Thursday, April 19, 2007

A Friday Filled with Acrimony

"Time out. Time out," said Rusty Doms, chairman of CIRM's Facilities Working Group, at one point as the discussion threatened to wheel out of control.

It was a conference call meeting last Friday that CIRM President Zach Hall later cited as one reason for his early departure as head of the $3 billion institute. Dom also resigned, submitting a terse letter with no explanation.

On the agenda was the topic of how to give away $222 million for embryonic stem research facilities.

The contentious discussion went on for some length. Questions of responsibility, due diligence, consideration of the public interest, loss of purchasing power, conflicts of interest and more surfaced.

At one point, Oversight Committee member David Serrano-Sewell, vice chair of the Facilities Group, repeatedly demanded that Hall answer a question with a yes or no. It related to a motion, authored by Serrano-Sewell, for public hearings on research lab needs. The motion had just been unanimously approved by the group.

Hall said that the vote contradicted the position of the Oversight Committee three days earlier. This exchange followed, according to the transcript of the meeting:
Hall: "Now, given the unanimous vote of this working group, there is no – I think there's no point in us doing that(preparing an outline for a major facilities RFA for the June Oversight Committee meeting). It's very clear, but it's also very clear to me that there are two different points of view represented on the ICOC(Oversight Committee)."

Serrano-Sewell: "Zach, it's a simple question. yes or no? Before the June meeting, will you aid this working group in a hearing?"

Hall: "I will."

Serrano-Sewell: "Yes or no? Will you assist this working group?"

Hall: "I want direction from the ICOC about how we should proceed on this."

Serrano-Sewell: "I'll take that as a no. If you're not helping us before the June meeting by committing resources, saying, yes, working group, I will commit resources, I will commit time in aiding you setting up these hearings which you unanimously passed."

Hall: "I'm sorry."

Serrano-Sewell: "It's either a yes or a no."
At this point, Hall said it was a matter that needed to be worked out by the full Oversight Committee and reflected a cultural difference within that group.

More sharp exchanges can be found in the transcript. But care should be taken in the reading. It was a conference call situation. Tone of voice, facial expressions (where the participants were together) are all missing. And there may transcribing errors, which can occur because of the difficulty in hearing all participants.

One such error seems to involve a quote for Serrano-Sewell. In the transript, he is quoted as saying, "I wanted to create a constitutional crisis." We queried him about the remark. He said he recalled saying that he did NOT want to create a crisis. Sphere: Related Content

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