Press Releases

State: Audit of Davidson Co. Clerk Arriola Uncovers Corruption

Press release from Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury; Jan. 26, 2012:

Investigation Finds Issues Regarding Operations of the Metro Nashville County Clerk’s Office

The Metropolitan Nashville Davidson County Office of the County Clerk repeatedly collected improper fees from citizens, made an improper payment from funds maintained by the office, and engaged in poor payroll record-keeping, an investigation by the state Comptroller’s office has revealed.

The investigation was conducted by the Comptroller’s Division of County Audit with assistance from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Auditors found that between Sept. 1, 2006 and June 26 of last year, the office performed nearly 3,000 marriage ceremonies for which a $40 fee was usually charged to the marrying couples.

Numerous interviews with office employees and couples indicate the fees charged were not optional, which appears to conflict with state law.

The fees were placed in envelopes and personally delivered to Davidson County Clerk John Arriola. Auditors estimate that almost $120,000 was collected during the time period under review.

The investigation found numerous personnel and payroll issues, including:

• Arriola hired his campaign treasurer, Leighton Bush, as his office outreach coordinator, but could not document the hours Bush actually worked for the office or outreach projects he completed

• Arriola contracted with David Currey in a non-competitive process and paid his firm more than $40,000 for consulting work at the same time Currey was renting property from Arriola

• Payroll records revealed 63 employees in the office were compensated for overtime hours they did not actually work

• Employees solicited campaign contributions from staff during regular business hours and on at least one occasion some employees were asked to leave work early to attend a political fundraiser held on Arriola’s behalf. The investigation also found that the clerk’s office failed to turn over computer fees to the county general fund as required by state law. More than $65,000 as of June 30, 2011, was on hand in the clerk’s fee and commission account.

All of the findings and recommendations have been forwarded to the Davidson County District Attorney General.

To view the investigative report online, go to: Davidson County Clerk Special Report

Press Releases

DA Still Investigating Davidson County Clerk for Misconduct

Statement from Davidson County District Attorney; Jan. 25, 2012:

Davidson County District Attorney General Torry Johnson today confirmed that he has received the State Comptroller’s audit of the Davidson County Clerk’s office. Johnson requested that audit, along with a TBI investigation, in July 2011, as a result of news stories and anonymous allegations to the DA’s office of improprieties within the Clerk’s office.

“This has been an extensive and time-intensive investigation,” Johnson says. “It has required the review of a considerable number of records and files. Dozens of people have been interviewed during this process. Our office has been in frequent contact with both agencies as this investigation has continued.”

Johnson says he recently received the completed TBI investigative file of its findings and is in the process of reviewing it. “Because this is still an on-going investigation, we can’t speak to any specifics at this stage,” Johnson says. “Our office is reviewing the information gathered by both the TBI and the State Comptroller’s office to determine whether sufficient evidence exists to warrant action by our office.”

Business and Economy NewsTracker

Williamson and Rutherford See Huge Growth, Memphis Lags in Census

New census numbers underscore a more diverse Tennessee, a struggling Memphis, and booming Williamson and Rutherford counties.

Both counties’ growth exceeded 44 percent compared with the last decennial count; Williamson’s population at the 2010 census topped 183,000; Rutherford’s, 262,000, according to census data compiled by USA Today. Rutherford County Mayor Ernest Burgess attributed the surge in his county to a high quality of life and economic opportunity.

The figures also show a growing Hispanic population in Tennessee — 1 in 10 Davidson County residents is Hispanic, the Tennessean noted — and integration gains throughout the South, according to a measure that tracks whether blacks and whites reside in the same neighborhoods.

The Associated Press explains:

Thirty-two of the (South’s) 38 largest metro areas made such gains since 2000, according to a commonly used demographic index. The measure, known as the segregation index, tracks the degree to which racial groups are evenly spread between neighborhoods. Topping the list were rapidly diversifying metros in central Florida, as well in Georgia, Texas and Tennessee.

Missing out on the overall 11.5 percent boom in the Volunteer State was Memphis, whose population experienced only the second decline since the yellow fever outbreak of the 1870s, according to the Commercial Appeal. Memphis’ population shrank by 0.5 percent to just under 647,000 residents, even though its suburbs and the county as a whole saw population growth.

Davidson County grew 10 percent to almost 627,000 residents, Knox County grew 13 percent to a population topping 432,000, and Madison County grew 7 percent to more than 98,000 residents.


Tallies Change, Result Doesn’t: Henry Edges Yarbro

In the fifth and probably final vote total, Davidson County election officials announced Tuesday that state Sen. Douglas Henry won this month’s primary election with 17 more votes than his challenger, Jeff Yarbro.

