County clerk defends actions regarding Channel 5 report

Tuesday, July 5, 2011 at 10:44pm

Davidson County Clerk John Arriola issued a media release Tuesday, stating his concerns over what, at the time, had been an as-yet-to-air WTVF-Channel 5 investigative story on his office practices and suggesting he is prepared to take legal action if needed.

The report aired Tuesday night during the Channel 5 10 p.m. newscast and ran approximately 5 minutes.

In the release, Arriola states that promotions for the story by investigative reporter Phil Williams have “veered off track in an attempt to attract viewers and increase ratings” by questioning Arriola’s practice of accepting a gratuity for marrying couples.

In the release, Arriola writes "should WTVF make unsubstantiated allegations against me or my office, I am prepared to take action to defend my honor, as well as my stewardship of this office."

At the same time, Arriola announced he would be reforming some of the office practices he said the news investigation addressed. For example, in the piece William describes the $40 Arriola typically collects to marry a couple as a "fee." Also, the veteran reporter notes the fee is collected in cash only. In contrast, Arriola refers to it as a "gratuity," adding no records have been kept for cash received. Channel 5 said at the report's conclusion that Arriola will make clear in writing that a gratuity will be accepted for his services and that any monies received from this point will be donated to charity. 

Arriola told The City Paper he decided to send out the media release Tuesday morning to “let everyone know … there’s nothing illegal about the marriage ceremonies that we perform in the office, and I think that’s clear in the attorney general’s information.”

Arriola claims the money he collects is an optional gratuity that he accepts for performing wedding ceremonies and points to a February state attorney general opinion that he said justifies the practice.

In an email to The City Paper Tuesday afternoon, WTVF-Channel 5 Station Manager Lyn Plantinga wrote prior to the airing of the story: “In anticipation of a NewsChannel5 investigative series to begin tonight, Metro County Clerk, John Arriola has made significant reforms within the Davidson County Clerk’s office and, curiously, at the same time, questioned the validity of the forthcoming stories.”

Plantinga’s statement continued, “At NewsChannel5, our award-winning investigative team works to report matters of public importance and concern. We stand by the facts about the County Clerk’s office that will be shared in our story tonight at 10:00 p.m. Bringing these facts to light is in the best interest of the citizens of middle Tennessee.”

According to Arriola’s release, the story also raises questions regarding his use of a Metro-owned Chevrolet Tahoe, his hiring a public relations firm to publicize new services and office relocations, his hiring of a printing company to make signs for the clerk’s and spending $500 on shirts for staffers of the clerk’s office to wear to the Metro retirees Christmas party, something Arriola agreed “wasn’t a very good idea.” Tuesday night's report addressed none of these issues.

Arriola also stated he would, however, immediately be implementing changes within the clerk’s office.

“While some of the policies and procedures in my office might be in need of modest changes and adjustments, which I am announcing today, I will not allow my office to be subjected to allegations that are rooted in misguided and sensational efforts to attract television viewers,” Arriola is quoted in Tuesday morning’s release.

The developments come on the heels of a libel lawsuit filed by General Sessions Court Judge Daniel Eisenstein against the station last week for stories regarding him and the Mental Health Court he oversees.

19 Comments on this post:

By: govskeptic on 7/6/11 at 5:55

While the Clerk may attempt to claim it's just a ratings story, there certainly appeared
to be enough meat to the story to create concern for taxpayers and legislators about
these cash payments and income earned on "company" time! Maybe this activity
should be handled by someone other than an official already earning $135,000 per
yr, plus great benefits. Otherwise, we may find a mini-wedding chapel built within
the County Clerk's lobby.

By: 4gold on 7/6/11 at 6:40

This set up has always bothered me. Why do we write or car registration payments to the county clerk instead of to Metro or some department. It just looks like it invites some skimming off the top.

Go Dores, Preds, Titans! Go Nashville a great place to live!

By: richgoose on 7/6/11 at 6:47

There may be improprieties in the office but the County Clerk offices are more receptive to the public than at any time I can remember.

By: thetruth2010 on 7/6/11 at 6:56

So it's ok to take the money for himself because he's "receptive?"
I think Arriola's side was well represented in the story, it's just that his side isn't credible to me.
And he accused Channel 5 of running promotions to try to get viewers. I think most in the tv business would say that's normal practice. Any business that runs ads or promotions is trying to increase business. Just like him hiring a pr company with tax money to promote his wedding business.
I hope the IRS investigates this because I doubt he claimed it as income, hell he can't even remember how much he took for sure.

By: tenn.Big Dog on 7/6/11 at 7:03

Tenn. Big Dog--iT IS KIND OF FUNNY, AS MY WIFE AND I GOT MARRIED IN FRANKLIN KY. 3 MOS AGO. THE MAGISTRATE THAT MARRIED US OPERATES THE TROPHY HOUSE ON THE SQUARE. HE CLOSED THE BUSINESS DOWN AT LUNCH 12:00PM TO 1:00 PM. HE CAME ACROSS THE STREET TO THE COUNTY CLERKS OFFICE AND MARRIED US AND ANOTHER COUPLE ON HIS LUNCH HOUR. HE TO CHARGED $40.00, WHICH WE GLADLY PAID. HE SHOULD BE COMPENSATED FOR HIS TIME.

MAYBE MR.ARRIOLA SHOULD DO AS THE KY. OFFICIAL DID, AND DO IT DURING LUNCH, OFF THE CLOCK AND HE SHOULD BE COMPENSATED AS WELL FOR HIS OFF DUTY TIME.

HEY JOHN, START PUNCHING A TIME CLOCK SHOWING YOUR GIVING THE STATE 40 HOURS PER WEEK AND ON YOUR LUNCH HOUR, YOUR TIME OFF THE CLOCK SHOULD BE YOURS..

