SAN DIEGO – The San Diego County Board of Supervisors today plans to meet in a closed session to discuss what to do about renegade County Clerk Ernest Dronenburg, who failed in his bid to persuade the California Supreme Court to issue a stay to halt same-gender marriages in the Golden State.
Dronenburg was among the last County Clerks in California to begin issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples who wanted to marry, days after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal responded to the U.S. Supreme Court decision that California’s Proposition 8 supporters had no legal standing to defend the state law that was declared unconstitutional by U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker.
Without consulting the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, and after being turned down by county counsel, Dronenburg enlisted the counsel of well-known anti-gay attorney Charles LiMandri of Rancho Sante Fe to file the petition with the state’s high court. The reaction against the 69-year-old Republican has been overwhelmingly negative, from county officials to LGBT activists to the public. The weekly SDGLN Poll, released Monday, showed that more than 90% of readers want the San Diego County Clerk to be rebuked for his actions.
Late last week, Supervisor Ron Roberts on his Facebook page expressed his displeasure with Dronenburg:
“As Assessor/Recorder/County Clerk, Ernest Dronenburg is an independently elected official. I strongly disagree with his decision to file this lawsuit and his subsequent public statements. He is acting on his own, without any direction or consultation from the Board of Supervisors, which was made clear last Friday [July 19] in a statement I issued and a joint statement on behalf of the entire Board. We will be reviewing this matter with county attorneys during a closed session next week.”
Supervisor David W. Roberts, who in November 2012 became the first-ever openly gay member of the Board of Supervisors, echoed his peer’s comments:
“Per the Chair's statement, the Board is united 5-0 against his effort! We will follow the law!”
Because Dronenburg is an elected official, the Board of Supervisors is likely limited in what it can do about the County Clerk’s actions.
A “Recall San Diego County Clerk Ernest Dronenburg Jr.” Facebook page has drawn 601 likes.
Sara Libby, managing editor of Voice of San Diego, labeled Dronenburg “San Diego’s other embarrassing leader” opposite San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, whose tenure is in jeopardy over sexual harassment allegations by at least seven women.
Critics say that Dronenburg is trying to hoodwink the public about his intentions, claiming that he is not using taxpayer dollars to file the petition and trying to protect gay and lesbian couples from disappointment should Prop 8 be somehow upheld. He even confronted his critics on July 23 at a news conference his critics had called outside the San Diego County Administration building downtown.
The County Clerk told a partial truth, that he was not spending San Diego County tax dollars to file his petition with the state’s high court, but failed to say that it requires state tax dollars to respond to his case, his critics say.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris and other state officials responded to Dronenburg’s petition, essentially saying that the County Clerk was rehashing old arguments that had already been rejected by the courts.
Meanwhile, the California Supreme Court still has some "tidy up" work on the Dronenburg petition and the other "Hail Mary" attempt by anti-gay supporters of Prop 8 to stop same-gender marriages. Oral argument begin Thursday, Aug. 1, at the high court in San Francisco.
What the San Diego County Board of Supervisors decide in closed session will be of utmost interest to the LGBT community across California. SDGLN asked a staff member for one of the county supervisors about what possible actions the board could take against the County Clerk. The staffer's response was priceless, and SDGLN will protect the staffer's identity as requested:
"Good question. I give you the following as long as I am not quoted. As a staff member I don't want to get into the middle of this.
"The Board is limited in what they can do. This is because he is a separately elected official. Ironically, he is a separately elected official because it is important that no board have influence over assessor/recorder activities.
"So they can tell him and the media they are unhappy with his actions and they can publish a statement in opposition to his actions (which they already did).
"Or they can ask him into closed session and give him a talking to (we have to ask him because it is not a personnel issue because he does not 'work for' the board). In this case, he has agreed to attend a closed session with the board tomorrow.
"'A talking to' you laugh? I say this one with tongue in cheek. But truthfully, his biggest fear is to have this board angry at him long-term. Ernie likes to be liked.
"The Board could file an Amicus Brief, which would basically be a competing filing. However, since the Dronenburg petition was essentially denied, some board members will say, what's the point?
"Lastly, we could take his bow ties away from him. That would throw off his morning routine which can be devastating if a man is set in his ways (hope you have a sense of humor).
"In short, not a lot can be done. The public must decide his fate."
Dronenburg would face voters in November 2014, should he decide to seek re-election.
Ken Williams is Editor in Chief of SDGLN. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @KenSanDiego on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to 888-442-9639, ext. 713.