Politics

SANDAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata Caught Giving Unethical Campaign Contribution

It has recently been revealed that San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata donated the maximum legal amount to Democratic County Supervisor candidate Terra Lawson-Remer.

County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar, who is facing Lawson-Remer in the November election, currently sits on the SANDAG Board of Directors. Ikhrata’s donation puts Gaspar and other conservative members of the SANDAG Board in a difficult position and makes it harder for them to advocate for their constituents if it means that Ikhrata will advance their political opponents, while acting as one himself. 

While Ikhrata’s donation is not illegal, it is certainly unethical. He holds a powerful nonpartisan seat and the circumstances create a significant conflict of interest.

SANDAG is deeply rooted in our communities and plays a major role in regional policies, transportation planning, environmental management, housing, open space, energy, public safety, and more. According to SANDAG, they are San Diego’s “primary public planning, transportation, and research agency.”

By donating to the opponent of one of the current Board members, Ikhrata has, in a way, politicized the institution and created an uncomfortable work environment. Further, he has established a precedent that such inexcusable behavior is acceptable. The consequences of that will not be constrained to SANDAG, but felt by numerous local institutions and the San Diegans whom they represent.

More and more of our institutions are being politicized and it is deteriorating public trust, which is vital to a functioning society. Ikhrata’s actions can not simply be swept under the rug as if it’s business as usual. Officials must be held to a high standard and understand that becoming political while holding a nonpartisan seat is inappropriate to say the least.

CALL TO ACTION:

If you would like to contact the leadership of SANDAG and/or your representative on the SANDAG Board of Directors, two letters have been drafted as guides that you are welcome to use. You may copy/paste the letters below or craft your own message to email to one of the below addresses, or print and mail it to one of the street addresses below.

The letter for the SANDAG leadership is here:

Dear SANDAG Board Member,

Recent campaign contribution disclosures from San Diego County Supervisor District 3 candidate Terra Lawson-Remer reveal that San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata contributed to the campaign of Ms. Lawson-Remer. Not only did he contribute, Mr. Ikhrata gave the maximum legal amount of $850. While such a contribution may not be illegal, it raises significant ethical and political concerns regarding Mr. Ikhrata’s role within SANDAG.

There is an evident and pervasive conflict of interest when a nonpartisan officeholder, especially one with the power and influence of Mr. Ikhrata, financially severs himself from even a pretense of nonpartisanship. This is especially problematic given that Mr. Ikhrata contributed to a candidate who is currently running against a member of the SANDAG Board, County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar. The precedent being set by Mr. Ikhrata is dangerous on several levels and creates a stifling environment where Board members may feel that advocating for their constituents—particularly when that manifests in disagreement with the Executive Director—threatens not just their position on the Board, but their elected office.

Furthermore, concerns with respect to the efficacy of SANDAG are increasingly salient among residents of San Diego County. And while those concerns may or may not be legitimate depending on the perspective of the respondent, these campaign contribution disclosures certainly do not serve to quell the very real apprehension expressed by San Diegans.

Mr. Ikhrata’s position as the Executive Director of SANDAG places him in a different position than most of the Board of Directors. Many of the Board representatives serve in elected office in their respective cities, which creates an asymmetrical standard as far as what constitutes ethical behavior. In other words, SANDAG Board members who are elected and a part of a political party do not have the same expectation of nonpartisanship that Mr. Ikhrata does. Nor does their representation on the Board preclude them from taking ostensibly partisan stances on issues that inevitably affect their constituents.

Mr. Ikhrata does not represent a city or a political party, however he is elected within SANDAG to serve as a nonpartisan executive with various powers and responsibilities that correspond with such a position. This letter is not concerned with the policies forwarded and enacted by Mr. Ikhrata or anyone on the SANDAG Board of Directors. Instead, it seeks to illuminate a very serious ethical violation that threatens the credibility and legitimacy of SANDAG as an institution.

Allegations of corruption and self-serving within SANDAG span many years, and internal accountability is long overdue. The determination of what form of retribution should be implemented is up to the SANDAG Board of Directors. Whether that is censure, sanction, resignation, or some other disciplinary method, it is clear that Mr. Ikhrata’s actions warrant consequences of some kind. Failure to address this explicitly unethical behavior may render the Board complicit in the eyes of San Diegans, and such complicity is not good for SANDAG, its members, or those they serve.

The purpose and functions of SANDAG are far too important to allow for such appalling and unbecoming behavior to go unnoticed. Trust in our local institutions is vital—perhaps now more than ever. The responsibility falls on you and the rest of the SANDAG Board of Directors to ensure that such actions are condemned in the strongest terms and handled accordingly. It is an obligation not just to the rest of the Board, but to the residents of San Diego County whom you represent.

And the letter for a representative Board member is here:

To whom it may concern,

Recent campaign contribution disclosures from San Diego County Supervisor District 3 candidate Terra Lawson-Remer reveal that San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata contributed to the campaign of Ms. Lawson-Remer. Not only did he contribute, Mr. Ikhrata gave the maximum legal amount of $850. While such a contribution may not be illegal, it raises significant ethical and political concerns regarding Mr. Ikhrata’s role within SANDAG.

