Council defers to DA's office on whether Arriola should go

Wednesday, February 8, 2012 at 12:14am

Waiting for action from District Attorney General Torry Johnson, the Metro Council deferred voting Tuesday on a resolution that calls for the resignation of embattled Davidson County Clerk John Arriola.

Councilman Robert Duvall revived the non-binding resolution after the state comptroller’s office released a scathing audit last month that found Arriola collected more than $119,000 in wedding payments over the past five years by charging $40 fees to couples. State law only allows his office to collect voluntary gratuities.

But the resolution was met with resistance in the council’s Rules-Confirmation-Public Elections Committee, which voted 10-0 to defer the legislation, overriding the will of Duvall, who said he wanted an “up-or-down vote.” By rule, the full council deferred the resolution at its regular meeting.

Committee members –– most of them Democrats, like Arriola –– said they hoped to give Johnson enough time to investigate the comptroller’s report, release a separate report and decide what action is warranted.

“We’re the legislative body,” Councilman Bo Mitchell said. “There’s another elected official to enforce the laws in Torry Johnson.”

Watching the council’s proceedings was Arriola himself, accompanied by legal counsel.

“It would have been inherently unfair for the committee to try to convict John before General Johnson came out with his report,” said Bryan Lewis, Arriola’s attorney.

But Duvall likened his effort to a different resolution that called for the resignation of Criminal Court Clerk David Torrence after the clerk acknowledged working only three days a week, among other poor work habits. The council approved the Torrence resolution, and he later resigned.

“We went to this same mat with David Torrence with much less information than what we have here, and we found Mr. Torrence needed to go,” Duvall said.

The Arriola resolution is set to go before the council again on Feb. 21, but the committee would presumably vote to defer it again if Johnson still hasn’t released his recommendations.

Twenty minutes of committee discussion on Duvall’s resolution did yield a touchy exchange between Lewis and At-large Councilman Charlie Tygard, who asked whether Arriola reported wedding-fee income “in the year” that he collected the money.

Lewis: “Mr. Arriola has paid all his taxes on the wedding fees.”

Tygard: “Were the taxes paid in the year they were collected?”

Lewis: “Proper returns have been filed for all of the wedding fees. He has paid his taxes, and that is a nonissue.”

Tygard: “Answer in a ‘yes or no.’ Were his taxes paid in the year that the income was collected?”

Lewis: “I’m answering your question, Councilman Tygard. His taxes were paid, and he has no problems with the Internal Revenue Service.”


Other items:

•The council voted 29-5 to approve a non-binding memorializing resolution urging Director of Schools Jesse Register to reinstitute the district’s “memoranda of understanding” labor-negotiation policy with support staff unions.

Register recently moved to dissolve the MOU policy with SEIU and United Steelworkers unions, which represent custodians and bus drivers, respectively.

In a statement, Metro Nashville Public Schools said the council’s resolution is “based on misinformation."

•The council approved a $300,000 urban development action grant to assist ServiceSource, which specializes in service revenue management, as it prepares to expand its office at downtown Fourth Avenue and Church Street.

20 Comments on this post:

By: bfra on 2/8/12 at 1:34

The council can spend all the time in the world on a stupid "chicken law", then pass the buck on a crooked politician. Maybe Arriola needs to get some marshmellow "Arriola replicas" to put on their desk.

By: shoes1 on 2/8/12 at 5:22

It seems the clerks office duped couples looking to get married inexpensively into paying for a service which is supposed to be free. Where I am from that is called stealing. Why would a man with Arriola's means do that? Why would a city's council "turn a blind eye"? We are sick. God please help us.

By: govskeptic on 2/8/12 at 5:53

No surprise in this decision. Action on either side might have cost a
councilman/woman a vote or two. Conscious is not a part of these
elected officials bios! Re-election and a free lunch now and then along
with free health care. Those are the worthy causes and most important factors!

By: T-BONE on 2/8/12 at 6:56

ARRIOLA and his "hired gun" attorney's" BS" is comical! It's like this...A bank robber is caught, and his defense is this. "I handed the teller a note that said "give" me the money, and they did! Therefore it was a "gift", and I am not guilty!" GIVE US A BREAK...NICE TRY FLIM-FLAM CON-MAN!

By: yogiman on 2/8/12 at 7:22

If Arriola was legally entitled to perform the weddings and was doing in while "at work" for the couples' convenience, that's a "ripoff" and disgrace to that office.

If he was doing it when on on duty at the couples' request, he was entitled to the agreed cost if the chose to take it.

By: bfra on 2/8/12 at 8:15

Learn the difference between "charge" & "gratuity" before commenting!

By: rickmuz on 2/8/12 at 8:18

@bfra: When you HAVE to give a "gratuity" it is is NOT a gratuity. Learn the meaning of integrity before YOU comment!

By: bfra on 2/8/12 at 8:38

Where do you HAVE to GIVE a "gratuity" &, or where did you get your minus integrity?

By: Left-of-Local on 2/8/12 at 9:38

This story is so disappointing, since Arriola's administration is the one that we can always remember for VAST progress, like better online resources, customer service improvements, and the best green building in the city.

