The day after a county audit demanded George Shirakawa reimburse $12,772 in improper charges with his county-issued credit card, the president of the Board of Supervisors threw out a checklist of reasons why the media would make up “straight-up untrue” reports about his fraudulent expense reports, misuse of taxpayer money and missing campaign disclosure forms.
“If you don’t like me cause I’m fat,” Shirakawa said, his voice catching several times, “or you don’t like me because I’m mixed race, or you don’t like me because of the work I’ve done, if you don’t like me because I support same-sex marriage, or you don’t like me because I believe all men and women should be created equally in the constitution. … All of those things—or I’m a Raider fan, maybe. If you don’t like me, that’s OK, but don’t use untruths to attack.” (Here is audio of Shirakawa’s statement, courtesy of KLIV.)
Wow. Where to start?
First, the indisputable: The Oakland Raiders suck. Kidding.
The county’s recent audit—the fourth into Shirakawa’s county credit card but the first to note problems—wants him to pay back in total more than half of the $36,837 in purchases he has made in his four years as supervisor. He already reimbursed the county for $7,049. None of this is a media conspiracy.
It did not come about because “one newspaper wants to do outdo the other,” as Shirakawa said, referencing Metro’s investigation into the supervisor’s expenditures and the Mercury News’ follow-up coverage. The turmoil came from the supervisor freely throwing around taxpayer funds on personal vacations, meals and entertainment—and like he earned it, when, in fact, Shirakawa declared bankruptcy last year.
His colleagues on the Board of Supervisors weren’t having his excuses at Tuesday’s meeting. Supervisor Ken Yeager wanted further explanation for the credit card charges Shirakawa made, while also calling for quarterly reports on elected officials’ credit card usage.
Supervisor Dave Cortese noted that all politicians sign up for public scrutiny, which caused Shirakawa to interject: “I must have missed that day when we signed up for political office. I didn’t sign up for untruths.” The supervisor has mostly limited his defense to three reported travel expenses, which may have been bungled in a Mercury News report.
Cortese, in unusually eloquent fashion, responded that “elected officials are virtually exempt from any protections under the defamation laws. That’s been the way it’s been for years and years. That’s what I meant. You sign up for this, you don’t have a lot of the remedies an ordinary citizen has for facts being put out that aren’t true.”
The problem for Shirakawa is that all but a few quibbling details are true. Larry Stone, the county’s tax assessor, said as much during the public comments portion of the meeting.
Stone disagreed with any suggestion that the county credit card policies on travel and meals are unclear or the root of the problem, a key talking point for County Counsel Lori Pegg and County Executive Jeff Smith.
“The policies, quite frankly, are fine,” Stone said. “The problem is with selective enforcement, particularly at the highest level of county leadership.”