SANDAG may limit the use of credit cards and meal expenses after listeners’ expenses

Hassan Ikhrata
SANDAG executive director Hasan Ikhrata stands in front of the future Balboa Avenue station on the Mid-Coast Trolley, March 5, 2021. (Andrew Bowen/KPBS)

Fewer employees would receive credit cards Association of San Diego Governmentsand those who do get one would have to submit significantly more paperwork for their purchases under new policies for a council vote later this month.

SANDAG has been working on new credit card rules since internal auditors reported “questionable” and “inappropriate” expenses earlier this year and found that the agency’s policy lacked “basic elements”.

Among the results: nearly $70,000 spent at local restaurants over a four-year period.

The proposals, which SANDAG’s audit committee approved at its meeting on Friday, would allow only one employee to use an agency credit card for meals: CEO Hasan Ikhrata, one of the agency’s most frequent spenders.

Record that new source got show what a government ethics expert called “manifest abuse” of taxpayers’ money: Some of SANDAG’s highest paid employees have regularly used agency credit cards for business meetings at local restaurants, including prestigious restaurants such as Rei Do Gado, the Donovan Steakhouse and the US Grant Hotel .

Colleagues, other government officials, consultants and lobbyists sometimes joined.

Ikhrata, who has run the agency since late 2018, billed $17,000 at restaurants over a two-year period. SANDING justified his expenses in a statement last month, saying the spending was for “business purposes” to advance agency projects and priorities.

But two new policies seek to dramatically restrict when — and for how much — the agency can pay taxpayers for restaurant bills involving nonemployee participants.

Meals “cannot be lavish or extravagant,” according to the policy, and would be limited to annual rates set by the federal government. In San Diego, for example, it’s $34 for dinner per person, including tax and tip.

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

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