Burch: Worship the clerk

Thursday, July 14, 2011 at 10:05pm
By Michael R. Burch

How much money do Nashvillians waste every year by providing “free” advertising for elected officials while stroking their enormous egos?

My introduction to the problem came when, as a teenager, I registered my first car with the Davidson County Clerk’s Office. I was surprised to discover that the vehicle registration form had the clerk’s name printed in large, ostentatious letters at the very top, where it couldn’t be missed. He probably had the best-known name in Nashville, since no one could drive a car without seeing his name heading the bill, as it were.

I remember being puzzled, wondering why a clerk’s name warranted star billing. When Americans decided they didn’t need nobles, did they choose to bow down to clerks and worship them instead?

And I wondered what happened when one clerk left office and another one took over: Did the government throw away all its forms and print new ones?

Today I visited the Davidson County clerk’s website and, sure enough, the clerk’s name is being ostentatiously flaunted there too. Only in the United States do elected clerks have absolutely no shame, parading their names around as if they were Alexander the Great or (much more likely), Ivan the Terrible.

As recently reported by The City Paper’s Jeff Woods, the Tennessee Center for Policy Research has identified $371 million in wasteful state and local government spending over the past year in its Tennessee Pork Report.

The pork report slammed outgoing Davidson County Criminal Court clerk David Torrence for taking off Wednesdays and Fridays to play golf and putter around his house, calling his job “the sweetest gig east of the Mississippi.” Citing a WSMV Channel 4 investigation, the report concluded that Torrence worked roughly 50 percent of the time. Since his job paid $125,000 per year, “Torrence pocketed roughly $62,500 to play golf, do yard work and run errands.”

A sweet gig indeed! Did Americans free themselves from egomaniacal monarchs — only to pay homage to egomaniacal clerks?

Michael R. Burch is a Nashville-based editor and publisher of Holocaust poetry and other “things literary” at www.thehypertexts.com.

30 Comments on this post:

By: yogiman on 7/14/11 at 10:22

Such a theme is called free advertising, Mike. Have you ever noticed when you buy a car from a dealer you'll see a little plaque on the rear? So any one pulling you behind you will see where you bought it. I call that free advertising.

The look you get when you ask how much they are going to pay you for advertising for them is funny.

Also, should you pay to wear a piece of clothing with someone's name on it? Its awful to have to pay to advertise for someone.

By: Mike Burch on 7/15/11 at 2:24


The difference is that car dealers work for themselves, while government clerks are supposed to work for citizens like us.

I can choose not to buy a car if I don't approve of the dealer's business practices, but I have no choice when it comes to paying government-required fees.

It is an outrage that government clerks can squander thousands of taxpayer dollars in order to have their names appear on government forms and websites.

But who allows them to get away with such BS? We have no one to blame but ourselves.


By: dargent7 on 7/15/11 at 4:43

The "sweetest" sting was capturing Torrence on his daily activities.
Wasn't he also buying wine? I bet he popped the cork during office hours playing golf.

By: serr8d on 7/15/11 at 6:03


What's the matter with you, Burcht? Are you afraid to put his name in print?

This guy is a scumbag. I'm looking forward to the day when he's frog-marched out of his office by grim-looking Federal officials (because there's no one in Davidson County Metro or Tennessee State government with enough hanging parts or sense to go after one of their own 'good 'ole buddy boys').

Which reminds, isn't it time for another grand 'Tennessee Waltz', what I consider the finest day evah! for Tennessee politics; wherein dirty socialist John Ford was frog-marched out of the State Capitol and eventually stuck behind bars?

More, please, and soonest! If you could start with JOHN ARRIOLA, that'd be great!

By: serr8d on 7/15/11 at 6:07

Davidson County Clerk John Arriola put his campaign treasurer on the clerk’s payroll with little to no work product to show for receiving $60,000 since 2006, according to a report by WTVF-Channel 5.

Arriola in a statement said that he has employed his campaign treasurer, Leighton Bush, since 2006 on a part-time basis as a deputy clerk in charge of outreach. He said that Bush attends meetings, works with businesses that work with the office and helps with automobile auctions.

