By Jeff Keeling and Scott Robertson
One of the items of business that went undone when the Washington County Commission deferred the entire agenda of its Jan. 25 meeting was the introduction of the incoming clerk and master for Chancery Court. The County Commission has, as of this writing, yet to reschedule that meeting, but in the meantime, News & Neighbor spoke with Chancellor John Rambo and the clerk-and-master-to-be, Sarah Lawson.
The search that brought Lawson to Washington County from her practice of law in Johnson County was an unhurried affair. Rambo said that fact is largely due to the outgoing clerk and master, Brenda Sneyd (who has 30 years of service in the office, including the last 12 as clerk and master) having given plenty of notice of her retirement plans.
“The previous clerk and master was coming to the end of her second six-year term and let me know last year she planned to retire at the end of June 2016,” Rambo said. “I formed a committee consisting of the clerks and masters from Carter and Unicoi counties; several attorneys practicing in Washington County; and Lee Chase, who is director of the Dawn of Hope as well as a Washington County commissioner.”
The committee received applications or requests for consideration from 20 individuals all told, including Lawson.
In November, Lawson, who was working in Mountain City, approached Rambo about the position. “He said, ‘Well, you’d have to move to Washington County if you want to be clerk and master.’” Lawson said. “I thought I could do that, though I had always said I would stay (in Mountain City).”
Lawson spoke with her husband, Russell, a teacher in the Watauga County, N.C. school system and they agreed it made sense to consider moving to Washington County. “Crunching the numbers,” Lawson said, “it just made sense for me to pursue this and for him to start looking for work down here.”
Lawson was one of several candidates who interviewed with the committee, according to Rambo. “The committee reviewed resumes and writing samples, and conducted interviews. They then recommended to me three finalists, all of whom I interviewed.”
In addition to the recommendation of the committee and his own formal interviews, Rambo leaned on his own experience and the word of people he trusted in choosing Lawson for the position. “I have been chancellor for almost two-and-a-half years,” he said. “Most Fridays in that time, I have been in Mountain City, and Ms. Lawson has been in my court on almost all those Fridays. Her conduct has been professional. Her work product as an attorney has been excellent. She has a good rapport not only with her clients, but with other members of the bar as well. I was approached during the search process by several Johnson County attorneys who all said, ‘We’d hate to see her go, but we would absolutely recommend her.’ She was also recommended by the clerk and master in Johnson County.”
Lawson’s areas of practice dovetail nicely with the duties of clerk and master, Rambo said, “For instance, in Washington County, the clerk and master is in charge of the delinquent property tax sale. Ms. Lawson has been the delinquent property tax attorney representing Johnson County and Mountain City.”
But the majority of the work done by the clerk and