REGION — The San Diego Association of Governments is commencing what is expected to be an eight-month process to hire a new leader for the organization following CEO Hasan Ikhrata’s retirement announcement in July.
On Oct. 13, the SANDAG board of directors approved a recruitment work plan for the new CEO position, to be led by CPS HR Consulting at a cost of up to $50,000. The plan also included the creation of an ad hoc committee to assist in the recruitment process.
Under the adopted recruitment timeline, SANDAG will engage in public outreach from early November to early December to help form a candidate profile. An eight-week application period will open in early 2024, to be followed by interviews in March and April and the board’s selection of a candidate in May.
The board will also designate an interim CEO at its Dec. 8 meeting to serve until the selected candidate starts in July.
“Hasan has given us an opportunity until December to create a plan,” said SANDAG Board Chair Nora Vargas. “It’s the chief executive officer recruitment, and it is critical for selecting the best candidate. It is important for all of us that we make sure this is a fair and competitive process.”
Ikhrata’s last day with the agency will be Dec. 29, concluding a five-year career in San Diego that some have characterized as innovative and others have called divisive.
An ardent promoter of reducing car travel in the region, Ikhrata has been accused of alienating local leaders through his commitment to seeing through a controversial Regional Road User Charge, or mileage tax, which was officially removed from the 2025 Regional Plan in September.
While the majority of the SANDAG board approved the recruitment plan, a handful of members representing San Marcos, Carlsbad and Escondido voted against it, taking issue with what they said was already a lack of collaboration.
San Marcos Mayor Rebecca Jones questioned the formation of a new ad hoc committee for CEO recruitment, claiming that it was not discussed with the board ahead of time and asking why the agency isn’t utilizing the existing executive review committee that she and other board members serve on.
The ad hoc committee is composed of Encinitas Mayor Tony Kranz, Vista City Councilmember Katie Melendez, Santee Mayor John Minto, Imperial Beach City Councilmember Jack Fisher, San Diego Councilmember Sean Elo-Rivera, and Vargas.
“This is going to be the most important decision that we make moving forward in this agency,” Jones said regarding the CEO search. “I feel that it is just an absolute tragedy that we are not going to change what we’re doing at this board… Maybe we’re heard, but we’re not listened to. We don’t have any input.”
Chair Vargas’s selection of CPS HR Consulting also drew criticism from some board members. The consulting group led the agency’s last CEO recruitment process, which resulted in the hiring of Ikhrata.
Board member and Carlsbad City Councilmember Melanie Burkholder questioned whether Vargas has the authority to make such a decision without bringing forward a request for proposals, or RFP, or discussing it with the board.
“I just don’t think awarding contracts should be something the chair does,” Burkholder said.
SANDAG General Counsel John Kirk said board bylaws also vest the chair with general supervision over board affairs and that this administrative step falls into that purview. Because CPS HR is part of a joint powers authority and therefore a public entity, SANDAG can contract with them without an RFP, Kirk added.
Vargas also said there is a precedent of previous board chairs like Ron Roberts making similar decisions.
CPS HR Manager Pam Derby said the CEO search will be similar to the process from 2018, but with an extended application period of eight rather than six weeks.
“I do think, with the position of this magnitude, that doing the eight weeks gives us the opportunity to really ensure that, you know, this could be an international search. It depends what the board is looking for,” Derby said.
Board member and San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria warned fellow board members that having a functioning and collaborative SANDAG board is critical to attracting high-caliber candidates.
“Your behavior will absolutely determine whether or not people choose to apply for this position. I’d encourage you to consider that as you act over the next couple of months,” Gloria said. “You are all contributors, or you’re actually detracting from this process.”
More information about the CEO recruitment process and public input opportunities can be found online at sandag.org/about/our-team/ceo-recruitment.