Santa Clara County is once again calling out its board president, George Shirakawa Jr., for stretching the definition of prudent use of public funds -- this time allowing his staff to make donations to his personal choice of charitable causes, buying two $4,000 bicycles and feeding themselves at local restaurants despite prohibitions on such expenses.
In the second of two critical audits released this month, the county's finance agency announced Wednesday that based on his spending of public funds during four years in office, Shirakawa must "immediately reimburse" thousands more dollars than he had previously been called upon to return.
"I continue to be very disappointed in Supervisor Shirakawa's behavior," said Supervisor Ken Yeager, who in January will take over as board president. "I am still looking for an explanation from him on how this happened."
The county's Finance Agency reports that between 2009 and 2012, Shirakawa's office spent $30,040 on "donations and sponsorships" that in some cases clearly violated county policies and lacked the proper documentation. Other cases fell into a more murky area, with auditors backing off from describing the charges as a blatant policy violation, but expressing their discomfort with the spending.
Vinod Sharma, the Finance Agency director, reported that Shirakawa's office used funds designed for goods and services that "should not have been used for making donations." His reports states that in at least seven of nine instances, donations totalling $6,250 "were clearly in violation" of county policy. The "prohibited donations" to community groups and events -- while notably worthy causes -- were not given the OK by Shirakawa's four board colleagues, and left the spending entirely to his discretion.
The donations included everything from a $2,500 sponsorship of the San Jose Salsa Festival in 2009 to a $750 payment in September for youth lessons at the Sparkle Swim School.
"The county should be immediately reimbursed for these expenses," the report states.
In response to the audit, Shirakawa is taking issue with some of the findings, particularly those requiring him to repay the community donations. He continues to disagree that he should repay the nine donations totalling $8,790, which includes $4,500 county auditors flagged as inappropriate uses of his personal county credit card.
The earlier audit found that Shirakawa used his taxpayer-funded credit card to pay for his personal expenses and for items "strictly prohibited" and demanded the District 2 supervisor "immediately reimburse" $12,772.
The audits follow several reports in the media about Shirakawa's flagrant use of his "procurement card," designed for small-item purchases and county business-trip expenses.
Contact Karen de Sá at 408-920-5781 and Tracy Seipel at 408-275-0140.