An attorney with the county counsel’s office has provided San Jose Inside with a third, previously unreported audit of Supervisor George Shirakawa’s county charge card, also known as a P-Card. The audit shows that county officials were aware of Shirakawa’s free spending and disregard for county rules related to P-Cards as early as November 2009 — yet did nothing to stop the violations.
Metro reported last month that Shirakawa, the top elected official in the county as president of the Board of Supervisors, used his P-Card to spend thousands of taxpayer dollars on $100 steaks and alcohol at restaurants, vacations to golf resorts and casinos, four-star hotels and luxury car rentals, as well as treat staff members, lobbyists and unwitting colleagues to lavish dinners. Shirakawa would then conveniently fail to submit itemized receipts—but not the signed summary copies—and fraudulently declare in memos that no alcohol was ever served and that every meeting was related to county business.
San Jose Police Chief Chris Moore has already publicly acknowledged that Shirakawa crashed a private dinner party and inappropriately expensed the meal to the county. Moore wrote a $400 reimbursement check and a letter to the county stating that he had no knowledge Shirakawa picked up part of the tab only to forward the bill to taxpayers.
The county’s latest audit to come to light, dated Nov. 12, 2009, shows that the Shirakawa—in his first year as a supervisor—consistently failed to file itemized receipts as well as missing receipt memos, in addition to buying an unauthorized high definition television from Best Buy. A closer examination of Shirakawa’s expense reports shows that in his first year as supervisor, he did not submit a single itemized receipt for any of the restaurants he visited.
However, the audit concluded that the “transactions audited for this period followed the policies and procedures set forth in the Procurement Card program.”
The counties’ other two audits of Shirakawa’s P-Card, conducted in February 2010 and July 2011, came to the same conclusions despite reporting that the supervisor consistently failed to follow P-Card policies on itemized receipts and using county contracted vendors.
In late September, Metro began making Public Records Act requests related to Shirakawa’s P-Card purchases. A few weeks later, the supervisor reimbursed the county for $2,387.41 in purchases that included an $869 rental car from Walnut Creek, a $469 Southwest Airlines airplane ticket and a $583 outing at The Revere Golf Club in Henderson, Nevada.
County officials are no longer commenting publicly about Metro’s reports on Shirakawa, which initially started when it was found that the supervisor had failed to file campaign disclosure forms the last four years. His 2008 campaign to become District 2’s supervisor ended with Shirakawa $110,000 in debt, and almost a third of that amount came from personal loans he made to the campaign.
The county Board of Supervisors discussed the P-Card program last Tuesday at its bi-weekly meeting. (Click on the “video” link for the Nov. 6 meeting and fast-forward to 2:00:40.) The discussion, initiated by County Executive Jeff Smith, danced around Shirakawa’s situation while never mentioning it specifically. The discussion stressed a need to streamline P-Card policies and procedures.
County Counsel Lori Pegg said it would be difficult to bring back recommendations on how to streamline the P-Card ordinance and policies by the Nov. 20 meeting, but Supervisor Ken Yeager pushed Pegg to have a report, even if just in initial stages, by then. The current county P-Card policy was revised as recently as last year.
Yeager specifically wanted to know if policies regarding county meal reimbursements and submitting itemized receipts would be consistent across the board for county employees. Pegg said they would. Yeager also called for “more robust audits” and making sure consistent procedure is applied to all county employees, “including elected officials and executive management.”
Yeager added: “Certainly, this has been brought up by the press. But I think I want to make sure we stay ahead of the game with other type or ordinances and other kinds of transactions, just so we don’t have this as a repeated problem.”
Dave Cortese was the only other supervisor to speak on the matter at the Nov. 6 meeting, which is remarkable because later that night, in an interview at the South Bay Labor Council’s election night party, Cortese told a reporter that he was completely unaware of Metro’s report regarding Shirakawa’s P-Card purchases and fraudulent expense reports.
Earlier that day, however, Cortese said at the supervisors’ meeting: “One thing I would suggest, and this is why I asked to speak, there are some things that have come up over the last couple weeks when you go back and look at the policy—what I call conflict in the policy—that could be cleared up real quickly.” He did not elaborate with specifics.
About a minute later, Shirakawa made his first comments on the matter by asking for the supervisors to approve of a report on P-Card policies. It received unanimous approval.