Davidson County Clerk John Arriola issued a media release Tuesday, stating his concerns over what, at the time, had been an as-yet-to-air WTVF-Channel 5 investigative story on his office practices and suggesting he is prepared to take legal action if needed.
The report aired Tuesday night during the Channel 5 10 p.m. newscast and ran approximately 5 minutes.
In the release, Arriola states that promotions for the story by investigative reporter Phil Williams have “veered off track in an attempt to attract viewers and increase ratings” by questioning Arriola’s practice of accepting a gratuity for marrying couples.
In the release, Arriola writes "should WTVF make unsubstantiated allegations against me or my office, I am prepared to take action to defend my honor, as well as my stewardship of this office."
At the same time, Arriola announced he would be reforming some of the office practices he said the news investigation addressed. For example, in the piece William describes the $40 Arriola typically collects to marry a couple as a "fee." Also, the veteran reporter notes the fee is collected in cash only. In contrast, Arriola refers to it as a "gratuity," adding no records have been kept for cash received. Channel 5 said at the report's conclusion that Arriola will make clear in writing that a gratuity will be accepted for his services and that any monies received from this point will be donated to charity.
Arriola told The City Paper he decided to send out the media release Tuesday morning to “let everyone know … there’s nothing illegal about the marriage ceremonies that we perform in the office, and I think that’s clear in the attorney general’s information.”
Arriola claims the money he collects is an optional gratuity that he accepts for performing wedding ceremonies and points to a February state attorney general opinion that he said justifies the practice.
In an email to The City Paper Tuesday afternoon, WTVF-Channel 5 Station Manager Lyn Plantinga wrote prior to the airing of the story: “In anticipation of a NewsChannel5 investigative series to begin tonight, Metro County Clerk, John Arriola has made significant reforms within the Davidson County Clerk’s office and, curiously, at the same time, questioned the validity of the forthcoming stories.”
Plantinga’s statement continued, “At NewsChannel5, our award-winning investigative team works to report matters of public importance and concern. We stand by the facts about the County Clerk’s office that will be shared in our story tonight at 10:00 p.m. Bringing these facts to light is in the best interest of the citizens of middle Tennessee.”
According to Arriola’s release, the story also raises questions regarding his use of a Metro-owned Chevrolet Tahoe, his hiring a public relations firm to publicize new services and office relocations, his hiring of a printing company to make signs for the clerk’s and spending $500 on shirts for staffers of the clerk’s office to wear to the Metro retirees Christmas party, something Arriola agreed “wasn’t a very good idea.” Tuesday night's report addressed none of these issues.
Arriola also stated he would, however, immediately be implementing changes within the clerk’s office.
“While some of the policies and procedures in my office might be in need of modest changes and adjustments, which I am announcing today, I will not allow my office to be subjected to allegations that are rooted in misguided and sensational efforts to attract television viewers,” Arriola is quoted in Tuesday morning’s release.
The developments come on the heels of a libel lawsuit filed by General Sessions Court Judge Daniel Eisenstein against the station last week for stories regarding him and the Mental Health Court he oversees.