On the same day the county released another audit critical of P-Card purchases made by Supervisor George Shirakawa’s office, County Executive Jeff Smith provided his first extended comments regarding Shirakawa’s misuse of taxpayer funds.
Smith, who is appointed by the Board of Supervisors to oversee all county operations, admitted that “policies are pretty clear” in regards to an audit from earlier this month, which instructed Shirakawa to pay back more than half of $36,837 in purchases he has made in his four years as supervisor. What is more of a “gray area,” Smith says, are rules pertaining to the new audit, which found that Shirakawa’s staff spent $4,000 on electronic bicycles, almost $460 in staff meals and $6,250 in charitable donations that all violate current P-Card policies.
County Assessor Larry Stone and others wonder how Shirakawa’s free spending went unchecked for so long. The county exec reiterated his belief that auditors and finance administrators were too intimated to blow the whistle on Shirakawa’s illegal spending.
“Remember, this is the boss,” Smith said, “and people—not including me, other people—are intimidated by the boss.”
Smith rejected Stone’s criticism as the assessor “just trying to separate himself politically from George.
“I think he’s just blowing steam,” Smith added. “[Stone] is not representing the facts. What he’s saying, basically, is he doesn’t want to be associated with this, so he wants it to be someone else’s fault.”
Regardless of who holds blame, the county’s costs to investigate Shirakawa and his staff’s spending has clearly added up to a staggering total, with no clear end in sight.
Smith estimated that the county has spent between $100,000 and $200,000 — and “maybe even more” — to audit and respond to requests for information regarding Shirakawa’s charge card purchases over the last four years, which included frequent meals, luxury hotel stays, golf outings and casino trips.
“Essentially, everybody in finance has been putting other work aside to deal with the audit requests,” Smith said. “I must admit, it is quite aggravating, but we have an obligation to produce records when they’re requested.”
Smith said that Shirakawa still has possession of his P-Card and it will be up to the Board of Supervisors if they want to take it away. The Supervisors have not censured or reprimanded the board president, who continues to chair board meetings.
“He’s entitled to a P-Card based on the ordinance,” Smith said.
The most recent audit notes that during Shirakawa’s first summer as a county supervisor in 2009, his staff purchased two electric bicycles at a cost of $4,000. Shirakawa’s office then donated the bikes to the Sheriff’s Office.
Shirakawa’s staff justified the gift as falling under a pilot program with the Sheriff’s Office “to identify alternative energy opportunities,” according to the audit. A month later, the Sheriff’s Office returned the bikes to the vendor—without any documented refund or credit to Shirakawa’s district or the Sheriff’s Office.
Shirakawa’s office responded in the audit by stating it would reimburse the county for staff meals and ask for Board approval of the charitable donations at the first meeting of 2013. The audit notes that the Board could retroactively approve the $6,250 in charitable donations made with Shirakawa’s staff P-Card, which included swimsuits, glow-in-the-dark necklaces and festival sponsorships. Almost all of the donations from Shirakawa’s staff P-Card came after the policy on donations was changed last year to require approval from the Board.
The first meeting of next year could also be the same day Shirakawa, who ran unopposed in the primary this year to automatically retain his District 2 seat, is sworn in for a second term.