Burch: De-perk the clerk

Thursday, July 21, 2011 at 10:05pm
By Michael R. Burch

In my previous column, “Worship the Clerk,” I questioned why Americans fought to end their serfdom to feudal monarchs, only to turn around to bow and scrape to government clerks. After the article was published, alert readers informed me that I had only spotted the tip of an immense iceberg. It seems the Imperialists we euphemistically call “clerks” recognize no authority above themselves, and certainly not the public that pays them generous salaries in return for basic services.

While we commoners consider it more than fair to pay clerks more than $100,000 per year, followed by handsome pensions for just a few years of service, the clerks themselves thumb their imperious noses at the idea of doing an honest day’s work in return. Take, for instance, the curious case of David Torrence.

Torrence, the former Davidson County Criminal Court Clerk, averaged fewer than 20 hours per week over a period of 2.5 years. His “punishment”? He’s now in line to receive an $80,000 pension for life. Tyrants can ignore the law of the land and thumb their noses at commoners, while plundering the treasury. But we have a democracy where the will of the people is supposed to matter. How many Nashvillians would vote for Torrence to receive such a handsome pension for life, I wonder? And what sort of precedent would we set if Torrence receives $2.4 million over the next 30 years, after betraying the public trust? (Torrence regally offered to “reimburse” the city $15,000, but that’s a measly concession compared to the millions he stands to make at our expense.)

Davidson County Court Clerk John Arriola was recently discovered pocketing thousands of dollars per year in “tips” for marrying couples, while allowing them to believe the “tips” were government-mandated fees. If Arriola were a minimum-wage waiter, he might be entitled to voluntary tips. But he was already being paid $114,906 per year by taxpayers who had no reason to “tip” him. Arriola also hired his campaign treasurer and paid him for 20 hours work per week, without time cards or other physical evidence that any work was actually done. A clerk who makes more than $100,000 per year should be very good at accounting.

As I pointed out in my previous article, Davidson County “clerks” have been squandering taxpayer money for decades, because as soon as they get elected, they demand star billing. So they have new government forms and signs created, forcing commoners to see their regal personages announced whenever we register a vehicle or apply for a marriage license or birth certificate. For instance, according to the Nashville Scene, Arriola spent nearly $40,000 to replace “perfectly functional” signs with ones bearing his name, and to create a personalized logo. Why should taxpayers pay for clerks to put their names on marquees?

Surely it’s past time to end the imperial reigns of haughty government clerks and demand that they do their jobs in a reasonable manner — for reasonable pay.

Michael R. Burch is a Nashville-based editor and publisher of Holocaust poetry and other “things literary” at www.thehypertexts.com.

29 Comments on this post:

By: LizzyD on 7/22/11 at 5:48

Thank you.

Google: Gould, Arkansas. City Council gone mad.

By: serr8d on 7/22/11 at 5:54

Yep. The sooner this little Arriola man exits Stage Left, or peers out from between cell bars (as did John Ford, gloriously) the better off Nashville taxpayers will be.

By: govskeptic on 7/22/11 at 6:00

I must say I agree with everything pointed out here. A big problem lies in the fact
these are Constitutional offices and that creates only limited changes that can be
made. Surely even within those constraints some controls and accountability can
be enforced. Metro Purchasing was a contributor to the extreme signage cost by
giving these offices waivers on not using central purchasing, but I suspect even
they would have probably authorized the same purchases if requested! Often these
Clerks build up to their boll moves after serving a few terms, Mr Arriola, however
felt brave enough to get on with it in his first, and hopefully last term of office!

By: Captain Nemo on 7/22/11 at 6:51

Good piece of writing and spot on once more. Serfdom does seem to be rampant in America.

Thanks for the link. LizzYD.

By: gdiafante on 7/22/11 at 6:54

How did your fight go, Nemo?

By: Captain Nemo on 7/22/11 at 7:28

Good morning gdia.

I waited to see if he was coming and since he did not answer if he would I left for work. 17 min after I left he said he would be there. He must not have read my post or more likely he did read it but then he accepted. It will be there tomorrow at 11 AM. Come and see what happens. LOL

He has said before that he would know who I am because I would be the dumpiest one there. My plan is to hide behind a mirror. LOL

By: Captain Nemo on 7/22/11 at 7:29

See you all later. Idon't want to waste anymore time on the old fool today.

By: bfra on 7/22/11 at 7:42

Nemo - You are right, it is a wast of time!

By: yogiman on 7/22/11 at 8:11

Obviously, I.m not sitting here waiting for a response from you, dumba...

You gave a time but would not give a date. Following your remarks, I presumed it was to be yesterday (7/21/11).

As I posted yesterday evening, I was there at 10:50 and waited until 11:15 as you had stipulated the time period of 11:00 to 11:15 (I wanted to make sure I kept my "appointment").

During that time period, only one man came into the truck stop alone. That man came in and simply bought a bag of chips (as I presumed them to be) and went back out the door. The truck stop was not crowded and I did not see any man looking as if he was looking for someone.

Unless that one man was you, you did not come in. If it was you, why didn't you walk up to that man standing near the door looking as if they was waiting for someone?

By: judyboodo@yahoo.com on 7/22/11 at 8:16

Regarding the names on signs issue, why do any elected officials need to put their names on public signs? Listening mayors & councilpersons.

By: bfra on 7/22/11 at 8:20

Regarding signs, I still see Lineweaver signs around Nashville. I think, if after a short period of time, campaign signs are still around, fine that person for littering. And NO elected do not need their names on public signs.

By: bfra on 7/22/11 at 8:21

oops - make that elected officials.

