George Shirakawa, presiding over his final meeting as president of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, sat mum during a discussion of new county charge card policies, scribbling notes as his colleague, Dave Cortese, asked if the Board could revoke a supervisor’s county-issued charge card, or P-Card.
It didn’t. The reason: Surely George knows better by now.
“I’d be amazed if he ever used it incorrectly again,” Supervisor Ken Yeager said after the meeting. Yeager will inherit the title of chairman of the Board at the first meeting in January. “And certainly, if he did, we would rescind it in a second.”
Less than two months after Metro first reported that Shirakawa used his P-Card to spend thousands of taxpayer dollars on $100 steaks, hotel suites, SUV rentals, golf vacations and gambling trips, a new tab has come to light as the District Attorney’s Office and Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) continue their separate investigations of Shirakawa. The cost for auditing the District 2 supervisor and his staff, as well as handling requests for information, has surpassed $200,000, according to County Executive Jeff Smith.
And there’s still no clear end in sight.
No one expects Shirakawa, who filed for personal bankruptcy last year, to resign from a position that pays him an annual salary of $143,000. Despite orders to reimburse the county for more than half of the $36,837 in P-Card purchases he has made in four years as supervisor, Shirakawa is expected to wait it out and see if anything sticks and results in criminal charges.
However, for the first time, one of Shirakawa’s fellow supervisors is stating publicly that a decision will be made about Shirakawa, one way or another.
“I hope that the DA and FPPC issue their findings quickly,” Yeager said. “If not, it will be important for the Board to take action on its own.”
One of the first actions the Board might take is denying Shirakawa’s request to have charitable donations made with the supervisor’s P-Card approved retroactively.
Shirakawa’s staff used its own P-Card, separate from the supervisor’s, to make $6,250 in charitable donations, which a county audit last week deemed inappropriate. Included in the donations were swim lessons, glow-in-the-dark necklaces for Halloween and a $2,500 sponsorship for the San Jose Salsa Festival last year. The Board must first approve such donations, which didn’t occur. Yeager said he would not vote in favor of the county picking up the tab.
County Assessor Larry Stone continues to be Shirakawa’s fiercest critic amongst the eight elected officials in the county. At Tuesday’s meeting, Stone spoke in favor of changes that will force all P-Card expenditures by elected officials to receive a special audit from county COO Gary Graves in addition to quarterly reports that go in front of the Board. The county also announced elected officials and employees will face felony or misdemeanor charges if they attempt to abuse county funds in the manner Shirakawa did.
But again, Stone cited “a total collapse of enforcement” when it comes to audits of Shirakawa’s meal and travel expenditures.
“The fact that this went on for so long was just an invitation for him to continue it,” Stone said after the meeting. He added: “Every department head I’ve talked to is shocked and stunned by the amount of money and length of time this occurred.”
From his own experience, Stone said, county auditors red-flagged one glass of wine he mistakenly listed on a expenditure report, as well as 12 cents overcharged to the county by one of his staff members. By comparison, Shirakawa provided only a few itemized receipts from his 170-plus meals, most of which were purchased just miles from his home or office.
While Smith, the top appointed official in the county, has offered contradictory statements on how clear P-Card policies were—and just last week he told San jose Inside “they are pretty clear”—Stone suffers no indecisiveness.
“Jeff is consistently trying to dilute the significance of these improper expenditures,” Stone said. “I don’t know why. He’s not denying them. If it was incidental, then we wouldn’t be talking about it like this. Somebody gave a wink of the eye and said, ‘Don’t enforce these.’”
As a result of Shirakawa’s illegitimate expenditures and false reports, a number of people are interested in replacing him if he leaves office, and one potential candidate is now making a move.
Sources confirmed with San jose Inside that Teresa Alvarado and her husband, Jess Moreles, are moving from their house in Blossom Hill, which is located in Supervisor Mike Wasserman’s District 1, to a smaller home in Japantown, located in Shirakawa’s District 2.
“Teresa would be an outstanding successor to George,” Stone said, “and there would be others as well who meet the profile and be a good addition to the Board.”
Alvarado’s name has been floated as a leading contender to replace Shirakawa, as she fits the bill for a politically connected woman of color. Currently a communications manager for the Santa Clara Valley Water District, Alvarado, 48, is an East San Jose native who attended San Jose State before moving on to positions with the Hispanic Foundation and PG&E.
According to sources, Alvarado wanted to move in 2008 to District 2 to run against Shirakawa. But the timing was poor. In order to run for office, she needed to be a registered voter in District 2 at least 30 days before the filing deadline. Alvarado instead ran unsuccessfully against Wasserman for the District 1 seat in 2010.
But sources believe Alvarado would stand a much better chance of being appointed to Shirakawa’s seat if he resigns or is forced out of office due to criminal charges.
Alvarado’s mother, Blanca Alvarado, served three-plus terms on the Board seat currently held by Shirakawa. When Joe Simitian takes his seat on the board next year, it will be the first time the county has not had an elected female official on the dais in 37 years.
Poignantly, Supervisor Liz Kniss, in her final meeting before returning to the Palo Alto City Council next year, said on Tuesday: “If there is somebody coming forward in the future, I would hope you welcome that person openly.”
UPDATE: The Mercury News reports that Supervisor Dave Cortese turned in his county P-Card.