John Arriola listens to Council Rules Committee debate
Robert Duvall, Metro Council member
Final vote: 25-5, with 7 abstaining
By Phil Williams Chief Investigative Reporter
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Metro Council delivered a strong message to Davidson County Clerk John Arriola, telling him it's time to go.
First, they passed a resolution calling on him to resign. Then came a second vote demanding that he refund those controversial wedding fees.
It all follows an exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation into the Davidson County clerk.
The fiery debate in a Council committee was a stark contrast to those weddings that Arriola performed on taxpayer time, pocketing thousands of dollars cash from couples he married.
"Let me finish," said Metro Council member Robert Duvall during one tense exchange. "We are the voice of the people."
"I think we're going down a slippery slope here, ladies and gentlemen," Council member Bo Mitchell responded.
Arriola's attorney Brian Lewis once again asked members to wait for the outcome of a criminal investigation.
"He's human, like everyone else -- he makes mistakes," Lewis told the committee.
But Lewis once again dodged Councilman Charlie Tygard's questions about whether the clerk paid taxes on those wedding fees before he was caught.
"He has paid all of his taxes," Lewis said. "You are not going to pin me to a yes or no answer."
"It's a yes or no question," Tygard insisted.
"I don't have to answer a yes or no question from you, Mr. Tygard," the attorney replied.
Council members also questioned Arriola's recent claims that he had previously offered to refund those fees he had claimed were just gratuities.
"I do not believe you advertised it," Duvall said. "I think that you may have had an open policy that if somebody walked in, you'd better give it back because you're sorry. You're sorry because you took the money, and you got caught."
In committee, there were no votes in favor of either the resolution asking Arriola to resign or a second one asking that he return those wedding fees.
But on the floor, no one spoke up in defense of the county clerk.
Councilman Phil Claiborne noted that Arriola amended his financial disclosures to show he was pocketing those wedding fees, which he called "gratuities," only after NewsChannel 5 Investigates revealed the practice.
"Now you can't convince me with any argument that this amended filing would have taken place if the Channel 5 story hadn't brought to light the issue," Claiborne said.
In the end, the vote -- 25-5 with 7 abstaining -- said it all.
The resolution is non-binding, meaning that Arriola's fate probably still lies with prosecutors.
Arriola's attorney also said the clerk would refund those wedding fees from any couple who requested it -- if they had proof they had paid those fees.
However, it's not clear that couples ever got receipts for those cash payments.
Here's the vote on the resolution asking Arriola to resign: