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SANDAG Limits Credit Card Use, Meal Charges After Auditors Flag Spending

PoliticsSANDAG Limits Credit Card Use, Meal Charges After Auditors Flag Spending

Hasan IkhrataSANDAG 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 staff would be granted credit cards at the San Diego Association of Governments, and those who do get one would need to submit substantially more documentation for their purchases under new policies up for a board vote later this month.

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

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

The proposals, which SANDAG’s audit committee approved at their meeting Friday 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.

Records that inewsource obtained show what one government ethics expert called “clear abuse” of taxpayer funds: Some of SANDAG’s highest-paid staff have regularly used agency credit cards for business meetings at local restaurants, including high-profile dining spots such as Rei Do Gado, Donovan’s steakhouse and in the U.S. Grant Hotel. 

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

Ikhrata, who’s headed the agency since late 2018, charged $17,000 at restaurants over a two-year period. SANDAG justified his spending in a statement last month, saying the expenses were for “business purposes” to advance agency projects and priorities.

But two new policies seek to greatly restrict when — and for how much — the agency can foot taxpayers with restaurant bills involving non-employee attendees. 

The 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, that’s $34 for dinner per person, including tax and tips.

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

Read the full article on inewsource.org.

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