Davidson County Clerk John Arriola resigns - WSMV Channel 4

Davidson County Clerk John Arriola resigns

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Embattled Davidson County Clerk John Arriola resigned from his elected office Monday after wrongdoings were found in a state audit earlier this year.

In a letter submitted to Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors' office, Arriola said his resignation will be effective at the close of business Friday.

Arriola's resignation follows a thorough state investigation. Over the past year, the Bureau of Investigation and Comptroller's Office checked out reports of questionable spending.

"We felt that this would be a very, very lengthy process of not only getting this case to trial, but if in fact, there were a conviction, there would be a very lengthy appeal process," said District Attorney General Torry Johnson.

Arriola especially caught criticism over the way he handled weddings. In more than five years, Arriola collected $119,400 from couples in what Arriola called "tips."

Investigators seemed to disagree, but they said the cause would have been difficult to prove. Johnson said Arriola's resignation means justice.

"That's more beneficial than anything that would've ever gotten out of two years of litigation," Johnson said. "Most of the findings that you saw in the audit by both the state and Metro really are ones that are more related to policies and procedures, not clear cut violations of criminal law."

Months ago, the criticism had many Metro Council members calling for Arriola's resignation. But the fact it finally happened Monday doesn't necessarily satisfy everyone.

"I have my reservations about that, and the reason being is I think he should have moved a lot sooner," said Councilman Robert Duvall. "For him to have to negotiate something out with Torry and drag this out as long as it has has not changed my opinion at all."

Metro Council will vote on an interim clerk in early August, then a special election in November will determine who finishes the rest of Arriola's term.

Arriola friend and employee Leighton Bush has also resigned and will leave at the end of this month.

Audit found deficiencies

In July 2011, District Attorney General Torry Johnson requested the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation open a formal probe into Arriola's office.

The Tennessee Comptroller's Office released a report in January that found 11 deficiencies in the Davidson County Clerk's office.

Arriola admitted to charging $40 to couples he married.  He called it an optional gratuity, but some couples said they had to pay for the service.

In the report, state auditors estimated Arriola had collected approximately $119,400 over a five-year period.

"Tennessee law does allow a county clerk to accept a gratuity for performing a wedding ceremony, but the clerk may not charge a fee. Whether the money in question in this case was an illegal 'fee' or a permitted 'gratuity' would likely be determined only after protracted and costly litigation," Johnson said. "I believe it is in the best interest of the residents of Davidson County to accept Mr. Arriola's resignation and allow the Council to begin the process of selecting a qualified replacement. I am certain the new clerk will have a very clear and lawful policy for any weddings in the future."

Johnson said in a written statement Monday that with Arriola's resignation from office, there will be no prosecution of alleged or purported state criminal law violations as a result of what the audits found.

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