Features & Columns

George Shirakawa SCENE OF THE DINE: El Pirrin is one of Supervisor Shirakawa's favorite spots to conduct official county business.

Unenforced Rules

What makes the lack of accountability all the more stunning is that Shirakawa's P-Card transactions have been audited twice, and no serious concerns were raised. In February 2010 and May 2011, county Controller-Treasurer Marilou B. Mutuc audited Shirakawa's P-Card expenditures.

The 2010 audit examined transactions from the last half of 2009. Mutuc only took issue with the purchase of two items from non-approved vendors—and missing itemized receipts.

"Other than the observations stated above, the County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors, District Two's P-Card transactions audited for this period followed the policies and procedures set forth in the Procurement Card program," Mutuc wrote. "The Department's P-Card records are well organized and maintained. The Department is making an effort to use the P-Card whenever possible to maximize the rebate offered by U.S. Bank."

Rather than ensure responsible use of public funds by an elected official, it seems the finance department was more concerned with its rebate. County Executive Jeff Smith, whose office oversees all departments, did not respond to requests for comment.

One of the few county employees who did respond to requests for comment, but only in broad terms, was the P-Card program director, Jenti Vandertuig, who recommended a couple weeks ago that a list of Shirakawa's transactions be sent to the county exec's office "so they're not caught off guard." Vandertuig estimates that 700 county employees possess P-Cards. She says she instituted a policy in her own department a few years ago that her employees could no longer hold staff lunches on the county's dime due to recent budget cutbacks.

"We always advise everybody, titles don't matter," she says.

Shirakawa must not have gotten the memo. He frequently lunches at out-of-the-way places like Willow Glen's Great Wall Restaurant or El Pirrin on the East Side, describing the events as "staff meetings" or a "briefing," without further notations on the topic of discussion, as is generally required by Internal Revenue Service guidelines for entertainment expenditures.

Frequently, the person dining with the supervisor is his chief of staff, his bodyguard/driver or a close political associate like Campos or Franklin McKinley School District Board Member George Sanchez in a weird counterpoint to tradition. Shirakawa also has the county pick up the tab when he treats lobbyists and political consultants to a meal, among them Rich Robinson, Jude Barry, Ryan Ford, Rolando Bonilla, Tom Saggau, Joe Guerra and Dustin DeRollo.

Metro's independent efforts to track down the receipts that Shirakawa concealed from county finance officials uncovered a third violation of the no-alcohol policy. On June 26, Shirakawa and his eight-person staff took a "farewell lunch" for policy aide Gustavo Caraveo. It ran until 6:19pm, included fruit cobbler, crme brulee, two Stella Artois beers and three $102 steaks, and closed out at a belt-loosening price tag of $470.94.

It was the same month that Shirakawa issued his first budget message as board president. "We are very concerned about local impacts to single moms, child care and In-Home Supportive Services for the disabled," he said.

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