NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Davidson County Clerk John Arriola has surrendered the $33,000 SUV that you had paid for. That follows questions raised by NewsChannel 5 Investigates.
Now, when he needs to travel on city business, Arriola is promising to use a more fuel-efficient car already provided to his office.
This development comes as a leading member of the Metro Council is calling for a top-to-bottom review of the city's vehicles. In a letter to Nashville's elected officials and department heads, Megan Barry says it appears that the city is paying for a lot of cars it does not really need.
Barry, who heads the Council's Budget and Finance Committee, asks those officials to justify why they need to keep low-mileage vehicles that are not getting that much use. She says it appears that Metro could save thousands by eliminating them and paying mileage for employees to use their own cars. That, she says, would leave more money for essential police and fire vehicles.
"Clearly it would be better for the taxpayers if these vehicles were eliminated from the fleet or assigned as replacements to avoid additional purchases," Barry said.." Read Megan Barry's news release
One of those letters goes out to the Davidson County clerk.
For the last four years, Arriola had driven a black Chevrolet Tahoe with a running board and 20-inch aluminum wheels -- purchased at taxpayer expense.
Arriola first tried to blame Metro's Department of General Services for forcing that vehicle on him.
Arriola: "I understand that that was the one that was assigned to me." NC5 Investigates: "So you did not request that vehicle?" Arriola: "Not that I recall."
But NewsChannel 5 Investigates obtained an email that told another story. Arriola wrote:
Arriola: "That is." NC5 Investigates: "And you wanted a black Tahoe with a running board. Why did you need a running board?" Arriola: "I'm not as familiar with the running board but they do help you with the vehicle." NC5 Investigates: "And why did you want larger wheels?" Arriola: "I think that when you are riding in any vehicle, larger wheels are very helpful and much more safer than the smaller, narrow wheels."
Those shiny aluminum wheels, according to bid documents, cost taxpayers an extra $2,700.
Still, Arriola was unapologetic. "Large wheels are always good.... I think it's a safety issue," he insisted.
We also had questions about some gas purchases Arriola could not explain -- a weekend where he logged 300 miles, multiple purchases in Kingston -- out toward Knoxville, and gas bought on Monteagle Mountain.
We asked him if he ever used the SUV for his own personal use.
Arriola: "No, I should not be using it for personal use." NC5 Investigates: "Do you ever use it for personal use?" Arriola: "I should not ever use it for personal use. I should take it back home and let it stay there."
Later, he claimed he just drove it for work.
"To drive it back and forth to work and let the taxpayers pay that gas and the wear and tear on that vehicle, I don't think is what the purpose of the Metro vehicle program is," said Metro Council member Charlie Tygard.
During budget hearings back in May, Tygard questioned the county clerk about why taxpayers needed to provide him with a take-home vehicle at all. Arriola told the Council that the Tahoe helped him to get out to his other offices around the county.
"You don't go to the branch offices that often, do you?" we asked Arriola.
"No," he insisted, "I do. I do like to visit all of the offices."
But when NewsChannel 5 Investigates went to one of those offices, this is what the clerk told our undercover reporter: "He pops in, but not too often."
"They may not ever see me all the time, but I usually come in and check on what's going on," the county clerk explained. "Sometimes they see me, and sometimes they don't."
And when we checked the electronic access records for three of those satellite offices, we discovered that Arriola had only swiped his access card once -- at just one of those offices -- in the six months prior to our investigation.
"When we ask questions at the Council, we expect honest answers," Tygard said. "If we didn't get an honest answer that would be troubling."
Now Arriola has parked the Tahoe, at the same time blasting NewsChannel 5 Investigates, saying "If Mr. Williams thinks a Tahoe is a luxury vehicle, I would recommend he get out more."
We also checked to see which elected officials do not ask you to pay for them to drive to and from work. We're told that Juvenile Court Clerk does not have a take-home car, neither does the Circuit Court Clerk, the Assessor of Property, or the Metro Trustee.
The only one of those kind of elected officials who still has one is Register of Deeds Bill Garrett, who has a 1999 Ford Crown Victoria.