Mayor Wants Tax Collections Taken From Arriola - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

NC5 Investigates: Davidson County Clerk

Mayor Wants Tax Collections Taken From Arriola

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By Phil Williams
Chief Investigative Reporter

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- As Nashville Mayor Karl Dean asks the Metro Council for a property tax increase, his office is also taking aim at Davidson County Clerk John Arriola.

In a dramatic move, the Dean administration will ask the Council to strip Arriola of his power to collect some $40 million in Metro taxes.

The mayor's office insisted this is not about politics.

Instead, in an alarming revelation, they said that Arriola's office has become increasingly dysfunctional, making it difficult at times for them to pay the city's bills.

For months now, John Arriola has resisted calls from Metro Council members for him to resign.

"If Mr. Arriola was such a bad manager and was a thief, why is he returning a million dollars to Metro's budget?" his attorney, Brian Lewis, told a Council committee earlier this year.

But, after having trouble getting the clerk's office to deposit Metro taxes into Metro accounts, the Dean administration wants to take away his office's authority to collect tourism and alcohol taxes, as well as certain franchise fees.

"It's not a political issue in my mind -- it's a pure financial issue," Metro finance director Rich Riebeling told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

Riebeling said it got to the point that, when it recently came time to make a bond payment on the new convention center, his office worried where the money would come from.

"We obviously would have not missed the bond payment," he said. "We would have provided some other revenues to make sure we got paid until the revenues came in.

"But it was sort like, my office kept calling, saying we need the money transferred over -- and there just didn't seem to be anybody who understood the priority nature of it."

An audit requested by the mayor following our NewsChannel 5 investigation of the clerk's office also found that "hotels are not audited" to make sure they pay their taxes.

NewsChannel 5 also revealed that the clerk's office had failed to collect years worth of bar taxes.

"If no one's watching the henhouse, perhaps we are missing some revenues. I don't know that, but perhaps," Riebeling said.

It follows a move by the Riebeling last year to cut off Arriola's independent purchasing authority. That came after our investigation revealed a series of no-bid contracts.

"Is there a lack of faith in John Arriola himself?" we asked, prompting a smile from the finance director.

"That's obviously a question for others to decide," he continued. "I think that our actions are being done because we have a fiduciary responsibility to collect revenue that's due Metro -- and every dollar that's not collected has to come from somewhere else."

The mayor's legislation would transfer authority for collecting those taxes to the finance department.

Still, under state law, the county clerk's office would still be responsible for license plates and marriage licenses. That's something the Metro Council could not take away.

As for the criminal investigation of Arriola, sources tell NewsChannel 5 that the investigation is still active and may be nearing an end.

We reached out to John Arriola for a response regarding the legislation. So far, there's no word.

E-mail: pwilliams@newschannel5.com

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