John Arriola, the embattled Davidson County Clerk whose practice of collecting fees to perform weddings put him under fire, has resigned.
Jonathan Saad, director of external operations at the county clerk’s office, confirmed to The City Paper Monday Arriola notified his staff earlier that morning of his resignation. “He thanked everybody for their wonderful work and the job they had done,” Saad said.
A brief resignation letter from Arriola was sent to Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors and the Metro Clerk’s Office. His resignation is effective June 29.
“To be honest, I think he’s just tired,” Saad said. “They’ve been beating him up, and beating him up, and beating him up.”
A message left on Arriola’s cell phone by The City Paper has gone unreturned.
Arriola’s resignation caps for the Democratic official an 11-month string of controversy that began when WTVF-NewsChannel5 aired a report last July that revealed the county clerk systematically collected $40 from couples he married. Arriola maintained the fees represented voluntary “gratuities.”
In January, a Tennessee Comptroller Office audit found Arriola had collected an estimated $119,400 in wedding ceremony fees. Over the period of time covered by the audit — between Sept. 1, 2006, and July 30, 2011 — auditors found Arriola performed approximately 2,985 marriage ceremonies and collected about $119,400.
The Metro Council voted 25-5, with seven abstentions, to approve a nonbinding memorializing resolution in February that called for Arriola’s resignation. Arriola remained defiant, staying in his seat for more than four months after the council’s action.
Councilman Robert Duvall, who sponsored the resolution that called for Arriola's resignation, said Monday he wishes Arriola's family the best and that he did the "right thing" by resigning. "Justice sometimes is slow," Duvall said of the months that passed until Arriola stepped down. "Maybe John had some soul-searching to do."
Spurring Arriola to resign may have been an ongoing investigation from District Attorney Torry Johnson, whose office has been in the process of reviewing the comptroller’s findings.
According to the state audit, “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 envelopes were delivered personally to the county clerk.”
After Arriola’s resignation, though, Johnson said that there would be no prosecution.
“As an elected official, Mr. Arriola had a lot of discretion on how to run the office,” Johnson said. “The result of the TBI investigation and state audit found that while some of his actions and decisions may have indeed been questionable, or in violation of Metro policy, they weren’t necessarily criminal in nature.”
More recently, the council in May voted to strip Arriola’s office of the ability to collect a range of tax revenue at the request of Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling, who said Arriola had trouble turning over collections to the city in a timely matter.
Metro Council attorney Jon Cooper said the county clerk vacancy will be announced at next Tuesday's council meeting, July 3. From there, written nominations must be submitted to the Metro clerk's office by 4 p.m. on July 10.
The council's Rules-Confirmations-Public Elections Committee is tasked with interviewing candidates before the full council votes on a replacement at its Aug. 7 meeting.