Three top managers laid off at SANDAG, reorganization planned

Hasan Ikhrata, executive director of the San Diego Association of Governments, in his office in San Diego.
(Sam Hodgson / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Three upper-level managers were laid off Tuesday, July 23, at the San Diego Association of Governments, a regional planning agency with 370 employees and a $1.3 billion budget working to reshape the county’s transportation future.

Chief Deputy Executive Director Kim Kawada, Director of Land Use and Transportation Planning Charles “Muggs” Stoll, and Communications Director David Hicks “have left the agency” as part of a reorganization, Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata announced in an internal memo to the staff.

“I’m putting in place a new structure that will be led by three Chief Deputies, each overseeing different areas of the agency,” Ikhrata said in the emailed memo. “I’ll be looking internally to fill these new roles in the coming months and will tell you more about my plans during our All-Hands meeting tomorrow.”

Coleen Clementson will be acting department director of land use and transportation planning, and Irene McCormack will be acting department director of communications, Ikhrata said. The chief deputy position will be rotated until the new chief positions are filled.

Public information officer Jessica Gonzales said there would be no further comment on the reorganization.

A spokesman for county Supervisor Jim Desmond said Desmond was not prepared to comment on the SANDAG shake-up. Desmond, the former mayor of San Marcos, represents the county on the SANDAG board of directors and has been critical of Ikhrata’s proposed new direction for the agency.

“The changes I’ve announced today may be hard to accept at first,” Ikhrata said in his email. “Please understand they’re part of a larger plan designed to help us be a stronger organization.”

The agency has seen its share of turmoil in recent years, and the troubles have continued to bubble since Ikhrata, former head of the Southern California Association of Governments, was recruited six months ago with an annual base salary of $414,149 to straighten things out.

Ikhrata announced a plan in April for the agency to focus on “five bold moves” that would shift the agency’s priorities away from expanding highway systems and more toward improving mass transit. Residents and elected officials, especially on the northern and eastern ends of the county, have fought the proposal saying it would deny them road projects promised years ago.

Still, the executive has been speaking to city council and business groups across the county about his ideas, and was scheduled for a presentation at Tuesday night’s Carlsbad City Council meeting.

The agency’s previous executive director, Gary Gallegos, retired amid controversy after it turned out staff members had vastly overestimated the amount of tax revenue, by billions of dollars, that would be generated from a half-cent sales tax approved by voters.

— Phil Diehl is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune