County Supervisor George Shirakawa issued his first public comments regarding his reported misuse of taxpayer money in an email Wednesday to constituents. In the letter, Shirakawa uses a myth/fact juxtaposition to clear up “a complicated issue that can’t be explained with sensationalized headlines and scandalous printed ‘sound bites.’”
Shirakawa’s first three mythbusters appear to take issue with the Mercury News’ report of inconsistencies in the supervisor’s calendar and expenses on his county-issued credit card. Nowhere in his letter does Shirakawa directly address the findings in Metro’s report last month, which first broke the story of Shirakawa using his county-issued credit card to pay for vacations, golf trips and numerous meals—some of which included alcohol.
Also in his letter, Shirakawa provides a link to his page on the county website. On that page, links showing his reimbursements to the county are provided. It’s worth noting that the largest reimbursement check, which paid back the county for a $583.78 golf outing, was not written until a year after the trip and a couple weeks after Metro first started making Public Records Act requests to the county regarding Shirakawa’s county credit card.
Here is Shirakawa’s email in its entirety:
Dear Supporters of District 2,
For twenty years, I have honorably served those I represent and I’m deeply humbled by the trust and support the voters have given to me. I’m proud of the work we’ve done, yet I’m embarrassed by oversights on the use of my county-issued credit card. I take full responsibility for these errors and I’ve reimbursed the County for unauthorized charges.
The media is attempting to create the myth that I’m not accountable for my actions and I disregard my constituents. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is a complicated issue that can’t be explained with sensationalized headlines and scandalous printed “sound bites.” I hope to clarify issues raised by the newspapers by providing the following facts to dispel the myths:
Myth: Shirakawa “upgrades to first-class airfare and quadruples the county’s bill to $2,605.”
Fact: This statement is simply not true. As you know, I’m a big man and on occasional cross-country flights I have upgraded to larger first-class seats. I paid for the upgrades with personal/private funds. NO charges were ever made to the county-issued credit card.
Myth: Shirakawa billed taxpayers for two taxi rides to and from the White House—at 1:20 p.m. and again at 3:30 p.m.—hours after his county itinerary had him heading home.
Fact: This is not factual. My itinerary was changed and the flight home from Washington, D.C. on December 4, 2009, departed at 9:15 PM, well after the two taxi rides.
Myth: Shirakawa attended the California State Association of Counties’ legislative conference in Sacramento on May 27 and 28. Yet, that same day, Shirakawa charged taxpayers $94.88 for a “working staff meeting” at Caper’s Loft restaurant at 1:06 p.m. in San Jose.
Fact: The CSAC conference was held in Sacramento from May 27 through May 29, 2009. I attended the first day of meetings and checked out of the Sheraton Hotel Sacramento on the morning of May 28th to return to San Jose to attend the 9:00 AM County Children, Seniors, and Families Committee (CSFC) meeting as vice chair of the committee. After the CSFC meeting, I had a briefing session with my staff over lunch before returning to Sacramento for the remainder of the CSAC conference, checking out on May 29th.
Myth: “He used his county credit card for five nights at the Renaissance Washington, D.C., Dupont Circle Hotel—two of them prior to the conference. On his third night, Shirakawa upgraded from his third-floor room, which cost taxpayers $256.48 a night, to the top floor.
Fact: This statement is simply untrue. I did not upgrade a hotel room “to the top floor.” The conference I attended was hosted at the Renaissance Washington, D.C. Downtown Hotel (999 Ninth Street NW, Washington, D.C.). When I made original arrangements, the conference host hotel was booked full, so I made arrangements at the nearest available hotel, the sister Renaissance Washington, D.C. DuPont Circle Hotel (1143 New Hampshire Avenue NW, Washington D.C.), which was nearly two miles away from the conference. On the third day, rooms became available at the Renaissance Washington, D.C. Downtown Hotel, the conference host hotel. Since it was more productive and efficient to do the county’s business required by the trip at the conference host hotel, I changed hotels.
Myth: I have a “high-definition television” and a “classy” fridge in my county office.
Fact: This description is inaccurate. I have a small 19” television in my office to stay updated on state and city council meetings that impact the county. The office has a dorm room sized 36” x 24” commercial-grade refrigerator for food my staff usually brings from home as they regularly work through lunch.
Myth: “Shirakawa regularly treats his core seven-member staff to lavish meals.”
Fact: “Regular lavish meals” is an inaccurate characterization of five lunch gatherings I had with my staff over a four-year period. We had a Christmas lunch in 2009, 2010, and 2011, and two farewell meals for those who had left the office in 2012. I strongly believe that rewarding and thanking staff for good work is essential to successful team-building. If those charges are found to be unauthorized, I’ll reimburse the county.
Myth: “Shirakawa also rang up alcohol bills on his county-issued credit card.”
Fact: Purchasing alcohol with public funds is against the rules, period. I’m diligent about making sure that no alcohol served at business meals is charged to the public. It just came to my attention that in my four years in office, one expense totaling $18.75 was charged to the public. I’m disappointed by the oversight and reimbursed the county for that cost.
Myth: “Shirakawa went on county-funded trips to casinos, luxury resorts and golf courses.”
Fact: Again, this is simply not true. I inadvertently used the county-issued card to pay for two hotel nights totaling $263.74, a $20.46 breakfast, and $583.78 in green fees for four to play golf. Once the inadvertent use on the county credit card was discovered on the hotel charges, I paid the hotels with personal funds and the two charges were credited back to the county credit card account (credits issued on 9/9/09 and 9/30/09). I reimbursed the county for the errant breakfast and golf charges with personal checks.
Copies of my reimbursement checks to the county, travel documents, and credit statements are available for your review on my website at http://www.supervisorshirakawa.org.
My staff and I work hard to represent the most vulnerable in our community. It’s demonstrated by the work we’ve done our first four years. We brought a health clinic to downtown San Jose and sidewalks to the unincorporated east side after more than a decade of resident pleas for these services went unanswered by previous county leaders. We developed the state model for inmate realignment and ex-offender reentry programs, and augmented the county sheriff’s unit to combat child pornography. These are just a few accomplishments from my first term.
I hope this information helps clarify some of the false and inaccurate claims made by the local print media. I take full responsibility for the charges that required reimbursement and I’m disappointed in myself. I should have held myself to a higher standard. I’m committed to earning back the trust of those I’ve served for two decades by ensuring these mistakes never happen again.