NASHVILLE, Tenn. - In a highly unusual move, the Metro Finance Department told Davidson County Clerk John Arriola's office Tuesday that it will no longer be allowed to make any purchases on its own.
They even canceled Arriola's credit card.
It follows a decision last week by the district attorney to ask the TBI to investigate and questions first raised by NewsChannel 5 Investigates.
"I've never seen this happen before in Metro," said NewsChannel 5 political analyst Pat Nolan.
Under the Metro charter, the city's purchasing agent is ultimately responsibility for all purchases. But, for years, the city's elected officials have been allowed to handle their own purchases -- after they sign an agreement promising to follow all purchasing rules.
"In light of the recent press coverage and increased scrutiny of the County Clerk's office operations, I am exercising the authority to terminate the delegated purchasing authority granted to your office. This action is effective immediately. As part of this action, the credit cards issued to you and/or your staff have been canceled." Read the delegation of authority and the termination letter
Nolan said, "I think it's a sign of how seriously this administration takes what's going on and the need to make sure they are stepping in to take control of things so that, if they are problems, they don't continue -- or at least they don't continue without some oversight."
Our NewsChannel 5 investigation first documented tens of thousands of dollars in questionable spending by Arriola's office, including a public relations contract where he refused to say if he followed proper bidding procedures.
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."
We also uncovered almost $50,000 paid, supposedly for consulting about "emissions testing," to Encore Interpretive Design -- a company owned by Arriola friend David Currey. According to its website, the company's principals also include one of Arriola's top aides, Jonathan Saad.
"You gave him a no-bid contract?" NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked the county clerk.
"David was just a project-by-project person," Arriola answered.
Nolan compared the situation to a common family occurrence.
"It's a little like your teenager who you got the bill and there's something on there you don't like," he said. "You not only say don't do that, you make sure they don't do that. You take their credit card away."
While it's unusual for a mayor's administration to interject itself into another elected official's business, Gossage writes in his letter that it's meant not to be punitive, but to "ensure transparency and public trust."
"I don't think this mayor or previous mayors have been looking for things to go after," Nolan added. "But I think obviously when things are brought to their attention, there's pretty much a necessity, they feel like they have to act."
In his letter, the purchasing agent tells Arriola that he'll assign someone to work with the county clerk to make sure they get everything they need to run the office. Administration officials say they'll just make sure that, in the future, all the rules are followed.
As for those weddings at the clerk's office, after we revealed that Arriola was pocketing thousands of dollars cash from ceremonies performed on taxpayer time, he announced that he would continue offering the service, but that the money would in the future go to charity.
Now, callers are being told that there will be no weddings this week and to check back to see if they'll be offered then.
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