By: yogiman on 7/22/11 at 8:38


For office holders to have places named after themselves while in office is simply egoism. They want to be known as to how great they are and what a helluva job they are doing, and for later generations, what they did for their ancestors.

By: JayBee56 on 7/22/11 at 10:44

I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who always wondered why we waste taxpayer money changing out signs when we get new clerks. Not long after he was elected, I asked John Arriola why it was necessary to have his name on all the signs. He didn't have a good answer. This just needs to stop and Metro Purchasing has the means to stop it. James Keeton for Mayor - www.JamesKeeton.com

By: Mike Burch on 7/22/11 at 10:48


I want to thank the alert, informed readers who commented on my last article and pointed out that things were even worse than I had suspected.

I think we should also be thankful that we have a number of local news organizations that do excellent jobs of sniffing out abuses of taxpayer money. Because the City Paper concentrates on local issues, it's a good source of such information. When readers chip in with good information and ideas, that helps all the more, so thanks.


By: Mike Burch on 7/22/11 at 10:56


I remember wondering why government clerks had their names on government forms and signs when I was a teenager, nearly 40 years ago. This waste of taxpayer money has been going on for decades, and has become part of the "culture" of local politics.

I have seen signs about construction projects that bear Karl Dean's name, so the problem goes up to the highest local offices.

We ended slavery by making slavery illegal. Perhaps we need to make it illegal for government employees to spend taxpayer money to put their names on signs, forms and letterhead. Why not just use the name of the office and save millions of dollars over the course of time?


By: Mike Burch on 7/22/11 at 10:59


I agree. These "clerks" must have enormous egos to think taxpayers should shell out large amounts of money for them to advertise their names. Then rather than do an honest day's work for an honest day's pay, they do things that would get other people sent to jail for fraud. They seem to be a law unto themselves.

By: Mike Burch on 7/22/11 at 11:04


In a democracy we are only serfs if we appoint egotistical monarchs to rule over us.

Rather than putting bad clerks on thrones, we should fine them or send them to jail. Then the next clerk would be more likely to provide the agreed-upon services in return for the agreed-upon pay in his/her employment contract.

We have become serfs to clerks by pampering them, as if they were royalty. What we need is an employment contract that pays them a reasonable salary when they do their jobs correctly, and penalizes them when they abuse their office.

By: yogiman on 7/22/11 at 11:06

The best form of government to stop the sign malarkey is the County Commission. Since Davidson County and Nashville are in a Metro form of government, the Metro Council (or Commission) could stop it.

But... how many commissioners do you think would officer such a resolution?

By: yogiman on 7/22/11 at 11:07

Sorry, I meant " would offer..."

By: Melstruck on 7/22/11 at 11:31

Can Council stop Mr. Torrence's pension? I think this is a great question for those who want to be elected/re-elected.

By: dargent7 on 7/22/11 at 11:59

This local stuff is small potatos.
What do the phandering slugs in the US Congress and the Senate make a year?
Their pensions?
How about all the "Councilman-at-Large" who are running for office make?
Clerks, Judges, bailiffs, County lawyers, personnel, Councilmen, Congressmen, Senators, Mayors, Governors, ....
Country is bankrupt and we have all these redundant job positions.
Could screw it up just as bad as it is with half the personnel now employed.

By: bfra on 7/22/11 at 12:16

d7 - They are all overpayed and all perks should be stopped.

By: bfra on 7/22/11 at 1:20

Example - When the council voted to double "their" pay. Where else does someone get to double their own pay. Then I read when Barrett was hired as Election Commissioner, in less than two mos., he got a $10,000 yr. raise. Too many to list all.

By: yogiman on 7/22/11 at 1:23

It has come to a point in our society here is only career politicians on all official positions. Especially the elected positions.

A question then comes up: Who sets their salaries and benefits. And is a political position due to a benefit? After all, they supposedly ran for that office to serve the people for the time based on the authorized term of that office.

I'll repeat my argument as where someone running for an elected office can get their campaign money. Too often a common citizen can't run for an office because they don't have the money to run a decent race. The ones they want to run against most often are receiving money from donors who feel they are going to represent THEM. Bought out before election? I don't know, but I'd bet some are.

I feel anyone running for an elected office should receive money only from the citizens they are (supposedly) seeking to represent. From the president of our nation to the aldermen in our cities.

That would mean the citizens of our nation for president, to the citizens of the state the senators are seeking to represent, to the citizens of the districts our representative are seeking to represent, to the governors of our states, the member of our state legislators, to the executives of our counties, to the mayors of our cities and the councilmen of those cities.

None of them should be allowed to accept money from foreign governments, corporations, or businesses. Especially from lobbyists. When they take that money they are bought out.

By: Mike Burch on 7/24/11 at 1:24


I think the Achilles heel of democracy is that elected politicians are not held accountable to the public.

As Will Rogers pointed out, we only vote on who gets elected. Once someone is elected, we have no say in what he/she actually does.


By: Mike Burch on 7/24/11 at 1:27


Letting an elected official have a say in what he/she gets paid is sheer lunacy. If I was allowed to establish my salary and retirement benefits, guess what I would do ...


By: Mike Burch on 7/24/11 at 1:28


If we don't keep Torrence from being paid $80,000 per year, we can only expect other con artists to take advantage of us in the future.


By: yogiman on 7/24/11 at 7:55


By what law gives an elected official the right to set their salary, health benefits and retirement programs? And this also includes the national legislature.

I'll agree, they're all something special, but you sure can't be considered them a bunch of good old boys.

Other than many actors and entertainers, I've never known as many egotistical idiots in any other line of employment the politicians are in. But then, I guess you have to call them actors and entertainers.