Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata attends a SANDAG board meeting in San Diego, May 13, 2022. (Zoë Meyers/inewsource)

New policies meant to crack down on staff spending at the San Diego Association of Governments are now headed to the agency’s full board for approval.

SANDAG’s audit committee unanimously approved new rules during its meeting Friday that would require more documentation for credit card purchases and set limits on business meals.

Why this matters

As the regional planning agency, the San Diego Association of Governments uses a more than $1-billion, taxpayer-funded budget to make long-term decisions on major transportation and infrastructure projects.

The proposals come after an internal audit flagged “questionable” and “improper” spending, and following inewsource reporting that found some of the agency’s highest-paid staff regularly held meetings at upscale restaurants.

Under the new policies, just CEO Hasan Ikhrata would be allowed to use an agency credit card for business meals. That’s despite being one of SANDAG’s biggest spenders, with $17,000 spent at restaurants in just two years.

Committee members initially raised concerns about whether the spending limits would be high enough for business meals — in San Diego, for example, no more than $34 per person could be spent on dinner — but ultimately passed the policies unchanged.

SANDAG’s full board is expected to take a final vote at its June 24 meeting.

Staff is still reviewing any “instances of improper use” of the credit cards, gift card purchases and business meal charges, as well as any tax compliance issues as a result of the expenses. Deputy CEO Coleen Clementson said Friday that any corrective action, such as recouping funds from employees, would be completed by mid-July.

Mary Khoshmashrab, SANDAG’s independent performance auditor, said her office plans to do a continuous audit next fiscal year to review whether the new policies would be followed.

Type of Content

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Jennifer Bowman serves as inewsource's Assistant Editor. Before that, she was an investigative reporter focusing on government accountability issues in southern San Diego and Imperial counties. She also used to cover education. She’s happy to be back in her hometown after stints at daily newspapers...