The news report questioned how Bush could perform any duties for the clerk’s office while working at two businesses he owns, an insurance company and a car dealership. (Today's bird-cage liner located at 1100 Broadway; no linky for those decrepit slimeballs)

By: Captain Nemo on 7/15/11 at 6:08

You bring up an interesting point Mike. This has been going on for so long and before I was old enough to wonder, that it has never occurred to me to ask why. I just thought this is the way it is.

Now that I know I will ask why.

By: serr8d on 7/15/11 at 6:11

For the last four years, Arriola had driven a black Chevrolet Tahoe with a running board and 20-inch aluminum wheels -- purchased at taxpayer expense.

Arriola first tried to blame Metro's Department of General Services for forcing that vehicle on him.

"I understand that that was the one that was assigned to me."
NC5 Investigates: "So you did not request that vehicle?"
Arriola: "Not that I recall."

But NewsChannel 5 Investigates obtained an email that told another story. Arriola wrote:

"The Chevy Tahoe LS Model is fine in black, with a running board and larger wheels, i.e., 18 to 20 inch."

That email, he suddenly recalled, was indeed his.

Arriola: "That is."
NC5 Investigates: "And you wanted a black Tahoe with a running board. Why did you need a running board?"
Arriola: "I'm not as familiar with the running board but they do help you with the vehicle."
NC5 Investigates: "And why did you want larger wheels?"
Arriola: "I think that when you are riding in any vehicle, larger wheels are very helpful and much more safer than the smaller, narrow wheels."

Those shiny aluminum wheels, according to bid documents, cost taxpayers an extra $2,700.

This little dirtbag should be forced to take public transportation. What a lying crapweasel he is.

By: serr8d on 7/15/11 at 6:15

"Davidson County Clerk" is considered a stepping-stone position to 'higher' office; the big name usage nothing more than to flaunt that personal name out there (and, written on many checks!) so's everyone registering their vehicles winds up getting it planted in their thick skulls.

That's so obvious it doesn't need mentioning, really.

By: govskeptic on 7/15/11 at 6:37

I could see the Torrence thing coming, the story on Arriola was a bit surprising!
I voted for him as Clerk once, but certainly not a second time. The office/citywide
election has certainly gone to his head as "Mr. Important", that's when I always
bail out on a candidate. The previous County Court Clerk also had many problems
within that office, apparently allowing too much independence for these offices
is not a good thing for the citizens nor the office holder. How does purchasing allow
"Tricked out SUV's, with extra $2,760.00 wheels get through the system?

We citizens should be grateful for these type investigations, which NC5 brings
forth, versus the slanderous postings made against Mr Williams by the friends
and family of the abusive office holders!

By: serr8d on 7/15/11 at 6:41

Heh. Lemme show you how it's done, Burch.


By: conservarage on 7/15/11 at 6:41

we shouldn't be surprised, since Arriola is a politician in an elected position. Of course, isn't he supposed to be out today?

By: dargent7 on 7/15/11 at 6:49

serr8'd: Regardless of the flack you experience on this bored, I enjoy your posts.
You put thought and effort into every one.
95% of the crap from other's is knee-jerk inflammation.
Keep it going.

By: yogiman on 7/15/11 at 6:55

I have a personal political policy, I never vote for someone more than twice. And mostly only once, depending on the term of office.

Elected offices should not be career opportunities.

Mike, I agree with car dealers working for themselves, as are many store owners, but why should they ask a buyer to pay to advertise for them, which is what you are doing when they place their company sign on the car.

While the store owner may have their company name on the bag they place your products in, you can easily throw it away, or use it for lighting a fire. But who would want to leave a couple of holes in the trunk door of their car?

By: Captain Nemo on 7/15/11 at 7:13

By: yogiman on 7/15/11 at 7:55
I have a personal political policy, I never vote for someone more than twice. And mostly only once, depending on the term of office.


By: Community-carl-... on 7/15/11 at 7:15

....Speaking of "Free Advertising" on the taxpayers' dime:

Has anybody seen the insert in today's Tennessean titled "Mayor's Home Ownership Fair?" It's just another shameless act of self promotion stategically timed just before the election and I suspect paid for out of Metro coffers. Like Arriola, Dean is shameless.

