Councilman presses Arriola to return wedding fees to couples

Monday, February 13, 2012 at 5:22pm

At-large Metro Councilman Charlie Tygard has asked embattled Davidson County Clerk John Arriola to refund couples the more than $119,000 in cumulative fees that a state audit found he collected before performing their marriage ceremonies.

In an email sent to Arriola Monday morning (see full text below), the Bellevue councilman gave the clerk two options: Either return on his own accord $40 fees he charged to nearly 3,000 couples he married or Tygard promised to introduce a non-binding memorializing resolution that would formally request Arriola return the money.

“I have received several calls/letters from citizens married in your office upset by the $40 fee/gratuity they paid to be married,” Tygard wrote. “These individuals are upset with the amount charged. Some are struggling to make a living in this economy.

“As a result, it would seem to me that the honorable thing to do would be to contact these couples (or at least publicize to these couples thru the media) that you are offering to refund the $40 fee/gratuity to those who want a refund,” Tygard continued. “This would truly make the $40 a gratuity. Another option might be offer to send the $40 to the charity of their choice. This would truly make the $40 a gratuity.”

Tygard’s resolution, already filed, would go before the council on Feb. 21. If Arriola agrees to refund his fee collection, Tygard said he would withdraw the legislation.

Contacted by The City Paper, Arriola said he hadn’t read Tygard’s email and declined to comment.

A January state comptroller’s audit found Arriola performed approximately 2,985 marriage ceremonies between Sept. 1, 2006, and July 30, 2011, collecting $119,400 during that period.

State law allows the clerk to accept voluntary gratuities to perform weddings, according to the comptroller’s report, but not a mandatory fee. It suggested Arriola had been doing the latter.

“Marriage department employees were required to place the $40 cash in an envelope for the county clerk along with any other information the couple specifically requested for their vows,” the audit reads. “The envelopes were delivered personally to the county clerk.”

Tygard’s resolution would mark the second pending council legislation to target Arriola.

Fellow conservative Councilman Robert Duvall has sponsored a resolution that calls for Arriola’s resignation. The council on Feb. 7 voted to defer that resolution to wait for action from District Attorney General Torry Johnson, who is still reviewing the comptroller’s audit.

Tygard, at a council committee meeting last week, had a heated exchange with Arriola’s attorney Bryan Lewis when the councilman asked whether Arriola reported wedding-income “in the year” he collected the money.

Lewis didn’t seem to answer the question. (The suggestion is that Arriola paid taxes on fee income only after the wedding-fee issue surfaced in the media.)

Tygard: “Answer in a ‘yes or no.’ Were his taxes paid in the year that the income was collected?”

Lewis: “I’m answering your question, Councilman Tygard. His taxes were paid, and he has no problems with the Internal Revenue Service.”

Last summer, Tygard was the primary source of council-pressure to successfully push for the resignation of Criminal Court Clerk David Torrence.

 

From: Charlie Tygard 
Sent: Monday, February 13, 2012 9:51 AM
To: Arriola, John (County Clerk)
Cc: Neighbors, Diane (Vice Mayor); Council Members; Cooper, Jon (Council
Office)
Subject: Message from Charlie Tygard to John Arriola

John -

Saturday evening, my wife Judy and I were catching a quick bite to eat before heading over to babysit our grandkids. Our waiter that evening gave us impeccable service - he suggested that the prime rib that was only on the Friday/Saturday menu was especially tasty, he kept our tea & coffee glasses refilled on a timely basis without hovering, his attitude was delightful. As a result, I tipped him 30% to reward and thank him for his excellent service. In other circumstances, with lesser service, I might have chosen a lessor % or even no tip at all.

I have received several calls/letters from citizens married in your office upset by the $40 fee/gratuity they paid to be married. These individuals are upset with the amount charged. Some are struggling to make a living in this economy.

