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Audit on County Supes Expenses Finds Wrongful Charges by 1

Auditors find four of five Santa Clara County Supervisors properly accounted for expenses using their county-issued procurement cards. One is ordered to repay more than $7,000.

By Bay City News Service

Audits of more than $140,000 in expenses charged to taxpayers by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors released Thursday showed few problems except spending by Supervisor George Shirakawa, who disputed the results but agreed to repay some charges.

The county's Finance Agency looked into expenses placed on procurement cards, or P-Cards, by Supervisors Mike Wasserman, David Cortese, Ken Yeager and Liz Kniss from 2011 to 2012 as directed by the supervisors in October after an audit of Shirakawa's P-Card charges.

The supervisors requested audits of P-Card spending by all county elected officials and board appointees after Shirakawa's records revealed he improperly charged nearly $13,000 in charity donations and personal expenses from January 2009 to September 2012, according to the agency.

The audit of Shirakawa's P-Card use found he spent $36,837 over the 45-month period, with $14,293 for travel, $10,354 for local business meals, $5,140 listed as miscellaneous and $7,050 in personal expenses.

Auditors determined that Shirakawa must pay back $7,175 in personal and other expenses, including charity donations he billed to the county, plus $838 related to trips to Sacramento, San Diego and Washington, D.C. and $4,758 from 50 local staff lunches and other improper meal charges, the auditors said.

Vinod Sharma, the agency's director, turned over the findings, including an updated audit of Shirakawa's expenses, during a meeting Thursday of the county's finance and government operations committee in San Jose.

Supervisor David Cortese, vice chair of the committee, said the Board of Supervisors, in response to the controversy over Shirakawa's spending, started in December to require supervisors to submit their expense reports to the entire board instead of the finance agency.

"The board has tightened its policy on P-Card expenses to the point where I can't imagine there would be any confusion as to what our policy is," Cortese said.

Referring to Shirakawa, Cortese said that the results of the P-Card expense audits, to be sent to the board later this month, "show clearly that there was a problem with one supervisor."

Shirakawa could not be reached for comment and his District 2 chief of staff Eddie Garcia did not respond to telephone and email messages.

In a response addressed to Sharma in December, Shirakawa agreed to pay the county back about $2,880 in meals and other claimed expenses.

But the supervisor refused to remit other payments, such as $7,175 in expenses he said were allowed under the county's Contract Manual for "non-reoccurring services."

A major expense auditors claim violated county rules was a $2,500 donation to a public school district he charged to the county in 2011.

"These expenditures were to non-profit corporations that serve the community, so each of these expenditures qualify for P-Card use under the county Contract Manual," Shirakawa said.

County auditors, who went over $144,000 that supervisors and their staff charged to the county, reported that overall, Supervisors Wasserman, Cortese, Yeager and Kniss used their district's P-Cards in compliance with county regulations.

The county's audit of P-Card spending by Wasserman from February 2011 to September 2012 found he charged $14,825, with office expenses totaling $10,066, professional services at $3,894 and miscellaneous expenses of $865.

Cortese's records from January 2011 to last September showed he placed $31,562 on his P-Card, mostly $15,433 for office expenses plus $11,800 related to spending on public events, $2,334 on travel expenses and $758 miscellaneous.

Yeager put $10,171 on his card, such as $4,814 in office charges, $3,438 in travel costs, $1,124 for "subscription/membership" dues, $452 miscellaneous and $343 for community events over the same 21 months.

Kniss' charges, audited from January 2011 to last December, reached $50,922, with $24,453 for travel expenses, $14,397 for office costs, $8,438 for community events, $2,585 for registration fees for conferences, $569 for personal expenses she paid back and $480 for meals she consumed in the county.

The auditors noted that Kniss "inadvertently charged personal expenses" to the county of $569 and $150 for a political fundraiser—not allowed under county regulations—but has since reimbursed the charges.

Kniss' office also charged $175 in unknown business-related meals that should have been documented right away and the board member agreed to do so in the future, the controller said.

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Dan Manassau January 12, 2013 at 03:05 PM
why are they spending any of our money on no county business even if they pay it back. When I worked with a company card, we were forbidden to charge even a nickel to it except for company approved travel and expenses which we documented 100% if it was over per dium (only hotel and meals were per dium).

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