Internal audit finds Arriola's office failed to follow Metro regulations and practices

Thursday, January 26, 2012 at 4:08pm

In a Metro audit, separate from the state investigation that found Davidson County Clerk John Arriola collected almost $120,000 in marriage fees, auditors make a case that the embattled clerk’s office did not demonstrate “best value” practices in purchasing decisions. 

The Metro Office of Internal Audit released a report Thursday that found the clerk’s office did not follow Metro procurement laws, regulations and policies. The 28-page report, which audited three years of operations, states “documentation demonstrating ‘best value’ practices was not available for 20 of 33 suppliers” the clerk’s office hired.

Mayor Karl Dean requested the internal audit after a series of WTVF-Channel 5 reports in July alleged Arriola charged a $40 “fee” (aside from other fees and taxes) to couples he married.

The Tennessee comptroller’s office, in conjunction with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, addressed the marriage-fee concerns, finding that Arriola charged mandatory fees even though state law only allows his office to collect voluntary gratuities.

The Metro audit focused on the procurement and cash handling practices within the clerk’s office, leaving the marriage-fee controversy to the two state agencies. In response to media reports, the Metro Finance Department had already stripped the clerk’s purchasing authority in July.

Metro’s audit references the clerk's office’s leasing of space at Green Hills Grace’s Plaza, one of three satellite locations.

“The initial lease period for the Green Hills satellite office had expired and was operating on an ‘evergreen’ month-to-month basis,” the audit states. “Also, the mailing postage machine lease had not been presented to the Metropolitan Nashville Council for approval in accordance with [Metro law].”

The Metro audit also found Arriola’s office did not thoroughly promote employee recruit efforts to ensure the maximum pool of candidates for consideration.

“Historically, the Davidson County Clerk’s Office has not advertised open positions,” the audit states. “Davidson County Clerk’s Office management stated employment applications are received on a continuous basis in the office and reviewed whenever an employment opportunity exists within the office.”

Arriola, a former Democratic state representative who ran unsuccessfully for congress in 2002, did not respond to specific claims from the audit in a letter he sent Jan. 24. He called the audit’s executive summary “cryptic.”

“It should be clearly stated that the office of the Davidson County Clerk is a constitutional office,” Arriola wrote. “As such, it has certain requirements and responsibilities as a constitutional office distinct from the Metro government.”

Arriola did appreciate some of the audit’s findings — namely, that his office produced revenues for Metro during the three years.

“I am pleased you have stated ... that the operation of this office has resulted in a surplus in funds,” Arriola wrote.