Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Wright: 'Not The Best Day'

More details emerged today on the heated, Friday the 13th session concerning the California stem cell agency's plans to give away $220 million for major research labs and buildings.

The meeting involved CIRM's Facilities Working Group, which is laying the groundwork for dispensing the funds (see the item below). At issue seemed to be questions of how much time and information was needed by members of the group before the grant applications went out. CIRM President Zach Hall characterized the meeting as "exceedingly contentious and personal" in a letter announcing his early resignation.

The session was not covered by the media, and a transcript is not yet available. So reporters prepared stories that were published today based on what some of the participants recalled in the wake of the resignation letter by Hall. That reconstruction process is common in the news business but always carries a certain amount of risk.

Reporter Terri Somers of the San Diego Union Tribune wrote:
"Dr. Janet Wright, a cardiologist who is a member of the (CIRM) board, said she couldn't believe the tone of contention, sarcasm and aggression toward Hall at the meeting.

"'I still don't know the gist of the attitude or tone, or where it was coming from,' Wright said. "I was so surprised by the tone, I couldn't seem to recover enough to call attention to it and try to set things right."

"Working group members David Serrano-Sewell and Jeff Sheehy acknowledged that they 'passionately' disagreed with Hall's stance at the meeting, but did not mean to be contentious or disrespectful.

"'I have nothing but the utmost respect for him. We couldn't have done all we've done without him,' said Serrano-Sewell, the working group's vice-chairman.
Somers continued:
"(A)t a meeting three days earlier, the full institute board had rejected a request by working group members, including (CIRM Chairman Robert) Klein, to survey possible grant recipients and others about their facilities proposals.

"As a result, Hall on Friday tried to push the working group to skip the information gathering and move directly to details of the grant applications....

"But the working group members voted unanimously for more information gathering, similar to the public hearing process that was used in developing the institute's standards and ethics policies and its strategic plan."
Carl Hall of the San Francisco Chronicle quoted Sheehy as saying:
"Zach identified a cultural divide that existed between the scientist members and the patient advocates, and he didn't want to straddle it anymore."
The stories also included the resignation of the chairman of the Facilities Working Group in the wake of the session. Rusty Doms, a Southern California developer, turned in a brief letter that did not cite any reasons for his departure. The letter was dated Sunday April 15, just prior to the announcement of Hall's resignation.

Jim Downing of The Sacramento Bee wrote:
"Bob Klein, the chair of the governing board, said Doms told him he was resigning principally because he did not have time to attend the series of meetings that Wright and others proposed. Doms is also on the board overseeing the construction of a major new hospital in Los Angeles, Klein said."
Somers said that one member of the public was uncomfortable with what occurred at the meeting, She wrote:
"'You can choose to agree or disagree, but the tone with which Zach Hall was treated was not the way you want to treat a president that accomplished so much for the (California Institute for Regenerative Medicine),' said Dan Oshiro, vice president of administrative affairs at the Gladstone Institute in San Francisco. The working group meeting was the first Oshiro had attended."
Downing of The Bee quoted Oversight Committee member Wright as saying,
"It was not our best day."
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