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Scandal continues over Santa Clara County history book that cost taxpayers $1 million

Scandal continues over Santa Clara County history book that cost taxpayers $1 million
Photo Credit: Canva/scc.gov
By Wesley Severson - Published on July 11, 2022.

The investigation into a history book written about the Santa Clara County government, much of which was apparently plagiarized from Wikipedia and other sources, has become even more of a debacle after details about the sky-high cost of the book have been revealed. A Mercury News investigation previously uncovered that the fees paid to county grant writer Jean McCorquodale totaled $1 million in taxpayer money — and she is the wife of former county supervisor Dan McCorquodale, who also used to be a state senator.

County officials were able to skirt what should have been a competitive bidding process to find a writer for the history book project — the need for which isn't entirely clear. And experts say the $1 million price tag that was paid to McCorquodale is way too much for a book about a local government. “I have never heard of anybody being paid that kind of money. If a proposal had come out for $1 million, you would have had every historian in the country jumping on it,” historical resources consultant Charlene Duval told the Mercury News.

The history book starts with information about the Native Americans who settled in Santa Clara and works its way into aspects of local government after World War II.

To make matters even more embarrassing for the county, a report last month by the Merc revealed that “in the 580-page draft manuscript she [McCorquodale] submitted in January, entire paragraphs appear to have been copied almost verbatim from Wikipedia, the History Channel, the Mercury News, the Washington Post, county web pages and other sources.” McCorquodale ended up refuting the claims saying the paragraphs in question were never meant to end up in the final draft of the book. Reports claim that roughly a fifth of the book was copied and pasted. Aside from the payment aspect, the county counsel’s office is conducting a plagiarism investigation.

The latest report about the unfolding scandal has to do with how McCorquodale was given the book-writing assignment. The Mercury News uncovered an email from April of 2018 that shows there was a brief effort to hire a writer from a local college history department, but those plans were skirted by officials in charge of contracts in the county executive’s office. The email also shows that the county executive’s office immediately wanted to dish out a no-bid contract to McCorquodale to write the book and that there was hesitation from the department that approves contracts. The book project ended up as an amendment to McCorquodale’s $220,000-per-year grant-writing contract, which allowed the book project to bypass the bidding process.

Supervisor Otto Lee has an open inquiry into the situation and released a statement to the Mercury News this week, saying “an open and competitive bidding process for this project was clearly missed, and such poor accountability should never happen again.” County Executive Jeff Smith, who was allagedly pushing to sidestep the bidding process, said in a report obtained by the Mercury News that “in hindsight, these historical book writing services should have been put out to bid, as the experience and skills needed to be a highly effective grant and technical writer for and about County government do not necessarily translate to the production of a comprehensive historical book.” So far, no remedy for the situation has been announced and all investigations are ongoing.