Three County Clerks, Three County Clerk Scandals - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

NC5 Investigates: Davidson County Clerk

Three County Clerks, Three County Clerk Scandals

Posted: Updated: Feb 6, 2012 06:22 PM
Bill Covington Bill Covington
Bill McPherson Bill McPherson
John Arriola John Arriola

By Phil Williams
Chief Investigative Reporter

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Davidson County Clerk John Arriola is not the first Davidson County Clerk to face scandal.

Since 1980, there have been three county clerks, three county clerk scandals.

"I guess, cynically, you would say we've had a stretch of bad luck in the county clerk's office," said veteran Metro Council member Charlie Tygard.

Bill McPherson served six years -- six years marred by allegations of using taxpayer resources for his re-election, as well as having some crude terms for his female employees.

"He had a tendency to say things about people publicly particularly about women that were demeaning and bordered on harassment," recalled NewsChannel 5 political analyst Pat Nolan.

Bill Covington came in as a reformer and held the job for two decades.

Then, in 2002, NewsChannel 5 Investigates busted one of his employees making repeated beer runs in a Metro vehicle.

At the time Covington responded, "I think he's very embarrassed by it and certainly I am."

What the county clerk did not know was that our hidden cameras had watched the beer go into a box, into his building, then into his office.

"He has not brought any beer into this office," he claimed. "I don't know what is in the box."

"Beer is in the box," we noted.

"He didn't leave any beer in this office."

We also caught Covington using his Metro employees for personal chores.

NC5 Investigates: "Does he mow your grass?"
Covington: "No, absolutely not."
NC5 Investigates: "Never?"
Covington: "Never."

But our hidden cameras told a different story.

And, inside his office, we found evidence that Covington was using Metro facilities to make money.

Covington: "Now, Phil, are you going to go through my trash?"
NC5 Investigates: "Are you running a private business out of here."
Covington: "Absolutely not."

Later, Covington admitted that wasn't quite true.

NC5 Investigates: "So you had your secretary transcribing your notes relating to a private business?"
Covington: "Transcribing my thoughts relating to a private business."
NC5 Investigates: "Relating to a private business -- a Metro employee?"
Covington: "Now, I did that. Yes, I did that."
NC5 Investigates: "On Metro time?"
Covington: "Yes."
NC5 Investigates: "In a Metro office?"
Covington: "Yes, in a Metro building on Metro land. I did that."

Pat Nolan said that arrogance became one of Covington's problems.

"Sometimes when you are a political official and you are not challenged out there in the public, you don't think you have any opposition, sometimes you get a little big for your britches," he added.

When Covington chose not to seek re-election six years ago, John Arriola ran, promising to "return ethics and accountability to the office."

Then, last year, our investigation caught him pocketing tens of thousands of dollars in cash for weddings he performed on taxpayer time.

"You have Metro employees in a Metro office on Metro time charging a fee that's going into your pocket?" we asked.

"It's a gratuity, as I see it," Arriola responded.

Tygard sees a common theme.

"In many cases these offices are popularity contests, and the taxpayers are voting for folks based on name recognition or how much campaign funds you've raised. And we really aren't asking the tough questions: what experience do you have to run a multimillion-dollar corporation."

All questions that, if some get their way, Nashvillians will get another chance to ask.

Tygard and Nolan say part of the problem is the lack of oversight.

The county clerk is independently elected -- so the mayor and council have very little to say about how that office is run. Which is why, even if the Council calls for John Arriola to resign, he doesn't have to go anywhere -- unless he's convicted or faces an ouster suit.


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