County clerk's emails show wedding fee charged

Friday, October 7, 2011, Vol. 35, No. 40

NASHVILLE (AP) - After an investigation by WTVF-TV showed the Davidson County Clerk was taking $40 from couples to perform marriages, he defended himself by call the money a "gratuity."

But in emails obtained by the station under the state's open records law, Clerk John Arriola himself refers to the money as a "fee."

In one exchange, a bride-to-be inquires about getting married at the clerk's office.

"I have saved the date and time. The ceremony fee is $40," Arriola responds.

A message for Arriola from The Associated Press on Tuesday was not immediately returned.

Under Tennessee's official misconduct law, it is a felony for public officials to use their offices for personal gain.

The county clerk's office is under investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and state auditors, although no charges have been filed.

The station reported in July that r ecords showed Arriola performing 842 weddings in the last year. He said at the time that he did not collect a gratuity for all of them.

The emails from Arriola reveal that he sometimes told his subordinates to perform the marriages and keep a portion of the fee.

"Use my office for weddings, place the fee in an envelope in the left middle drawer with the campaign check book. Use $20 to buy ur lunch," Arriola writes in one email.

In another, Arriola tells the person doing the weddings to "take a few dollars out for everyone's lunch."

And the emails raise questions about Arriola's campaign treasurer, Leighton Bush, whom Arriola put on the Metro government payroll at 20 hours a week.

Emails show that Bush spent much of his time at the office not working on county business, but rather on tasks like fundraisers. He also skipped administration meetings because of conflicts with his insurance business, and sometimes disappeared for long periods.

"H ow are you?" one co-worker emails. "I have not heard from you."

Emails show Bush was out for extended periods with a serious illness, but there is no evidence he was required to abide by Metro's sick leave policies.

A previous WTVF-TV investigation found Bush had not swiped into the office for months.