Embattled Davidson County Clerk John Arriola plans to resign at the end of this week in what appears to be a deal with local prosecutors, according to The Tennessean.
Arriola has been under investigation for nearly a year over charging couples a $40 fee and pocketing the money when his office performed weddings.
He gathered about 60 staff members for a brief meeting at 7:30 a.m. today.
“He didn’t go into an explanation other than it was just time to step down,” said Jonathan Saad, director of external operations for the clerk’s office.
District Attorney General Torry Johnson said in a news release that his investigation of Arriola, conducted jointly with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation since July, has concluded with the clerk’s submission of a resignation letter, which Johnson’s office delivered to Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors today. Arriola wrote without elaboration that as “a duly elected official,” he would resign at the close of business Friday.
“With his resignation from office, there will be no prosecution of alleged or purported state criminal law violations as a result of what the audits found,” the release said.
Johnson also said, however, that Arriola’s actions “weren’t necessarily criminal in nature.”
News release from Comptroller’s Office:
The Metropolitan Nashville Davidson County Office of the County Clerk repeatedly collected improper fees from citizens, made an improper payment from funds maintained by the office, and engaged in poor payroll recordkeeping, an investigation by the state Comptroller’s office has revealed.
The investigation was conducted by the Comptroller’s Division of County Audit with assistance from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
Auditors found that between Sept. 1, 2006 and June 26 of last year, the office performed nearly 3,000 marriage ceremonies for which a $40 fee was usually charged to the marrying couples. Numerous interviews with office employees and couples indicate the fees charged were not optional, which appears to conflict with state law.
The fees were placed in envelopes and personally delivered to Davidson County Clerk John Arriola. Auditors estimate that almost $120,000 was collected during the time period under review.
The investigation found numerous personnel and payroll issues, including:
Arriola hired his campaign treasurer, Leighton Bush, as his office outreach coordinator, but could not document the hours Bush actually worked for the office or outreach projects he completed.
Arriola contracted with David Currey in a non-competitive process and paid his firm more than $40,000 for consulting work at the same time Currey was renting property from Arriola
Payroll records revealed 63 employees in the office were compensated for overtime hours they did not actually work.
Employees solicited campaign contributions from staff during regular business hours and on at least one occasion some employees were asked to leave work early to attend a political fundraiser held on Arriola’s behalf.
The investigation also found that the clerk’s office failed to turn over computer fees to the county general fund as required by state law. More than $65,000 as of June 30, 2011, was on hand in the clerk’s fee and commission account.
All of the findings and recommendations have been forwarded to the Davidson County District Attorney General.
To view the investigative report online, go to: http://www.comptroller1.state.tn.us/repository/CA/2011/Davidson%20county%20clerk%20special%20report.pdf
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A state audit of the Davidson County clerk’s office has found Clerk John Arriola required employees to collect a $40 fee to perform civil marriages.
The report issued Wednesday seems to rebut Arriola’s claims to WTVF-TV that the money was a gratuity for his services (http://bit.ly/zfTOm2). The station’s investigation led to a request by District Attorney Torry Johnson for the audit, conducted by the office of the state comptroller.
Auditors concluded employees did not advise people seeking to be married that the $40 was optional.
A telephone message left Wednesday seeking comment from Arriola was not immediately returned.
In the clerk’s office response to auditors, it was stated that no one who did not pay the fee was denied a ceremony.
Note: Davidson County District Attorney Torry Johnson issued a news release on the audit. This quote from the release “Because this is still an on-going investigation, we can’t speak to any specifics at this stage,” Johnson says. “Our office is reviewing the information gathered by both the TBI and the State Comptroller’s office to determine whether sufficient evidence exists to warrant action by our office.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — After an investigation by WTVF-TV showed the Davidson County Clerk was taking $40 from couples to perform marriages, he defended himself by call the money a “gratuity.” But in emails obtained by the station under the state’s open records law, Clerk John Arriola himself refers to the money as a “fee” (http://bit.ly/qGtE7q ).
In one exchange, a bride-to-be inquires about getting married at the clerk’s office.
“I have saved the date and time. The ceremony fee is $40,” Arriola responds.
A message for Arriola from The Associated Press on Tuesday was not immediately returned.
Under Tennessee’s official misconduct law, it is a felony for public officials to use their offices for personal gain.
The county clerk’s office is under investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and state auditors, although no charges have been filed.
Nashville’s City Council delayed a vote on whether to call for the resignation of embattled Davidson County Court Clerk John Arriola Tuesday night, says the City Paper, but did act on a couple of other calls.
• The Metro Council voted 23-10 to approve a non-binding memorializing resolution to honor local high school students who protested the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill during the state legislative session.
The resolution, sponsored by Councilman Jamie Hollin, came six weeks after a similar measure failed at the behest of two conservative colleagues, igniting a verbal tirade from Hollin.
• The council voted 26-9 to approve a non-binding memorializing resolution sponsored by Councilwoman Kristine LaLonde that requests the Metro Department of Law file an amicus brief in support of an ongoing suit over the constitutionality of the state’s Equal Access to Intrastate Commerce Act.
The law, passed this year by the Republican-dominated state legislature, nullified Metro’s nondiscrimination law that required city contractors to provide employment protections for gay, lesbian and transgender employees.
As District Attorney General Torry Johnson closed an investigation into one elected official Friday, he announced plans to launch another inquiry into a second officeholder, the Tennessean reports.
During a news conference, Johnson said he will be meet next week with officials from the TBI and the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury to investigate Davidson County Clerk John Arriola’s practice of pocketing $40 for marriages he performs and the employment of his campaign treasurer, whose work for the office has been difficult to determine.
At the same news conference, Johnson announced that his investigation into Criminal Court Clerk David Torrence ended with Torrence’s resignation Friday morning after his office found that Torrence averaged no more than a 19-hour workweek for the last 2 1/2 years.
Had Torrence not resigned, Johnson would have sought to oust him with a rarely used state law allowing judges to unseat court clerks.
“We’ve certainly had a run of bad luck,” Johnson quipped.
Neither Arriola or Torrence could be reached for comment Friday.
Davidson County Clerk John Arriola will no longer pocket a $40 “gratuity” he has been collecting from people to oversee weddings, says The Tennessean.
Arriola, anticipating that a TV station was going to broadcast a story about his office’s policy on marriage ceremonies, said Tuesday he would instead donate the money to charity. He released a statement saying it had been his practice to “accept a modest gratuity of $40” for officiating marriage ceremonies. He said he has paid taxes on those gratuities.
Arriola said he will continue to officiate weddings and accept the gratuity, which will go toward scholarships or some other charity.
Here’s an excerpt from the referenced story by WTVF’s Phil Williams:
But for the Davidson County clerk, it’s also become big business. His clerks — all Metro employees — charge $40 up front for the ceremony.
However, instead of depositing the money into Metro accounts, Arriola himself pockets the cash.
Arriola: “There is what state law refers to as a gratuity. That is a part of it.”
NC5 Investigates: “A gratuity is something I give voluntarily — a tip. This is a fee that you charge.”
Arriola: “No, I can have a gratuity.”
But several newly married couples said they were led to believe that the fee was mandatory.
“It’s $40, yes,” one bride insisted.
And we listened as another couple asked one of Arriola’s employees, “How much is the marriage part?”
“It’s $40,” the clerk said.
And another employee told our undercover reporter the same thing about Arriola’s ceremonies.
“He does them on Friday mornings from 8:30 until 11. He charges $40 cash,” she explained.