By: DavidSchwetty on 7/6/11 at 7:59

The real issue I took from the story, why is the Davidson County Clerk making $114,000 pery year. It's an administrative position that requires very little advanced skills. I guarantee you could still fill the position with a capable person if the salary was reduced to $55,000.

On the wedding thing, I just paid the $40 fee in April. Honestly, I don't mind paying someone for performing a service (if they're not already grossly overpaid), just don't try lie about it. Especially don't lie when you're caught red handed.

Good luck in your next endeavors John. As usual, the cover up is worse than the crime.

By: bfra on 7/6/11 at 8:17

I commend Channel 5 for making public the irregularities of our elected officials, Look how long it took to get the crook Lineweaver out of office. I say investigate them all! If they are over stepping their positions for their own greedy gain, let it be made public and get them out of office.

By: NashvilleKat on 7/6/11 at 9:56

It amazes me the attitude of public officials. We should change "Clerk" Arriola's title to "King" Arriola, for like in King Arthur's time, he unjustly profits from his position and takes taxpayer money and does what he wants with it without any sense of accountability. He forgets that he is our public servant, for we as taxpayers pay his salary and are his boss. He'll find that out come re-election time when we fire him. Great job Channel Five. If Arriola wants to file a lawsuit against you, send him a copy of the constitution and highlight the part about freedom of the press.

By: i.am.a.taxpayer on 7/6/11 at 10:25

Mr. Arriola may have made some decisions without proper thought, but this is nowhere close to the malfeasance in the Criminal Court Clerk's office. If the fee for performing a marriage ceremony were an official function of the office (which apparently it is NOT), the amount would be established and mandatory. Is the County Court Clerk required to perform marriage ceremonies? Probably not, which means it is not the responsibility of that office.

Of course, NONE of these elected officials set their own rate of pay. Otherwise it would have been a lot more. The pay should be fair pay for the job, regardless of the people currently in office.

Some of the complaints against Mr. Arriola seem to be silly. Many other departments have purchased shirts, signs and hired public relations people and have done so for DECADES.

The investigation of the Criminal Court Clerk found clearly improper behavior, but the investigation of the County Court Clerk did not show much substance.

By: Writeman on 7/6/11 at 10:34

Did Ch. 5 report that Arriola took the money for himself? If it's not under-handed, it's "over" the top, a "side" game he's been playing and "low" down wrong! Ok, so my wordplay got the best of me but here's the thing: TV stations always do these types of stories in sweeps periods but so what...THAT'S not the problem, what Arriola has been doing IS the problem! From the story, it looks like he's stopped the practice of taking the money, which is good. Don't know if it needs to go beyond that, but perhaps he should be held accountable for all the $40.00 payments he received and give that to charity.

By: SirKnight on 7/6/11 at 12:07

‎"Now that you've caught me in the act, I'm not gonna do it no more! In fact, I'll start giving the fee ...er...gratuity to charities!!"

By: MocMewn on 7/6/11 at 12:20

Metro, State and private sector employers pay all the fees for an employee to become a Notary Public so they can have someone on hand who can notarize documents quickly. These employees can/do offer their services to the general public and are by law permitted to charge for that service. Some do, some don't. I don't know of any Metro employee who has a Notary license (paid for by Metro) and charges for their services that doesn't just put that fee in their pocket. What is the difference between that and Mr. Arriola accepting a gratuity for performing marriages?

If you have a problem with that, then pass a law saying Clerks can't perform marriages, they can only provide the license. Personally, I think he should not accept a gratuity for performing what apparently is part of his job description, but either way, his job description should state whether he can or cannot accept gratuities.

By: pswindle on 7/6/11 at 12:45

Good Grief! This has been going on for ages. Williams is mad because of something else, and he is taking it out on him. I think I understand Williams. He needs to cool down and shut up.

By: DavidSchwetty on 7/6/11 at 1:42

MocMewn,

There is a huge difference between accepting gratuities and charging a fee. Being that Mr. Arriola will not perform a marriage service without the couple first paying the $40 cash, this appears to be much more in line with a fee than a voluntary/discretionary gratuity.

By: Writeman on 7/6/11 at 2:03

Most large tv markets have many guys like Phil...I think he "stands out" more down here b/c we don't have many investigative reporters in little ol Nashville. I think Phil is a great asset and so is the guy over at Ch. 4 who does the same thing. We should be GLAD we have enterprising reporters like this and not blame their reporting on being "mad" about something else. It takes lots of time and energy to uncover these kinds of stories. Sure, some are more aggravating than others but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be revealed.

By: bfra on 7/6/11 at 2:36

Writeman - Finally someone that sees what is going on. So many crooks in this Town & Government and no wonder, look at all the people that uphold their underhanded cover ups. Then, someone comes along, starts reporting what is really going on (bilking the taxpayers) and they want to blame the reporter. Reporters, that are real reporters, keep showing the bilking & stealing by our public officials. Good Job!

By: govskeptic on 7/7/11 at 7:42

Pswindle must have the most warped view of events of any poster frequently on here.
For those that love to shoot the messenger on every issue of this sort, please keep
your head in the sand, it will make for a better world for those that don't!

By: shef2 on 7/7/11 at 2:15

Great job, Phil Williams-! Keep it up-! Greed is not good... Thanks for exposing it-!

By: T-BONE on 7/10/11 at 6:15

CALL TO ACTION!...If any readers out there were married by John Arriola and not informed that you did not have to pay this $40, but told that you had to, then you were duped! This is fraudulent and criminal! Please, please call The District Attorney General Victor S. (Torry) Johnson III and tell him to file criminal charges and give you back your money! (I'll bet Arriola did not give you a receipt). Don't worry...MAKE THAT CALL!
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