Unlike Arriola (and Torrence) , Dean seems to be teflon coated..... He seems to be able to get away with anything and the general public just doesn't seem to be able to see it. It's amazing how big money and well placed connections can cover up so much.........................

I'm voting for Keeton for mayor.

By: Captain Nemo on 7/15/11 at 7:25

This does not surprise me at all Carl.

By: judyboodo@yahoo.com on 7/15/11 at 7:26

How is this any different then the practice of putting the Mayor's and local councilpersons name on the signs that are so prominently displayed at construction sites? It's all ego driven with a look towards the next election.

By: yogiman on 7/15/11 at 7:44

It doesn't hurt to have the tax payers pay for your re-election bid.

By: budlight on 7/15/11 at 8:58

And I wondered what happened when one clerk left office and another one took over: Did the government throw away all its forms and print new ones?

Mike good article. Also, you forgot to mention all those signs that are printed up and posted with the different projects that the "Mayor" has set in place around town. Not the paper ones; the permanent ones. Oh, permanent until the next mayor gets to town and takes them down and puts their own signs up with their own projects.

They amaze me with their spending habits. Vote for Keeton for Mayor of Nashville.

By: BenDover on 7/15/11 at 1:11

Good article this week Mike. Never thought it was right to have to make out my checks to the Clerk instead of the department. The reason is immediately obvious though... an unfair perk of incumbency. Good luck in getting an incumbent dominated government to reform it though.

By: bfra on 7/15/11 at 1:17

Michael Burch: Agree with Ben on your article today. Very good & covers a very valid point.

By: slinkyd on 7/15/11 at 3:25

Why is no one talking about term limits? That would help solve a lot of these issues. The County Clerk puts his name on everything not because that office is a stepping stone, but because once it's in the voters' heads it pretty much guarantees that he'll be re-elected to a high-paying job with little accountability until whatever time he decides to retire. Torrence had almost 40 years in Metro, so who knows how high his pension would have gotten? He's attached to that teat for the rest of his life.

If these county offices, which clearly can be run by idiots as long as they pick good people to do the actual work, were limited to 2 terms then maybe they'd take their service more seriously. It might be a stepping stone to other offices, but at least they might have to actually perform in order to get elected somewhere else.

By: Mike Burch on 7/15/11 at 4:08


I have a word limit for the articles that keeps me from going into a lot of detail, but I have noticed the signs with the mayor's name, and they irk me too.


By: Mike Burch on 7/15/11 at 4:13


I wasn't trying to protect Arriola. When I was talking about the
Davidson county court clerk's name appearing on vehicle registration forms, I was speaking about a common practice here in Nashville that goes back decades. It didn't seem fair to single out one clerk for something they all do.

I wasn't aware of some of the things readers pointed out about Arriola. I had read about Torrence having the "sweetest gig east of the Mississippi," and abusing his position, so I mentioned him by name because of what I knew at the time. Thanks for letting me know what Arriola has been doing; I'll keep this in mind for a future article. Perhaps I can call it "de-perk the Clerk."


By: Captain Nemo on 7/16/11 at 10:13

I don’t thin Arriola will be around for too much longer.

By: Captain Nemo on 7/16/11 at 10:24

s/h/b think

By: Mike Burch on 7/16/11 at 2:05


The front page of the Tennessean seems to indicate you're a prophet!


By: Mike Burch on 7/16/11 at 2:06

Are the imperial reigns of government clerks about to end? One can always live in hope ...

By: Captain Nemo on 7/16/11 at 2:53

It could be Mike. It could be, but I have concerns more about the next council and at-large members. Things could get worse.

By: T-BONE on 7/18/11 at 11:35

It's simple! A criminal mind and Narcissistic personality disorder
Narcissistic personality disorder is a condition in which people have an inflated sense of self-importance and an extreme preoccupation with themselves.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
The causes of this disorder are unknown. An overly sensitive personality and parenting problems may affect the development of this disorder.
A person with narcissistic personality disorder may:
React to criticism with rage, shame, or humiliation
Take advantage of other people to achieve his or her own goals
Have excessive feelings of self-importance
Exaggerate achievements and talents
Be preoccupied with fantasies of success, power, beauty, intelligence, or ideal love.

The really sick part is nobody audits or checks these "MORONS" Is it time for a TAX revolt? (lol)