Also better that the council defer... helps idiots like Duvall stay out of political grudge matches.

By: bfra on 2/8/12 at 9:46

Where is the best green bldg. in the city & how is Arriola responsible for it?

By: pswindle on 2/8/12 at 10:24

Leave him alone. He was doing what has been done for years. Someone wanted his job and started this mess.

By: bfra on 2/8/12 at 11:44

That's the problem! Lots of public officials think, once elected they can do as they please, regardless of rules & regulations. Arriola & all others, caught misusing their office need to be GONE!

By: jackie566 on 2/8/12 at 12:11

He needs to GO. Period. No matter HOW much good he has done, or ANYONE, for that matter, once they break the law, steal, dupe...whatever you wish to call it, he has broken the law. Elected officials have the UTMOST obligation to abide by ALL LAWS.. All the good they may have done does not give them the right to bend the law in any form or fashion, especially if they gain financially from it . Couples have the right to pay a gratuity, tip, to the man performing their marriage or NOT. Arriola created wording that $40.00 was a set, required FEE for him to perform this service. THIS IS FALSE INFORMATION CREATED TO MAKE COUPLES PAY MONEY THAT IS NOT REQUIRED. IT IS THEFT. BOTTOMLINE, HE STOLE MONEY FROM THE PEOPLE AND USED HIS POSITION TO DO SO. FIRE HIM.

By: yogiman on 2/8/12 at 12:34

I agree with you, jackie566.

First, were those couples required to be married by the man in the office where they got their license or did they simply ask him to give them a "quickie"?

Either way, a man shouldn't be charged to pay money for a divorce primary.

At any level, I've never known of a couple that was "charged" for a wedding by anyone giving the ceremonial oath.

By: waters on 2/8/12 at 1:13

I wouldn't rely on DA Torry Johnson to actually enforce any laws. He and his staff have a long history of abusing the law themselves.

By: Ask01 on 2/8/12 at 2:03

Each year while in the military, we were required to have 'standards of conduct' training. One point which was stressed was avoiding even the appearance of impropriety. The short version: even if an action is legal and innocent, if there could be the slightest appearance of improper conduct, don't do it.

The logic was the appearance of misconduct was often as damaging as the actual commission. Beyond the impression something wrong had transpired, the further appearance of official approval of bad behavior severely undermined the command structure. Sometimes, no amount of damage control could repair the loss of faith, and any explanation of facts was viewed as an active cover up.

Climbing temporarily on the fence for this comment, (because I believe prosecution is in order if for no other reason than he is an elected official,) Arriola has sewn a scarlet letter on his back, and by extension that of Metro Council. The loss of faith in a public official can have implications far beyond the affected office, implying corruption is rampant within Metro, especially after so many MNPD cops have been shamed recently.

I urge the council to cut their losses and act. Further, considering everything Arriola, while falling on his sword is probably out of the question, should at least resign for the good of the office and Mero government.

Like that will ever take place.

By: yogiman on 2/8/12 at 3:29

Ah! Them wuz the good ol' days, Ask01. But also, that was in the services and you was a volunteer. Consequently, if you 'screwed up', you paid for it dearly. And usually by your "buddies".

But the "guvmunt" workers are also 'volunteers' since they 'enlist' by running for office (remember the recruiter voting you in service?) and they too often feel exempt from following their specified line of duty.

After all, they can quit anytime the pressure is put on them but you don't want to be "discharged" from service without an honorable discharge.

By: Ask01 on 2/8/12 at 3:49

Yes yogiman, those were "the good ol' days."

The point I hoped to make though, has little bearing on military service aside from establishing the concept of appearance of misconduct.

I had hoped to illustrate with this little memory, that even if everything was actually appropriate, the proper way to handle this would be for Mr. Arriola to resign so as to not bring anymore discredit on Metro government.

Further, Metro council should not pass the buck on this issue. They should acknowledge at the least, the appearance of wrongdoing and cut him loose.

As you say, our elected employees are 'volunteers' since they in effect enlist by running for office and, I suppose took some sort of oath of office. Unless, of course, doing so is considered archaic by today's standards.

By: RJP on 2/9/12 at 7:20

rjp So how many weddings were there in almost five years? Should show in that number verses 119.000

By: Loner on 2/9/12 at 7:21

Left this post on the Up For Debate thread....enjoy!

By: Loner on 2/9/12 at 7:16

Arriola lawyered up....a ballad in the Lone One.

Arriola lawyered up...his accusers are goin' down.
I think I smell a old Nashville town.
They got ghost employees and no-show jobs.
Fat cats, bureaucrats and suit-wearing slobs.

Kickbacks, corruption, malfeasance and graft,
The taxpayers in Nashville are getting the shaft.
Politicians, the judges and the cops agree,
Don't take it all, leave some for me.

If you want to get ahead, you gotta be a jerk.
If you want your palm greased, run for County Clerk.
There may not be a charge, there may not be a fee,
Just an arbitrary "gratuity".

Government jobs come with special perks.
Don't know if it's legal, but it sure beats work.
I think I smell a old Nashville town.
Arriola lawyered up...folks are goin' down.