Wife of longtime South Bay politician received at least $2.45 million from Santa Clara County over 10 years to write grant applications and history book few residents will probably never see, let alone read.
Jean McCorquodale, whose husband is former Santa Clara County Supervisor and State Senator Dan McCorquodale, was so sought after by county officials that the Board of Supervisors awarded her multi-year contracts without bothering to get competing offers.
Since 2009, her grant-writing deals have grown from $120,000 a year to around $1 million in her final two years in 2018 and 2019, when she was also asked to write “a historical record that demonstrates the role of county government over the years”.
She delivered a 580-page draft manuscript in January, two years late.
County Executive Jeff Smith, whose office was responsible for contract management, says McCorquodale was uniquely qualified for the job and that her previous grant applications had brought in millions of dollars for the county. But Smith acknowledges that the book ‘took too long’ to write and that he should have handled the project more closely, but focused on other things like the pandemic, labor strikes and fires. of forest.
And despite best efforts, the book — which required McCorquodale to interview current and former county supervisors and executives — has yet to be reworked. “I just think some parts need to be more about county government,” Smith said, adding that the copyright on some photos also needs to be checked. The county will take on that job with help from McCorquodale, he said.
Smith could not say where the idea for a county history book came from, and no one would say who suggested McCorquodale write it, raising questions about whether the political influence of her husband gave his one-man company, McCorquodale Corporation, special access to the county. coffers.
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When asked if he saw a conflict in the board approving the contracts with the wife of a former county supervisor, Sen. Dave Cortese, who was a member of the board and voted in favor of the contracts, said said: “Well, there would be no financial conflict of interest. If you refer to Dan McCorquodale, he hasn’t been a public servant for several decades now. Correct? She’s her own person. Whatever her career is his career, whatever his career is his career.
Although Dan McCorquodale’s tenure as District 3 Supervisor ended in 1982 and he left the State Senate in 1994, he remained well known in political circles for years, although at 87, he is little seen today.
“You tend not to lose your influence and connections once you stop being an official politician,” said Sean McMorris, program manager for the nonprofit California Common Cause. “It is good to speculate. Did she have help from her husband and his contacts and his influence and power? And did that play a role in the amount of money she received or the potential preference given to her over the years? »
Dan McCorquodale did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Smith said it has not been determined where the book will end up outside of the county seat at 70 W. Hedding St. in San Jose and the county archives.
Jean McCorquodale said Smith approached her to write the history book. “I believe I was asked to take on this project for several important reasons,” she said in an email response to this post. “The first is (that) my advanced research and writing skills were well known to the county.”
But Smith said a county supervisor suggested he do the job, though he can’t remember who. “I don’t know who I was talking to about it, but I thought it would be a good idea to have a book,” he said.
The five supervisors on the board when the book project was added to McCorquodale’s grant writing contract – Cindy Chavez, Mike Wasserman, Dave Cortese, Joe Simitian and Ken Yeager – said they did not suggest McCorquodale for the position.
But McCorquodale and her husband were well known to some of them. Yeager, who no longer sits on the board, has a long-standing relationship with the couple and has received contributions from them for his oversight campaigns. He is identified in the manuscript’s acknowledgments as a “significant supporter” of the book project and a friend.
In October 2011, he praised Jean McCorquodale’s grant-writing work at a meeting of supervisors, saying she was “someone who brought in a lot of revenue for the county, and she works very quietly and diligently.” home to do all that work and has truly been an unsung hero for the county for over 16 years.
Although Yeager voted to approve McCorquodale’s grant-writing contracts, he was absent when supervisors expanded his work in 2018 to incorporate the task of writing books.
“I had no direct involvement with the project, but I thought – regardless of any funding issues – that a county history was a worthwhile project and had confidence in Jean because of his extraordinary success in writing. grants for the county,” he said in an email.
Smith’s office claimed that McCorquodale had received $320 million in grants since he began working with the county in 1995. According to staff reports to the council, his previous work included writing grant applications for the system of county health and hospital.
When asked to provide samples of McCorquodale’s grant writing, Smith sent two applications she completed in 2018 for mental health services money.
Despite repeated requests over the past two weeks to see a list of other contracts awarded to McCorquodale, county officials were only able to offer a series of contracts dating back to 2007 with a total value of $448,640. They said they were looking for more.
Cortese, whose 2020 Senate campaign Dan McCorquodale endorsed, said
Jean McCorquodale’s salary was commensurate with the value she brought to the county.
“It doesn’t seem like a bad deal,” Cortese said. “I think we would have a real problem if the county paid a grantmaker $2 million and they brought in nothing or less than $2 million. I think that would be a big concern. But writing grant proposals is an important way to bring in outside funding to government agencies and nonprofits as well.
Jean McCorquodale began looking for work in the county in 1995 when he hired his new McCorquodale Corporation to help write grant applications. Her big breakthrough came in 2009 when the County Executive’s Office urged supervisors to make her the county’s chief grants writer, taking over work previously done by other contracted grant writers. working for several departments. This contract paid him $740,000 over five years.
When McCorquodale’s contract ended, Smith in 2014 asked supervisors to extend her job for another five years, describing her as an “extremely valuable resource” with a “unique knowledge base” in the county. The board approved a second contract that started at $165,000 per year and jumped to $220,000 in 2016 and 2017.
That’s a lot of money for a government grant author. According to 2021 data from Transparent California, the highest-paid grant writer on staff at a public agency in the state works for the Santa Ana Unified School District for $181,910, including benefits.
In 2018, Smith’s office amended the contract to include the history book, increasing McCorquodale’s salary that year from $220,000 to $510,000. And in 2019, supervisors approved another one-year extension for an additional $500,000 so she could finish writing the book along with other grant-writing work.
McCorquodale, who declined an interview but responded to questions by email, said the extension was “necessary as the book project turned out to be much more difficult than expected”.
Documents important to his research were missing from the county’s historical archives, including 70 years of board minutes and agendas that may have been lost in a 1931 courthouse fire. Then the pandemic barred her for months from accessing libraries, document collections and museums to fill in the blanks, she said.
“This seriously slowed down the research,” she writes.
McCorquodale also said she spent “a very significant amount” of her own money on the book, including its cover design, a proofreader, two research assistants and a graduate library student.
And she said she worked on the book “without any additional compensation” for two years after her contract with the county ended in 2020 to complete the work.
McCorquodale no longer writes grants for the county, which Smith says now has enough staff to absorb that work.
He too was mentioned in the acknowledgments of McCorquodale’s book, as someone who “recognized the value of a complete historical record of Santa Clara County”.
She adds in the next paragraph: “For many years there has been and continues to be an inexplicable lack of public knowledge of county government, which is surprising and unfortunate given its vast responsibilities and the enormous influence it wields on the lives of virtually everyone who lives or works in the county. Dr. Smith combined his concern about the county’s lack of knowledge of history with his goal of creating a better understanding of the county. role played by the Santa Clara County government.