County clerk admits she erred
Says she mishandled elimination of marriage ceremonies
With those words, Butte County Clerk-Recorder Candace Grubbs acknowledged what internal documents have since confirmed: that she did not handle well her decision to discontinue the practice of doing marriage ceremonies at her County Center office.
The decision, announced just days after the May 15 state Supreme Court decision overturning a ban on gay marriages, was instantly controversial. At the time Grubbs, who’s been in office for two decades, said she’d actually decided to stop doing ceremonies back in March, when budget cuts, along with the pressure of two early elections, meant she was not going to have the time and people to do the job.
A CN&R public-records request has revealed, however, that there is no verifiable documentation showing the decision was made earlier.
Grubbs provided copies of her calendar and e-mails indicating that she had met with county financial officer Andy Pickett to discuss her budget, along with a May 14 spread sheet showing positions in her office had been eliminated. But none of the documents addressed the issue of the marriage ceremonies.
The closest were four separate pages labeled “budget discussion notes,” each from a different day between Feb. 12 and March 5. They noted that revenues were down from 2006-07, that a senior analyst’s position was to be eliminated, that other positions were to be moved around, and finally, on the page dated March 5, that the marriage ceremonies would be eliminated.
But the “budget discussion notes” had no official imprimatur. They were simply typed on blank sheets of paper.
In an interview in her office Tuesday (Aug. 5), Grubbs explained that was because they were the notes her assistant, Rosemary Dickson, took in shorthand at the departmental budget meetings.
“That’s all I had,” Grubbs said. “I asked her to type them out.”
Her major mistake, Grubbs said, was in not taking steps back in March to prepare the public for the change in policy. “If I could have gone back in time, I would have announced the decision in March and set a date a few months in the future.” But with the two elections, in February and June, “my staff was tired, I was tired.”
Grubbs said she also would have explained in March that people could still get married there by obtaining a one-day civil marriage appointment for the person performing the ceremony. Her office even provides a written marriage ceremony people can use. Both services are available to gay as well as straight couples.
The May 15 Supreme Court decision forced Grubbs to go public with her decision. “That made it a public issue,” she acknowledged. “The timing was bad.”
But she insisted the decision had nothing to do with gay marriage, but rather with all marriages. She herself had long ago stopped doing marriage ceremonies, and members of her staff didn’t like doing them, either. Too many of the people who got married at her office weren’t serious about it and didn’t seem committed to each other, she explained, and it wasn’t a pleasure to preside at their ceremonies.
“Too often we’d see them in [County Center] a few weeks later because of domestic violence. … There was a certain ‘yuck’ factor,” she said.
“There are 11 counties in California that don’t do ceremonies, and I can see why.”