Written by Julianne Foster
As San Diego News Desk reported last month, SANDAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata inappropriately donated thousands of dollars to campaigns of local Democrats, even those who are opponents of sitting SANDAG Board members. Ikhrata’s donations were clearly unethical and manipulative in favor of the Democrat Party, despite his nonpartisan claims.
San Diego City Councilwoman and congressional candidate Georgette Gomez, who also sits on the SANDAG Board of Directors, received a donation from Ikhrata in excess of $4,000. When San Diego County Supervisor and fellow SANDAG Board Member Jim Desmond raised concerns at the Executive Committee meeting, Gomez was immediately defensive. “I want to make it absolutely clear that my vote is never bought,” Gomez said.
She went on to suggest that such a discussion could infringe on their rights to participate in politics. “I just don’t think that we should even be discussing this,” Gomez added. “If people are professional, we should act in such a way, and I’m in fact very offended right now.” Shockingly, Supervisor Desmond was kicked off the discussion for the concerns he raised.
John Kirk, SANDAG’s General Counsel, evaluated that if Desmond chose to make a written proposal regarding the situation, he would expose them to legal challenges and heated debates over individual rights. Supervisor Desmond expressed his appreciation for the discussions, but decided not to propose such a policy. It may have been possible to have the association provide a waiver of Constitutional rights as part of the contract of employment if the impairment meant a greater benefit for the people. The California Labor Code prevents this from successfully preventing further unfair donations since no employer is allowed to forcefully restrict employees from engaging in politics.
Since neither Desmond’s discussion nor Kirk’s legal reasoning could have an effect on the situation, other officials are encouraging residents to respond and oppose the donations. The El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells has asked the El Cajon City Council to pass a resolution to send a letter to SANDAG to stop Ikhrata’s divisive behavior.
“That way you’ll know how we feel as a city,” Wells explained. “It’s not going to be binding because we don’t have any influence over the policies of SANDAG, but we can get the point across.”
If the people want to keep their influence in politics without the interference of corrupt politicians manipulating situations, then Ikhrata’s actions need to be addressed and action needs to be taken to prevent others from stepping out of place in a way that could harm the public.