REGION — The San Diego Association of Government’s independent performance auditor was approved for a raise during the board’s Sept. 9 meeting, but concerns linger over a lack of staffing in the department.
Since April 2019, Mary Khoshmashrab has led the Office of the Independent Performance Auditor at SANDAG but noted during the audit committee‘s Aug. 12 meeting that she’s doing the work of five positions.
The committee and board approved a 10% salary increase up to $243,000 based on a glowing performance review from inside the organization and an independent third party, although the review was delayed months.
“If you look at the major plans we have before us, and major responsibility before us, and the undoubted future to go before the voters, having a strong auditor’s office … is very important,” said David Zito of Solana Beach, chairman of the agency’s audit committee. “The justification is three years of good performance reviews, a good review in the agency, and it’s a very challenging position. And it keeps in line with our executives in the organization.”
Through Khoshmashrab’s work, Zito said the auditor’s office had discovered several significant shortcomings with SANDAG, including the damaging credit card scandal, revealing transactions totaling more than $2.5 million over four years. The internal audit showed hundreds of thousands of dollars misspent on lavish meals and at least 20 employees with their own agency credit cards.
Khoshmashrab also revealed the agency was not collecting tolls on state Route 125, costing SANDAG $1.8 million in lost toll revenue over three months last year. Khoshmashrab’s investigation determined management knew of faulty equipment but did not act.
“She’s done this with staff less than half recommended for an agency this size,” Zito said. “The review showed great responses. Even an external third-party review for the office and output and impressively, no recommendations were needed.”
The Office of the Independent Performance Auditor is bare-bones with just four auditors. After being hired, Khoshmashrab’s assessment of the office showed the agency required at least 15 auditors who conduct forensic analyses of the agency’s finances.
Others on the board and committee, such as Councilman Ed Musgrove, of San Marcos, who is on the Audit Committee, have been a champion for Khoshmashrab, continuously calling for her to be appropriately compensated and to receive a fully-staffed auditor’s department.
Musgrove said during the Aug. 12 meeting that she must be fairly compensated for SANDAG to recruit more talent and for the agency to be transparent with the public.
“At some point, I think we need to fairly compensate our OIPA to the point where it makes it more attractive to others,” Musgrove said. “The last thing we want is like we are paying them as other employees. Her position is fairly complex and challenging, and there are some retention issues.”