Hasan 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)

The head of the San Diego Association of Governments proclaimed “the buck stops with me,” saying he takes responsibility for the agency’s recent financial controversies, including extravagant taxpayer-funded meals and a $1.8 million mistake on its South County toll road.

“You can go attack me, I’m fair game,” SANDAG CEO Hasan Ikhrata said during an April 22 board meeting. “But I think you need to help me move this agency forward with the independent performance auditor to be a world-class organization.”

Ikhrata did not directly address his own restaurant charges in his remarks, which total more than $17,000 over roughly two years. But he did say that while SANDAG board members are giving “political speeches,” he’s working to earn the public’s trust.

“I came here to fix what’s broken,” said Ikhrata, who joined the agency in late 2018 as it was embroiled in a prior scandal. “We’re doing it. It’s going to take time, it’s a growing pain. It’s a process.”

Records that inewsource obtained show some of SANDAG’s highest-paid staff has regularly used agency credit cards for business meetings at local restaurants, some of them at 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, according to transaction logs.

As a cardholder, Ikhrata was one of the agency’s most frequent restaurant spenders, including a $700 dinner in September 2019 for him and four other SANDAG officials at a Washington, D.C., restaurant.SANDAG told inewsource in a statement Friday that Ikhrata’s expenses “were for business purposes to advance SANDAG priorities, projects, and programs.” But one government watchdog expert previously called the transactions a “clear abuse” of taxpayer funds.

Read the full article on inewsource.org.

Get investigative reporting in your inbox. Sign up for inewsource’s newsletters.