There is an evident and pervasive conflict of interest when a nonpartisan officeholder, especially one with the power and influence of Mr. Ikhrata, financially severs himself from even a pretense of nonpartisanship. This is especially problematic given that Mr. Ikhrata contributed to a candidate who is currently running against a member of the SANDAG Board, County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar. The precedent being set by Mr. Ikhrata is dangerous on several levels, and creates a stifling environment where Board members may feel that advocating for their constituents—particularly when that manifests in disagreement with the Executive Director—threatens not just their position on the Board, but their elected office.

Furthermore, concerns with respect to the efficacy of SANDAG are increasingly salient among residents of San Diego County. And while those concerns may or may not be legitimate depending on the perspective of the respondent, these campaign contribution disclosures certainly do not serve to quell the very real apprehension expressed by San Diegans.

Mr. Ikhrata’s position as the Executive Director of SANDAG places him in a different position than most of the Board of Directors. Many of the Board representatives serve in elected office in their respective cities, which creates an asymmetrical standard as far as what constitutes ethical behavior. In other words, SANDAG Board members who are elected and a part of a political party do not have the same expectation of nonpartisanship that Mr. Ikhrata does. Nor does their representation on the Board preclude them from taking ostensibly partisan stances on issues that inevitably affect their constituents.

Mr. Ikhrata does not represent a city or a political party, however he is elected within SANDAG to serve as a nonpartisan executive with various powers and responsibilities that correspond with such a position. This letter is not concerned with the policies forwarded and enacted by Mr. Ikhrata or anyone on the SANDAG Board of Directors. Instead, it seeks to illuminate a very serious ethical violation that threatens the credibility and legitimacy of SANDAG as an institution.

The purpose and functions of SANDAG are far too important to allow for such appalling and unbecoming behavior to go unnoticed. Trust in our local institutions is vital—perhaps now more than ever. The responsibility falls on the rest of SANDAG to ensure that such actions are condemned in the strongest terms and handled accordingly. It is an obligation not just to the rest of the SANDAG Board of Directors, but to the residents of San Diego County whom they represent.

The street address and email address for SANDAG is below:

401 B Street, Suite 800, San Diego, California 92101

pio@sandag.org

To contact your representative on the SANDAG Board of Directors, see the list below:

City of Carlsbad:

Councilmember Cori Schumacher

1200 Carlsbad Village Drive Carlsbad, CA 92008-1949

cori.schumacher@carlsbadca.gov 

City of Chula Vista:

Mayor Mary Salas

276 Fourth Avenue Chula Vista, CA 91910-2631

msalas@chulavistaca.gov

City of Coronado:

Mayor Richard Bailey

1825 Strand Way Coronado, CA 92118-3099

 rbailey@coronado.ca.us

City of Del Mar:

Mayor Ellie Haviland

1050 Camino Del Mar Del Mar, CA 92014-2604

ehaviland@delmar.ca.us

City of El Cajon:

Mayor Bill Wells

200 Civic Center Way El Cajon, CA 92020-3916

williamdwells@yahoo.com

City of Encinitas

Mayor Catherine Blakespear

505 South Vulcan Avenue Encinitas, CA 92024-3633

catherine@blakespear4encinitas.com

City of Escondido

Mayor Paul McNamara

201 North Broadway Escondido, CA 92025-2709

 pmcnamara@escondido.org 

City of Imperial Beach

Mayor  Serge Dedina

825 Imperial Beach Boulevard, Imperial Beach, CA 91932-2702

 serge.dedina@imperialbeachca.gov

City of La Mesa

Councilmember Bill Baber

8130 Allison Avenue La Mesa, CA 91942-5502

bbaber@cityoflamesa.us

City of Lemon Grove

Mayor Racquel Vasquez

3232 Main Street Lemon Grove, CA 91945-1705

rvasquez@lemongrove.ca.gov

City of National City

Mayor Alejandra Sotelo-Solis

1243 National City Boulevard National City, CA 91950-4397

asotelosolis@nationalcityca.gov

City of Oceanside

Deputy Mayor Jack Feller

300 North Coast Highway Oceanside, CA 92054-2824

jfeller@oceansideca.org

City of Poway

Mayor Steve Vaus

13325 Civic Center Drive Poway, CA 92064-5755

svaus@poway.org

City of San Diego

(A) Mayor Kevin Faulconer

202 C Street San Diego, CA 92101-4806

kevinfaulconer@sandiego.gov

(B) City Council President Georgette Gomez

202 C Street San Diego, CA 92101-4806

georgettegomez@sandiego.gov

City of San Marcos

Mayor Rebecca Jones

1 Civic Center Drive San Marcos, CA 92069-2918

rjones@san-marcos.net

City of Santee

Mayor John Minto

10601 Magnolia Avenue Santee, CA 92071-1266

jminto@cityofsanteeca.gov

City of Solana Beach

Councilmember David A. Zito

635 South Highway 101 Solana Beach, CA 92075-2215

dzito@cosb.org

City of Vista

Mayor Judy Ritter

200 Civic Center Drive Vista, CA 92084-6240

 jritter@cityofvista.com

County of San Diego

(A) Vice Chair Jim Desmond

325 S. Melrose Ave., # 5200 Vista, CA 92081

 jim.desmond@sdcounty.ca.gov

(B) Supervisor Kristin Gaspar

North Inland Live Well Center 649 West Mission Ave. Escondido, CA 92025

kristin.gaspar@sdcounty.ca.gov

 

Photo by EpicTop10.com via Flickr