and spends more than $1 million per year in additional attorney fees and contracted services to administer claims for the city and its schools.
“There are three outstanding attorneys in Johnson City, and I humbly compare myself to them,” Rambo said.
The contract approved by the county commission during its April meeting indicates Rambo is paid $150 an hour, in addition to a $34,000 retainer, insurance and retirement benefits.
The final number for legal services during 2010-11 is $261,430. Rambo said the legal services budget line includes other attorneys’ fees and the cost of legal notices.
A review of monthly itemized statements indicates Rambo bills Washington County an average of more than $19,000 per month for his services.
Rambo said he wears a lot of hats, and the county never knows when it’s going to be sued.
“I do my best to treat all commissioners the same,” Rambo said, listing all of the departments he provides with legal assistance, and adding that he once ended up in ICU following a car accident after defending the sheriff in Nashville.
“I don’t think any of us had a full comprehension of what you do and how many hats you wear in trying to stay neutral,” Commissioner Pat Wolfe said. “I want to look at how it could be structured if John (Rambo) were a full-time employee and how the costs would differ.”
A large number of supporters, including Rambo’s own staff, attended the budget meeting to voice their confidence and appreciation of his work.
“It’s hard to say how much money John Rambo has saved the county,” Sheriff Ed Graybeal said.
Property Assessor Scott Buckingham agreed.
“We are fortunate to have him, and there should be no questions,” he said.
“I probably deal with him more than anyone,” Zoning Administrator Mike Rutherford said. “I know he doesn’t bill for all of his hours.”
“If any research was done on surrounding municipalities, you would find out we have a bargain,” Commissioner Mark Ferguson said.
Director of Schools Ron Dykes also spoke in favor of Rambo’s contributions.
“Educational law is a beast in itself,” he said.
Accolades continued during the next day of budget talks.
“I think John Rambo provides a great service to the county, and I wanted to get my two cents in,” Highway Superintendent Johnny Deakins said.
Grandy, who raised the initial questions the week before, said the issue is controlling the cost.
“There was never a question about his (Rambo’s) ability or his service to the county,” Grandy said. “But we’re talking about an hourly rate with unlimited access. I still think it’s a problem.”