Taxpayer-Funded PR Plan Aimed To Boost Arriola Image - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

NewsChannel 5 Investigates:

Taxpayer-Funded PR Plan Aimed To Boost Arriola Image

Updated: July 7, 2011 11:30 PM CDT
John Arriola shirts printed for Christmas party.  Cost to taxpayers: $475. John Arriola shirts printed for Christmas party. Cost to taxpayers: $475.
Studio portrait of John Arriola.  Cost to taxpayers: $806. Studio portrait of John Arriola. Cost to taxpayers: $806.

By Phil Williams
Chief Investigative Reporter


NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- NewsChannel 5 Investigates has uncovered new details about how Davidson County's clerk spends your tax money. The expenditures include tens of thousands of dollars spent to promote John Arriola's name and face.

This follows a NewsChannel 5 investigation that exposed how the clerk was pocketing thousands of dollars cash from weddings he performed on taxpayer time.
Related story: County Clerk: 'I Call It A Gratuity'

For a politician like Arriola, name recognition is something money can buy.  He did it with a clever TV ad, featuring his daughters, when he was first elected five years ago.

In that case, the effort was funded using his campaign money.

But last year, Arriola used your money to hire the Andrews Agency to do public relations for his office. The firm is headed by his longtime friend Susan Andrews and employs the wife of one of Arriola's top aides.

Cost to taxpayers: $16,826.

Susan Andrews confirms that her firm did not have to go through any sort of competitive bidding process to get the contract.

"It was a no-bid contract?" NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Arriola.

Then, for more than a minute, Arriola talked and refused to answer the question.

NC5 Investigates: "Was it a no-bid contract, John? It's a yes or no question."
Arriola: "It was a contract, it was an agreement that I had with this small minority firm."
NC5 Investigates: "With no bidding?"
Arriola: "And I made the decision."

A plan developed for Arriola by the PR firm listed the "goals and objectives." Included: "Focusing on John Arriola as a public official, bringing name and face recognition to front of mind."

Why should Metro taxpayers pay to increase John Arriola's name recognition?

"Well, I was uncomfortable with that," Arriola answered. "That was not done."

Arriola insists he just wanted to promote his office's services.

But Arriola top aides approved a document describing the goals as "positive press and visibility for John and his wonderful staff."

NC5 Investigates: "It sounds like they're doing PR for John Arriola."
Arriola: "That was an over-enthusiastic staff person."

And it's the same excuse he gave for an email where the PR firm told him they needed someone "to say just how wonderful you are."

NC5 Investigates: "If you want people to know how wonderful you are, why don't you pay for that yourself?"
Arriola: "Again, another overenthusiastic staffer."

You also paid for a studio portrait of John Arriola.

Cost to taxpayers: $806.

Why did he need an $800 photo?

Arriola: "Well, everything's expensive. Photos are expensive."
NC5 Investigates: "The Metro photographer would have done it for free."
Arriola: "I wanted to make sure we had a good shot so I'm very comfortable."
NC5 Investigates: "So you think you needed an $800 photo?"
Arriola: "I think it's a good shot."

Then there's a new John Arriola logo.

Cost to taxpayers: $4,800.

NC5 Investigates: "If that isn't promoting John Arriola, what is?"
Arriola: "I think it's been very successful because people see here is the Davidson County clerk."
NC5 Investigates: "So why not just say Davidson County clerk on it?"
Arriola:
"Well, Davidson County clerk -- folks may not know what the Davidson County clerk is."

When Metro government moved into new offices on 2nd Avenue, that's exactly what the signs said: Davidson County Clerk.

But emails show the county clerk's office wasn't happy with that -- so Arriola used your money to buy new signs, using his new logo.

Cost to taxpayers: $34,027.

"That's a one time expenditure," Arriola said. "We won't need to do that again."

But what if he loses the next election?

Arriola:
"Whenever you have change, things are always going to change."
NC5 Investigates:
"If you just put Davidson County clerk on it, that would work -- no matter who is in this office."
Arriola: "Well, everybody wants to know who the Davidson County clerk is."

That is what he must have been thinking when he had John Arriola shirts printed for just one Christmas party.

Cost to taxpayers: $475.

"Of all the decisions that I've make, that decision I wish I had back," Arriola said. "I really regret doing that."

NewsChannel 5 Investigates noted that he paid for John Arriola photos, John Arriola signs, John Arriola shirts. Does he realize that this is not John Arriola's money?

Arriola:
"This is the county clerk's office."
NC5 Investigates: "Do you realize this is not John Arriola's money?"
Arriola: "This is the county clerk's office. I realize that we've had a good office."
NC5 Investigates: "That's actually a yes or no question. Do you realize this is not John Arriola's money?"
Arriola: "This is not my money. I am a caretaker for the people of Davidson County and I'm proud of what we've been able to accomplish."

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Arriola's office for proof that they followed purchasing laws on those and other contracts.

But those were not questions that the county clerk himself wanted to answer.

In addition to promoting John Arriola's name, the PR firm helped push Arriola's threats to close two satellite offices -- one in North Nashville, the other in Green Hills -- if the Metro Council did not give him more money during recent budget discussions.

After NewsChannel 5 Investigates told him that we were about to do this story, he suddenly found the money to keep those offices open.

E-mail: pwilliams@newschannel5.com

Read John Arriola's statement about our investigation

Related Stories:
NC5 Investigates: Davidson County Clerk

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