The Metro Council went on record Tuesday calling for the resignation of Davidson County Clerk John Arriola, and for the embattled elected official to return wedding-fee income he collected from couples.
“We made a statement tonight,” said Councilman Robert Duvall, who led the charge to call for Arriola’s resignation.
The council voted 25-5, with seven abstentions, to approve a nonbinding memorializing resolution that calls for Arriola to step down from his office, a measure the council had deferred two weeks ago.
In a separate voice vote, the council approved a resolution –– also nonbinding –– that requests Arriola refund $40 fees he charged to each of nearly 3,000 couples prior to performing their wedding ceremonies. That financial figure, according to a state comptroller’s audit, totals more than $190,000 over five-plus years.
Arriola and his attorney Bryan Lewis, present while council committees discussed the pieces of legislation earlier Tuesday, were not available for comment following the full council meeting.
“This is about honor,” said At-large Councilman Charlie Tygard, who introduced the measure asking Arriola to return his fee income. “This is about doing the right thing for the citizens who may have felt they didn’t have a choice.”
Tuesday’s votes mark the first council action following the release of a state report in January that found Arriola had been collecting $40 from couples he performed marriages for, when state law allows him to only accept a voluntary gratuity.
But the council’s actions Tuesday carry no policy effect.
The council passed a similar resolution over the summer that called for the resignation of Criminal Court Clerk David Torrence after media reports revealed his sporadic work habits. Torrence later resigned.
Two weeks ago, the council voted to defer Arriola’s resignation resolution to wait for recommendations from District Attorney General Torry Johnson, who is still reviewing the comptroller’s findings.
Both Johnson and the Metro Department of Law have the authority to pursue the state “ouster” clause, which could force Arriola’s exit from office.
“Other than getting some TV time and ink in the newspaper, we don’t have a role in this process,” Councilman Jason Holleman said, alluding to the legal process that is unfolding.
Nonetheless, the council voted to ask Arriola to step down, even though the district attorney’s office hasn’t weighed in on Arriola’s actions. Holleman abstained from the vote.
At the council’s Rules-Confirmations-Public Elections Committee, Lewis, Arriola’s attorney, said the county clerk’s office had already implemented operational changes recommended in the comptroller’s report.
Lewis also said Arriola has been returning $40 to those couples who are unhappy and came to the clerk’s office to get their money. He said seven couples have done so: “I don’t think this is quite the earth-shattering issue some people think it is,” Lewis said.
“Mr. Arriola is a man of his word,” he said.
But council members Tuesday questioned whether Arriola had truly “advertised” his refund option. Pressing Lewis on the level of advertising, Tygard said he would cover the payment of postage to send couples notices of the offer.
Tygard also pushed Lewis on whether Arriola reported income from wedding fees “in the year” when they were collected. Tygard asked the same questions earlier this month. He became incensed Tuesday when Lewis didn’t seem to answer what Tygard called a “yes or no” question.
“My frustration is the inability to get a simple ‘yes or no’ answer to a question that to me is the crux,” Tygard said.
How council members voted on the resolution to call for Arriola’s resignation is as follows:
Aye (25): Garrett, Tygard, Scott Davis, Westerholm, Anthony Davis, Bennett, Pridemore, Pardue, Jernigan, Glover, Stites, Stanley, Claiborne, Tenpenny, Gilmore, Weiner, Evans, Harmon, Blalock, Dominy, Johnson, Potts, Dowell, Duvall, Todd
No (5): Harrison, Hunt, Moore, Baker, Langster
Abstain (7) : Barry, Steine, Matthews, Holleman, McGuire, Bedne, Mitchell
Absent (3): Maynard, Banks, Allen