New SANDAG policies restrict credit card, meal charges

Less staff will receive credit cards at Union of San Diego Governmentsand those who get one will have to submit significantly more documents for their purchases under the new policies they will vote on this week.

SANDAG has been working on new credit card rules since internal auditors pointed them out “Undoubted” and “inappropriate” expenses earlier this year and found that the agency’s policy lacked “key elements”.

Because that matters

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

Among the findings: Nearly $ 70,000 was spent on local restaurants over a four-year period.

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

It records that inewsource obtained show what a government ethics expert called “Clear misuse” of taxpayers’ funds: Some of SANDAG’s highest paid staff have regularly used agency credit cards for business meetings at local restaurants, including high-profile eateries such as Rei Do Gado, Donovan Steakhouse and US Grant Hotel.

Occasionally there were colleagues, other government officials, advisers and lobbyists.

Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata attends SANDAG San Diego Board Meeting on May 13, 2022. (Zoë Meyers / inewsource)

Ikhrata, who has been in charge of the service since late 2018, has been charging $ 17,000 to restaurants for a period of two years. SANTAG justified his expenses in a statement last month, saying the expenses were for “business purposes” to promote the organization’s projects and priorities.

However, two new policies seek to greatly reduce when – and for how much – the service can pay taxpayers with restaurant bills involving non-working participants.

Meals “can not be rich or excessive”, according to the policy, and will be limited to annual rates designated by the federal government. In San Diego, for example, this is $ 34 per dinner per person, including taxes and tips.

Documentation is also required: The CEO should submit detailed receipts and claim forms listing the participants and the business justification for the meeting. The benefit of the meeting, a preliminary cost estimate and “whether there is a real or perceived conflict of interest”, among other factors, must be taken into account in the proposal.

Deputy CEOs Coleen Clementson and Ray Major could also host a business lunch, but would have to use personal funds and file claims.

“Two or more employees who occasionally schedule a luncheon is not a business lunch,” the proposal states.

The SANDAG Office of Independent Performance Auditor, which first identified credit card costs, has revised its policies. The agency Board of directors has the final approval and will receive regular reporting on the body’s business meals.

Staff said CFOs were still considering “inappropriate use” of credit cards, gift card purchases and business meal charges, as well as tax compliance issues as a result of the spending. The “corrective actions”, if any, will be completed by the end of June.

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