County Assessor Says Shirakawa, Smith Should be Held Accountable

Leave it to Larry Stone, the county assessor, to call it like he sees it when the vast majority of his fellow elected officials have danced around the issue of Supervisor George Shirakawa’s flagrant misuse of taxpayer money.

Stone spoke during the public comments portion of Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, laying into county administrators’ lack of oversight when monitoring elected officials’ use of county credit cards, also known as P-Cards. In an interview with San Jose Inside on Friday, Stone expanded on his comments.

“It’s totally a problem with oversight and enforcement,” Stone said, referencing County Executive Jeff Smith and others’ suggestions that P-Card policies were unclear or confusing. “The policies and procedures are fine.”

Noting changes in the policy that occurred in 2003—the P-Card pilot program began in 2001—Stone said the program “was not decentralized and never has been.” If anything, Stone said, the changes “added a front line of oversight.” The P-Card policy, which strictly prohibits personal expenses with the card, purchases of alcohol and sets limits on meal reimbursements and per-diems, was updated as recently as 2011.

A county audit this week instructed Shirakawa to reimburse $12,772 in P-Card purchases, in addition to the more than $7,000 he has already paid back. While some have argued that Shirakawa treated the money as a loan, Stone disagreed, saying the moral equivalent would be a bank robber returning money after being caught.

“I would take exception to the term ‘a loan,’” Stone said. “A loan is when there’s an agreement between the lender and the borrower.

“It’s not good enough to say, ‘I reimbursed it.’”

More than half of the money Shirakawa has already repaid the county came after Metro’s Public Records Act requests into his P-Card. Weeks later, a Metro report detailed the supervisor’s free spending on personal vacations, golf trips, casinos, and frequent lunches and dinners for friends and political allies.

In addition to Stone, Supervisor Ken Yeager, who will inherit the title of board president from Shirakawa next month, has pursued more transparency in P-Card audits. As the story continues to be a focus of local media outlets, and the trust in county financial controls diminishes, it seems Yeager and his fellow supervisors are growing impatient for answers, similar to Stone.

“What makes me agitated is that this reflects on all of us, all of us who are elected officials,” Stone said. “It creates this perception where the public says, ‘There they go again.’ The overwhelming majority of people who work for the county abide by the rules and policies.”

On Tuesday, during the discussion of P-Card policies, Smith said that the mechanisms to catch abuses could have been hampered by employees being intimidated by board members.

“There is clearly a differential of power—the feeling that people don’t want to challenge the board members,” Smith said. “There’s been reluctance to point out things that don’t make sense, and they haven’t felt comfortable bouncing that up the chain of command.”

Stone said he believes Smith was unaware of Shirakawa’s misuse of county funds, but that it should not matter.

“I just have a feeling that he did not know,” Stone said. “And the fact that he did not know is a serious problem. If something of this magnitude was going on in my office and I didn’t know about it, there’d be hell to pay. There’d be heads rolling.

“That doesn’t relieve the county executive of responsibility.”

Josh Koehn is a former managing editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley.

13 Comments

  1. Smith should be held accountable too, but that’s not going to happen.  That’s the grand bargain.  Trying to hold the county government accountable will give Shirakawa an ally.  Now he’ll be left to twist in the wind.

    If the Merc had published the story before the November election, then Shirakawa and some folks in the county government would have been held accountable.  That would have been a better outcome, but you can’t have everything.

    • You are correct. Speaking of the election, I think it turned out perfect. No on 32, yes on 30, and a reelection for the president. Now that we’re done with all that, let’s start implementing Measure B.

  2. Thank You Larry for your thoughts.
      What is still in my lack of understanding is What about Reed/ Larry Please give us your thoughts on what we should do with these other politicions, that have crossed the line as George has done
    While your at your thoughts, can you elaborate on the 6 million that went to Tom, and the billions that was spent on the new city hall with Ron Gonzales
    I read Scott Herhold’s column today. It was not kind.
    The village Black Smith

    • The good news – you do want to here the good news, right – is that since Measure B passed San Jose is well on it’s way to prosperity. As far as Shirakawa is concerned, once we get rid of him, another Democrat will take his place and all will be fine with the county. Remember, if someone is a crook, they’ve got to go.

  3. Bravo Mr Stone!  Finally a county official with some cajones.  You are 100% CORRECT when you say Gluttonous George’s conduct reflects on all county workers.  He makes everyone look bad because the rest aren’t speaking out more pointedly.

    Censure him already because his public rants from your dais about being a victim of a political lynching or discriminated against because he’s a fat Raider fan is not only humiliating but it is downright creepy and pathetic.  Get on with the business of the county, punish George and shut him up.

  4. County sucks, no accountability. Yet some idiots vote to give them more money.  Now VTA wants to bring the money losing train to Los Gatos for 420 riders at a cost of 175 million. 

    Are you people crazy!  One member needs to go to jail for stealing and the rest need to have your crazy ideas checked.

    When you get a few bucks, put it in the bank, you don’t have to spend it.

  5. I smell a lot of cochinos (oink, oink).  Where does Shirakawa really live?  He lives with a friend in district 7 and in district 8 too?

  6. why is everybody in an uproar about Georges mismanagement of funds, but nobody is Pissed off that Mayor Reed did the same exact thing for a larger amount??? if you are going to punish one then punish them all! dont pick and choose. that is the hypocrisy that is san jose

    • Since the passage of Measure B, there is going to be a lot less “mismanagement of funds”. San Jose is going to do so well. I’m sure we’ll all agree, it’s all about what’s best for San Jose. By the way, sorry I haven’t been around as much as you, but I’ve got a full time job and I’m raising a family.

%d bloggers like this: