At-large Metro Councilman Charlie Tygard has asked embattled Davidson County Clerk John Arriola to refund couples the more than $119,000 in cumulative fees that a state audit found he collected before performing their marriage ceremonies.
In an email sent to Arriola Monday morning (see full text below), the Bellevue councilman gave the clerk two options: Either return on his own accord $40 fees he charged to nearly 3,000 couples he married or Tygard promised to introduce a non-binding memorializing resolution that would formally request Arriola return the money.
“I have received several calls/letters from citizens married in your office upset by the $40 fee/gratuity they paid to be married,” Tygard wrote. “These individuals are upset with the amount charged. Some are struggling to make a living in this economy.
“As a result, it would seem to me that the honorable thing to do would be to contact these couples (or at least publicize to these couples thru the media) that you are offering to refund the $40 fee/gratuity to those who want a refund,” Tygard continued. “This would truly make the $40 a gratuity. Another option might be offer to send the $40 to the charity of their choice. This would truly make the $40 a gratuity.”
Tygard’s resolution, already filed, would go before the council on Feb. 21. If Arriola agrees to refund his fee collection, Tygard said he would withdraw the legislation.
Contacted by The City Paper, Arriola said he hadn’t read Tygard’s email and declined to comment.
A January state comptroller’s audit found Arriola performed approximately 2,985 marriage ceremonies between Sept. 1, 2006, and July 30, 2011, collecting $119,400 during that period.
State law allows the clerk to accept voluntary gratuities to perform weddings, according to the comptroller’s report, but not a mandatory fee. It suggested Arriola had been doing the latter.
“Marriage department employees were required to place the $40 cash in an envelope for the county clerk along with any other information the couple specifically requested for their vows,” the audit reads. “The envelopes were delivered personally to the county clerk.”
Tygard’s resolution would mark the second pending council legislation to target Arriola.
Fellow conservative Councilman Robert Duvall has sponsored a resolution that calls for Arriola’s resignation. The council on Feb. 7 voted to defer that resolution to wait for action from District Attorney General Torry Johnson, who is still reviewing the comptroller’s audit.
Tygard, at a council committee meeting last week, had a heated exchange with Arriola’s attorney Bryan Lewis when the councilman asked whether Arriola reported wedding-income “in the year” he collected the money.
Lewis didn’t seem to answer the question. (The suggestion is that Arriola paid taxes on fee income only after the wedding-fee issue surfaced in the media.)
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.”
Last summer, Tygard was the primary source of council-pressure to successfully push for the resignation of Criminal Court Clerk David Torrence.
From: Charlie Tygard
Sent: Monday, February 13, 2012 9:51 AM
To: Arriola, John (County Clerk)
Cc: Neighbors, Diane (Vice Mayor); Council Members; Cooper, Jon (Council
Subject: Message from Charlie Tygard to John Arriola
Saturday evening, my wife Judy and I were catching a quick bite to eat before heading over to babysit our grandkids. Our waiter that evening gave us impeccable service - he suggested that the prime rib that was only on the Friday/Saturday menu was especially tasty, he kept our tea & coffee glasses refilled on a timely basis without hovering, his attitude was delightful. As a result, I tipped him 30% to reward and thank him for his excellent service. In other circumstances, with lesser service, I might have chosen a lessor % or even no tip at all.
I have received several calls/letters from citizens married in your office upset by the $40 fee/gratuity they paid to be married. These individuals are upset with the amount charged. Some are struggling to make a living in this economy.
As a result, it would seem to me that the honorable thing to do would be to contact these couples (or at least publicize to these couples thru the media) that you are offering to refund the $40 fee/gratuity to those who want a refund. This would truly make the $40 a gratuity. Another option
might be offer to send the $40 to the charity of their choice. This would truly make the $40 a gratuity.
If you choose to take this path, I will withdraw the attached memorializing resolution. Otherwise, the resolution will be considered on February 21, 2012.