As a result, it would seem to me that the honorable thing to do would be to contact these couples (or at least publicize to these couples thru the media) that you are offering to refund the $40 fee/gratuity to those who want a refund. This would truly make the $40 a gratuity. Another option
might be offer to send the $40 to the charity of their choice. This would truly make the $40 a gratuity.

If you choose to take this path, I will withdraw the attached memorializing resolution. Otherwise, the resolution will be considered on February 21, 2012.

Your friend,

Charlie Tygard

16 Comments on this post:

By: Ask01 on 2/13/12 at 4:39

To quote an old chief I once worked for regarding what I consider the chances of this coming to pass, "The chances are slim and none, and Slim done left town." The chief may not have been an English major, but there was a touch of the poet in him.

The money collected is certainly spent and gone by now, a moot point at best. I do hope Councilman Tygard continues to press the issue regarding Mr. Arriola's other activities while in office. At best, perhaps the electorate will be angered, and remain so agitated to the point no incumbent will be safe. At the least, we'll be blessed with something further to rant, rave, and vent over.

Although, I'm fairly certain doing so does not raise my heart rate in the manner my doctor wishes, at least I don't keep my frustrations all bottled up.

By: JayBee56 on 2/13/12 at 10:25

The tax collector Zacchaeus was a good example from the New Testament (Luke 19). He promised that if he had cheated anyone out of anything, he would pay them back four times that amount. Now that's reimbursement!

By: Ask01 on 2/14/12 at 7:02

I would not recommend holding your breath. Elected officials today seem to have no concept of shame, or, a sense of moral right and wrong. Arriola may be legally allowed to accept gratutites, and perhaps informing applicants such were accepted, but not mandatory, is perhaps also legal, although 'tacky.' The indications are these people were led to believe the voluntary gratuity was a required fee. If I read and comprehended correctly, those misleading the clients were office staff, which, to my public high school educated,country boy mind screams an outright lie. All these factors, if true, lead me to advocate for a complete office cleaning. Mr. Arriola, and his employees involved in the 'scam,' for that is what we have, should at least be asked to resign. If they refuse, fire them and prosecute to the fullest extent possible.

As I said, however, I won't hold my breath.

By: T-BONE on 2/14/12 at 7:07

What part of "FEE" don't they understand?..."He CHARGES a $40 FEE! (keyword...charges,charges,charges...GET IT?) No matter how much a bunch of "double talking" lawyers and politicians" try to twist it! Where is "our" expensive Chevy Tahoe with the fancy 20" rims? What corrupt "pubic servant" (LOL) is driving it now with a full tank of "taxpayer" gas!

By: phkauf on 2/14/12 at 8:02

"I have received several calls/letters from citizens married in your office upset by the $40 fee/gratuity they paid to be married. These individuals are upset with the amount charged. Some are struggling to make a living in this economy
On a different note........if you can't afford $40...maybe you shouldn't get married..

By: Ask01 on 2/14/12 at 8:29

Perhaps I have had a misunderstanding, which is always a possibility. I was led to believe that, according to Metro stautes or whatever, marriage was supposed to be a free service, with voluntary gratuities accepted.

If this is a misconception, please educate me and accept my apology.

Otherwise, he cheated people. Plain and simple.

As far as not getting married if you can't afford $40, I recall, just barely mind you, when starting out, back then, $40.00 was almost a princely sum. That is just a fact of life with 'us poor working class folks.'

Just on a side note, at least they bothered to get married. Often today, they just shack up and don't bother.

Or perhaps that is the future. Just consider, no on paper, written down, or even witnessed ties. An entire industry left in the dust as wedding caterers, photographers, chapels, and a whole host of other enteprenuers wither and die. No issuance of marriage licenses, just pick up and leave when time get hard. I predict some spectacular conflicts, private, public, and in the courts. More reality television.

By: JohnGalt on 2/14/12 at 9:11

Warning to television reporters and cameramen...DO NOT under any circumstances place yourself between Charles "Media Hog" Tygard and a camera. You are taking your life in your hands.

