Book cost

Controversial Santa Clara County history book cost over $1 million

A new report puts a price on the controversial local history book commissioned by Santa Clara County that was found to contain paragraphs copied almost verbatim from online sources: over $1 million in cash taxpayers.

And an email obtained by this news agency, which first discovered the copied paragraphs, sheds light on how county officials circumvented bidding rules to steer the book project to the wife of a former county supervisor. County Executive Jeff Smith now admits the project should have been put out to tender.

The revelations delve deeper into the scandal surrounding the book, a planned history of Santa Clara County government written by Jean McCorquodale, the wife of former Supervisor and State Senator Dan McCorquodale. Jean McCorquodale had previously provided expensive grant-writing services for the county, but had no history book writing experience.

Supervisor Otto Lee ordered an investigation into the book after the June 6 publication of an article revealing McCorquodale’s work for the county and a subsequent story detailing the apparent plagiarism. These stories revealed that McCorquodale earned at least $2.4 million over a decade of work for the county, but public records don’t specify exactly how much of that amount was paid for the book.

A separate investigation into the copied paragraphs is currently underway at the County Council Office.

“In hindsight, these historical book writing services should have been put out to tender, because the experience and skills to be a highly effective grant and technical writer for and on government of the county do not necessarily result in the production of a comprehensive historical book,” Smith wrote in the two-page report released Wednesday.

Jeff Smith, seen here in 2020, admits the controversial Santa Clara County history book project should have been up for competition. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

In a statement provided Thursday, Lee called the amount spent on the book “grossly excessive.”

“An open and competitive bidding process for this project was clearly missed, and such bad accountability should never happen again,” he said.

Questions remain on how and why McCorquodale — who at the time was earning $220,000 a year writing grants for the county — got the job in the first place. In a previous interview, Smith said a county supervisor suggested her for the gig, but said he couldn’t remember who. However, all of the supervisors who were on the board when the project was approved denied this in response to inquiries.

In the new report, Smith wrote that McCorquodale’s “long and well-regarded experience” with the county through her grant-writing duties was the reason for choosing her and not putting the project in competition.

But an email obtained by this news organization via a public records request reveals that the internal effortts were made when finding someone from a local college history or English department for the position. However, those plans were dismissed by senior county officials, including Smith.

The email, from April 2018, also shows that the county executive’s office initially tried to secure a no-tender contract for McCorquodale for the book project, but the department responsible for the approve said he would likely deny the request, top county executive officials said. to find another way to give the concert to McCorquodale.

The 2018 email was written by Fran Palacio, a former county executive office official, and sent to Smith and Office of Strategic and Intergovernmental Affairs Director Steve Preminger.

“Procurement has informed me that the sole source has not been approved, and further that it likely will not be,” wrote Palacio, who has overseen McCorquodale’s existing grant-writing contracts, making reference to the procurement department that oversees contracts in the county.

“Also, I have been informed that staff are now doing their own market research with local colleges, history and English departments, to determine if they can do this type of written history project” , she wrote.

Since McCorquodale’s existing grant writing contract with the county allowed him to pursue other “professional writing,” Palacio continued, McCorquodale had already begun the history book project.

“I find the whole thing a bit frustrating and am now wondering if I should just seek an amendment to his current agreement, reduce grant work and increase professional writing work,” Palacio wrote. Such a decision would circumvent the need for a tendering process.

Asked about the 2018 email, Smith and Preminger said they couldn’t remember it. According to Smith, Palacio has not worked for the county since 2020. The purchasing department referred the questions to a county spokesperson, who referred the questions to Smith. Jean McCorquodale did not respond to a request for comment.

Nevertheless, the book project was added as an amendment, as McCorquodale’s contracts show. The manuscript she reported is 580 pages long and covers Native American settlement of the area up to the period following World War II.

An investigation by this news agency in early June revealed that McCorquodale had copied nearly identical paragraphs from numerous online news sources while writing the manuscript. The copied paragraphs appear throughout the book – and make up about a fifth of its content.

April Halberstadt, a local historian who has written 14 books and consulted on the McCorquodale project, said it was not “unreasonable” for McCorquodale to be chosen for the project given that she has worked for the county for a decade.s. Halberstadt said she felt the book was just going to be a little update on the past two and a half decades of Santa Clara County history and was “disappointed” to see how it turned out. ‘has passed.

But others described the $1 million plus prize as highly unusual.

“I’ve never heard of anyone receiving this kind of money,” said Charlene Duval, a historical resources consultant with nearly 50 years of experience in California history. “If a proposal had come out for $1 million, every historian in the country would have jumped on it.”