Hoping to end the months-long controversy surrounding Santa Clara County Supervisor George Shirakawa Jr.'s misuse of his county-issued credit cards, a county finance committee on Thursday agreed to move up a board vote on audits of all five supervisors' credit cards to Jan. 15, instead of delaying until month's end.
The recommendation by Supervisor Ken Yeager, who succeeded Shirakawa as board president this year, was supported by committee member Dave Cortese. Yeager leads the board's finance and government operations committee, but as board president, he is slated to give his state of the county address at the Jan. 29 meeting. After Thursday's meeting, he acknowledged he would like to resolve as much of the credit card controversy as possible before his address.
Shirakawa, who could not be reached for comment Thursday, has been asked to reimburse the county $12,772 for personal expenses, and at least another $6,250 in charitable donations.
He has promised to repay most of the expenses within 30 days, a deadline that starts after Tuesday's vote. However, he is disputing some of the charges, including the charitable donations, and has said he will ask the board at a future meeting to relieve him of reimbursing those.
Both Yeager and Cortese have said they will not agree to that request.
On Thursday, County Finance Director Vinod Sharma reviewed with the committee the results of the internal audits of the five supervisors. With the exception of Shirakawa's audits, which included "irregularities" that already have been reported, Sharma said, the four other audits revealed few if any issues.
All of the audits were spurred by recent revelations in the media showing that since taking office in 2009, Shirakawa has used his taxpayer-funded credit card to pay for many personal expenses and for items that are prohibited under county policy, including golf fees, casino hotel stays and unauthorized rental car upgrades.
A review of a second credit card issued to his staff showed that Shirakawa's office had made donations to charities, which county officials also said is against county regulations. Shirakawa disagrees.
As a precaution Thursday, Cortese asked County Counsel Lori Pegg to halt any charitable donations by a supervisor through a county-issued credit card or any other payment process until the board votes on a formal policy that clarifies the issue.
The board last month updated polices and procedures after Shirakawa's credit card woes. To prevent such abuses, the board now will review each supervisor's expenses on a quarterly basis. And all county elected officials' expenses will be scrutinized monthly by Chief Operating Officer Gary Graves.
Sharma said his audits of the five supervisors tracked their expenses for a 21-month period, from January 2011 through September 2012, based on the start of Supervisor Mike Wasserman's tenure in January 2011 as the most recently elected member before Joe Simitian this month replaced Supervisor Liz Kniss.
There were two exceptions: Kniss's credit card audit was extended through December, when she left office. And Shirakawa's audit period covered a 45-month period going back to when he first became a supervisor in 2009, Sharma said, because of the number of violations that surfaced in their initial 21-month review.
The results reveal that Shirakawa spent $36,837; Cortese, $31,562; Kniss, $21,946; Wasserman, $14,825; and Yeager, $5,023.
Kniss reimbursed the county for five credit-card charges totaling $569 that were not related to county business, and $150 for a dinner event hosted by the Bay Area Municipal Elections Committee, which is a political action committee and is not an allowable expense.
Audits of credit card expenses of three other elected county officials -- County Assessor Larry Stone, District Attorney Jeff Rosen and Sheriff Laurie Smith -- as well as County Executive Jeff Smith and other appointed staff, will be completed by the end of this month.
Contact Tracy Seipel at 408 275-0140.
George Shirkawa Jr. $36,837
Dave Cortese: $31,562
Liz Kniss: $21,946
Mike Wasserman: $14,825
Ken Yeager: $5,023
* All audits of expenses charged from January 2011 through September 2012, except for Shirakawa's, which was done from January 2009 through September 2012 and Kniss from January 2011 through December 2012.
Source: Santa Clara County