By: bfra on 2/14/12 at 9:20

Tygard is not one of my favorites, but in this case he is right. Now "IF" and that is a big "IF" Arriola. the crooked politician, does offer a refund, Fire him right after he writes the check. Oh wait, better wait until the check clears the bank. Either way, he needs to be GONE!

By: SRJ on 2/14/12 at 9:46

This is typical of Charlie Tygard, who loves to bask in the local media attention. I really doubt that Mr. Tygard has recieved any such calls, period. This isn't about what is right or wrong. This is about being in the spotlight.

By: Ask01 on 2/14/12 at 9:48

While I'm not certain about the "Media Hog" characteristics attributed to Councilman Tygard, especially considering some others, say the one who pushed english only, or the one who made a big deal about her constituents voting her out. In Councilman Tygard's case, however, I totally agree with the basics of the complaint. Just so long as he does not advocate for a close friend to fill the hoped for vacancy. Bottom line, I'll glady slop the hogs in this situation. Been a long time though. I hope the stench, both of hogs and politics, doesn't overwhelm me.

Right on bfra! Checks written and cleared, on his personal account of course, then done and gone. Allow him to collect his personal items, under escort of course, then escort him from the offices. Along with the staff involved.

Shut down the office? Maybe. Stir up confusion with new staff? Very likely. Incentivise them to do their best, learn from honest mistakes, and fear the people and council. Absolutely and (sorry bout this) PRICELESS!

By: Ask01 on 2/14/12 at 9:51

Let him have the spotlight. Especially if he shines the light on questionable behavior. Support him in this, and who knows what misdeeds may eventually be illuminated regarding the convention center deal.

The very concept gives me shivers. Or that could be bad circulation.

By: SRJ on 2/14/12 at 9:54

What about all the Judges who perform weddings. Shouldn't we audit them to find out if they are taking fees or gratuities? This situation is not limited to the Clerk's office. I think a wide-spread audit is in order here. You cannot terminate Mr. Arriola and allow others to go unscathed.

By: SRJ on 2/14/12 at 10:04

Ask 01~ You have hit the nail on the head. Charlie Tygard has someone who wants the Clerk's job. Yes, He wants it for himself. The Council position has term-limits and the Clerk's position does not. He first ran for the Juvenile Clerk's office and was unsuccessful. Now, he has his sights on another.

By: Ask01 on 2/14/12 at 10:42

If the Tennessee code allows judges to charge fees, I see no problem. That is codified, written in stone, so to speak. In Mr. Arriola's case, indications are weddings are supposed to be a free service, with gratuities acceptable if offered. This is a totally different circumstances.

Back to the judges. If they are collecting fees illegally, or likewise soliciting, almost extorting 'gratuities' implying a fee, then by all means, audit away. I have an inclination towards disdain for authority anyway. The more judges we expose for wrongdoing and subject to shame or put in prison, in general population, I might add, the happier I am.

If proven Councilman Tygard is manipulating the system to eject Mr. Arriola for the purpose of claiming the position for himself, I'm afraid the councilman will have just, as so eloquently observed by one relative, "pooped and fel back in it." (Sanitized version)

My goal is government, all government and their representatives should fear the people, not the reverse. Even if only symbolically, administering public whippings to wayward public servants is a way to start. It's a more humane method than some actually genuine advocating tar and feathering.

By: bfra on 2/14/12 at 2:25

Ask01 - My goal is government, all government and their representatives should fear the people, not the reverse. Even if only symbolically, administering public whippings to wayward public servants is a way to start. It's a more humane method than some actually genuine advocating tar and feathering.
===========================================
Agree! That is as it should be.

By: pswindle on 2/15/12 at 9:54

Leave him alone Tygard. He has not done anything different than what others have done. Maybe an audit needs to be done on everyone.