Wasserman: P-card abusers should be penalized

Supervisor George Shirakawa

Santa Clara County authorities continue to investigate Supervisor George Shirakawa’s use of public funds to make about $36,000 in purchases over a four-year period, some of which violated County policies, according to a recent audit report.

On Tuesday, in response to the recent audit and ongoing investigation, the Board of Supervisors agreed at their scheduled meeting to implement a policy that requires the supervisors and other elected County officials to submit a report of their individual County-issued credit cards (known as P-cards) to an open session for public review.

An audit report published Monday by the County Auditor-Controller found that from the time Shirakawa took office in January 2009 until September 2012, he made 240 expenses totaling $36,837 on his P-card, which is funded by the County.

The audit found “several instances” in which Shirakawa violated County policies for P-card use, including personal expenses, donations to nonprofits without the board’s approval, and items that “are either strictly prohibited or restricted” under current policies.

The audit said Shirakawa should “immediately” reimburse the County about $12,772 for prohibited purchases made with the credit card.

Shirakawa has already reimbursed the County about $7,000 for some of the personal expenses, the audit noted.

Supervisor Mike Wasserman, who represents South County on the board, said the board should establish clear penalties for misuse of the County P-cards, which he described as a “very serious issue.”

“Having the rules is one thing, but if you don’t follow the rules there needs to be penalties,” Wasserman said. “Our current policies clearly aren’t enough.”

Shirakawa’s questionable expenses blew up in the local media in October, when the Metro and the San Jose Mercury News published scathing reports on the public records identifying the supervisor’s expenses, which included golf outings, trips to casinos and expensive meals for large groups.

Wasserman said it’s too early to say whether or not Shirakawa should resign. The issue was referred to the County Counsel’s office for a deeper investigation.

The District Attorney’s office is also investigating, and the California Fair Political Practices Commission is investigating an earlier, unrelated report that Shirakawa has failed to submit several required campaign finance disclosure forms since 2009.

Former Supervisor Don Gage, who represented South County before Wasserman and was sworn in as Mayor of Gilroy last week, also declined to say whether or not Shirakawa should resign.

“That’s up to him,” said Gage, who added that when he was supervisor he was careful with the use of his P-card. He said he never even carried his card, and paid for things like staff lunches and other expenses with his own money or leftover campaign funds. Plus, he made certain to submit all the required paperwork and receipts when he used County funds for expenses.

Shirakawa responded to the P-card allegations in a recent email to supporters, in which he referred some of the specific accusations as “myth.”

“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,” Shirakawa said in the email.

Shirakawa’s Chief of Staff Eddie Garcia did not immediately return a phone call requesting comment.