Santa Clara County Board President George Shirakawa, under fire for thousands of dollars of questionable credit card spending of taxpayer money, on Tuesday called the reports of his alleged financial improprieties a "political lynching," and urged the public to essentially ignore the accusations against him.
"Much has been written in the past about my personal office's P-card usage, and I wanted to tell you ... don't let this be a distraction," he said in his first public comments about the purported misspending, directed to his four board colleagues at a regularly scheduled board meeting.
"I don't want you to be distracted by the political lynching that you read today and continue to read about in the print media."
The veteran politician's comments preceded a discussion by County Executive Jeff Smith about analysis of current policies and procedures related to use of P-cards, short for "Procurement Cards" that are issued to hundreds of county employees and a handful of elected county officials.
The county is expected to tighten those policies and penalties by next month in the aftermath of recent reports on Shirakawa's purported credit card abuses.
Outrage over Shirakawa's use of the county-issued credit card is growing, with some county residents publicly asking for his resignation. But supporters in his district have defended his tenure, calling the attacks unfair.
The credit card, which is meant to be used primarily
At Tuesday's meeting, Smith explained that audits of all five board members' cards as well as top county officials are under way and the results, as well as recommendations, will be discussed at a board meeting in December. He also said the county will study ways to strengthen policies for filing campaign contribution reports.
Shirakawa, who has stumbled recently in that arena as well, is under investigation by the state's political watchdog office and the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office for failing to submit a series of campaign contribution reports from his 2008 run for office.
Supervisor Ken Yeager was particularly dogged in his questioning of Smith over exactly how any proposed changes would halt future abuse related to both the P-card -- which Yeager called "a lack of county oversight" -- and campaign contribution filings.
"We need to be very clear with the public about what we are looking at, and more importantly, what will change," said Yeager, who asked whether stricter penalties could be applied to anyone who disobeyed the rules.
Smith said the original oversight of the cards had been the purview of the county's finance department, but in 2003 it was decentralized and county department heads, and the board members' offices, began monitoring their own departments and office expenses.
Smith said one possibility could be reverting to having the finance department monitor the board's P-cards. Current penalties for P-card abuse by employees vary from repaying any inappropriate expenditure to having the card taken away from them.
Shirakawa stopped short of issuing any apology over his spending, saying only that "when all the reviews and inquiries are completed, you'll hear a little bit more from me."
Shirakawa pointed to his record of hard work in his district.
"I want you to understand that for 50 years I've been nurtured and raised and lived in peace in this community," he told the board. "For the past 20 years, I've served and I've worked hard with the community."
Nevertheless, Shirakawa -- who has refused to answer questions from this newspaper about his spending practices -- claimed he will "cooperate certainly with anyone who wants to review the public record and our expenditures" in his office.
Shirakawa then quickly changed the subject, saying his constituents aren't concerned about the "19-inch LCD HD-TV'' he purchased for his office in 2009, but the recent spate of violence and shootings that have occurred in the community.
"There has been an increase in violence, and residents are very concerned with that," Shirakawa repeated. "I say that because I don't want us to be distracted, with the work we have to do" on other important county matters.
But fellow board members seemed unwilling to let Shirakawa off the hook. Some pointedly said the reputation and public trust in the entire board is at stake because of Shirakawa's missteps, and they asked him to move quickly to explain the credit card discrepancies that have been reported in the media.
Supervisor Dave Cortese told the board that, rightly or wrongly, the characterization of Shirakawa's expenses have turned into a "siren" that is "blaring" in the community whose members are "demanding a response.''
Contact Tracy Seipel at 408 275-0140.