The recount revealed that three of the 235 absentee votes had previously been miscounted in Yarbro’s favor, according to the county election administrator.

The newest vote tally is the result of a Yarbro-requested recount that the Tennessee Democratic Party approved Monday to double check which candidate won after several changes to the vote totals.

Yarbro, a 33-year-old attorney and first-time candidate for state Senate, said that while he was disappointed with the results, he was satisfied that the outcome was arrived at fairly.

“This is obviously an election that was decided by a very small margin, and I think that the process that happened on election night was one that had to be turned together pretty quickly. But it looks that they did as good as a job as they could under the circumstances,” he said.

Yarbro pledged to support Henry, a state senator who has held the position for 40 years.

Bob Thomas, an attorney and campaign finance chairman for the Henry campaign, said he was frustrated with the changing vote totals, but obviously pleased with the outcome.

“It takes a little diligence to get it accurate and I think that, perhaps, the rush for results may not always be conducive to accuracy. And I think this recount has demonstrated that accuracy is much more important than the rush to get results,” he said.

Davidson County elections employees spent about three hours Tuesday recounting 235 absentee ballots and retabulating vote totals from primary election day’s voting machines.

Yarbro ultimately lost 5,734 votes to 5,717 votes. He’d trailed Henry by 11 votes last week after county election officials discovered a voting machine with totals that hadn’t been added on election day.

The vote totals changed four times since the Aug. 4 primary election.

Ray Barrett, Davidson County elections administrator, said despite the shifting totals, he’s confident that Tuesday’s results are accurate, adding he’s “sorry that some bad numbers got out there.”

News Transparency and Elections

Black Setting Her Sights on November

Tennessee state election officials plan to review Rutherford County’s failure to open the polls on the first Saturday of early voting, although it appears that the hearing will not change local election results.

The most high-profile race in the district ended in a near three-way dead-heat for the GOP nomination in the 6th Congressional District. The apparent winner, state Sen. Diane Black, edged both her opponents — state Sen. Jim Tracy and Lou Ann Zelenik, a Murfreesboro businesswoman — by less than 600 votes.

Another similarly balled up race among Democrats for the same congressional seat boiled down to about 200 votes. Brett Carter, an Iraq War veteran from Gallatin, led with 9,429 votes, followed by Ben Leming at 9,207 votes and Henry Barry with 8,814, according to unofficial results.

However, none of the candidates have filed complaints with either Rutherford County nor the state’s election office over the missing early-voting day, officials say.

Furthermore, Zelenik told supporters Tuesday she would accept defeat if the votes showing her losing 24,373 to 24,089 remained unchanged by the time the results are certified.

“With county certification nearing completion, and assuming the vote margin remains the same, I congratulate Diane Black on her victory,” she wrote to her supporters.

Rutherford County elections officers failed to open poll places on July 17, the first Saturday of early voting.

The Tennessee Election Commission plans to question officials from Rutherford County — and Hawkins County, which also failed to open the polls that day — at its Sept. 21 meeting before deciding what, if any, reprimand it will issue.

“In our view, a violation of state election law is a big deal and counties are all supposed to be following the same law,” said Secretary of State spokesman Blake Fontenay.

But the commission cannot overturn election results, Fontenay said.

Rutherford County Election Administrator Hooper Penuel argues early voters still had plenty of time to weigh in, and that the three missing hours on the Saturday in question would have made little or no difference in the final tallies.

“We were open more hours and more locations than any other voting site in the (6th Congressional) district,” he said, adding that the county’s six polling places were open for more than 500 hours for early voting.

For her part, Black said she’s confident she is — and will remain — the GOP nominee, and she’s moving on.

“The state is moving forward and the county is moving forward to certify the election, as they are required by law,” Black said Monday. “We don’t anticipate there will be any changes from what was announced on (primary election day).”

Nevertheless, as Black faces off in the Nov. 2 general election against Carter to replace retiring Democrat U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon, she and her husband may also still be fighting Zelenik in court.

Aegis Sciences Corp., a drug testing company run by Black’s husband, David Black, sued Zelenik and her campaign last month for airing what it claimed was an untrue commercial depicting Sen. Black handing off a jumbo check for $1 million to her husband accepting it on behalf of the corporation.

Ageis failed to convince the Davidson County judge in the case to order Zelenik to pull her ad. Black, a small business owner and registered nurse, released her own TV ad combating Zelenik’s.

Less than a week after the primary election, Zelenik filed a lawsuit of her own, calling the Aegis lawsuit “frivolous,” and demanding Black and her husband’s company pay Zelenik’s attorney costs and other damages. Further hearings on the case have not yet been scheduled.

Mark Todd Engler contributed to this report.