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NC5 Investigates: Davidson County Clerk

Interim County Clerk Promises To Restore Public Confidence

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Brenda Wynn takes the oath of office Brenda Wynn takes the oath of office
Brenda Wynn, Interim Davidson County Clerk Brenda Wynn, Interim Davidson County Clerk
John Arriola, former Davidson County Clerk John Arriola, former Davidson County Clerk

By Phil Williams
Chief Investigative Reporter

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Interim Davidson County Clerk Brenda Wynn is promising to restore the public's confidence in the office that became embroiled in scandal under John Arriola.

Wynn took the oath of office Friday amid word that Arriola's wife had picked up qualifying papers for her husband to possibly run in November for the office from which he was just forced to resign in disgrace.

"I think changing the public's perception will be immediately a challenge for us," Wynn told Newschannel 5 Investigates in an exclusive interview just hours before the ceremony to swear her into office.

"How do you do that?" we asked.

"Well, she answered, "I think that what we do is, we first of all, provide the best customer service that we can. We change some policies."

Brenda Wynn, a former aide to Congressman Jim Cooper, will serve until the November election when she'll be on the ballot as the Democratic nominee for the office. That would normally make her the early favorite for election.

Her ceremony comes amid surprising new questions about whether Arriola himself might be plotting a political comeback.

Davidson County Election Administrator Albert Tieche confirmed to NewsChannel 5 that Arriola's wife, Michelle, had picked up qualifying papers Thursday to put her husband's name on the November ballot as an independent candidate.

Arriola resigned back in June to avoid criminal charges following a scandal first uncovered by NewsChannel 5 Investigates, but the deal with prosecutors does not prevent him from running for the office again.

All he needs is 25 signatures from Davidson County registered voters. The qualifying deadline is noon on August 16th.

One of Arriola's attorneys, Bryan Lewis, told The Tennessean that the former clerk was not running.

Among the policies that Brenda Wynn promised to change are the ones that first got Arriola into trouble.  He charged couples $40 to perform wedding ceremonies on taxpayer time, claiming he was taking advantage of a state law that allows clerks to accept gratuities.

"Nobody accepts a gratuity," Wynn said. "There are certain things that we have to do, but we get paid to do that. So we do it, and we don't accept the gratuities for it."

So will she be performing weddings?

"Yes, we will perform weddings," she said. "But we plan to do that free of charge to newlyweds in Nashville."

NewsChannel 5 Investigates also had questions about all those John Arriola signs put up across town at taxpayer expense.

"My name will not be on any sign in the city," Wynn said.

"I'm not sure what it's going to cost us to change the signage. But again, we want to make sure that people understand that's not my office. That office belongs to the citizens of Davidson County, and we will operate it in that manner."

And what about how Arriola used his office for political campaigns?

"No one in that office will be expected to put up yard signs," she said. "No one in that office will be expected to make phone calls. No one in that office will be expected to make a contribution to my campaign."

All of that, we noted, "doesn't sound like you're going to be much fun for an investigative reporter."

"I hope not," she answered with a laugh. "I hope not to see you tagging along behind me."

Then, turning serious, she added: "I just hope that the end of the day, six months, a year down the road, we can all look back and say, 'Wow, look at the transformation that's happened in that office.'"

Wynn said that, if couples want to give her a tip for performing a wedding ceremony, she'll just suggest that they give the money to a charity of their choice.

As for Arriola's employees, she said there certainly will not be any wholesale firings. Most of the people there are good, hard-working career employees, she explained.

Still, Wynn said that she will be looking to make sure that she's got the right people in the right jobs.

Election officials say that two frequent candidates, Murray Phillip and Richard Eden, have indicated they plan to run as independents.

E-mail: pwilliams@newschannel5.com

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NC5 Investigates: Davidson County Clerk

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