Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Wright's Departure From CIRM Illustrates Agency's Voting Practices

The 29-member board of directors for the California stem cell agency has a new vacancy, caused by the impending impending departure of Janet Wright, a Chico cardiologist, for a new job in Washington, D.C.

Ordinarily, the loss of one of 29 members would be insignificant. But Wright's departure affects actions involving CIRM's mammoth $758 million stem cell lab construction program.

It also illustrates what some may consider the board's bizarre voting structure and its built-in conflicts of interest.

The impact of Wright's departure could be felt as early as next week's meeting of the board, which is known as the Oversight Committee or ICOC. One of the matters on the agenda involves the lab grant program. Only board members whose institutions are not affected can vote on the matter. Those affected cannot even take part in the discussion.

Earlier this year we wrote about what amounts to a floating ICOC quorum with a "quartet majority," and how it can reduce many of the board members to silent sphinxes on some issues. To recap how it works, Prop. 71 uses the number of ICOC members eligible to vote as the basis for a quorum, rather than the total number of persons on the ICOC. Prop. 71 also states that a quorum is 65 percent of those eligible to vote. Action can be taken by a majority of a quorum. So when 10 persons are eligible to vote, the quorum is seven . A majority would be only four.

In January, only 10 members of the board, including Wright, were allowed legally to participate in the discussion of lab grant matters. She filled a patient advocate position on the board and rarely, if ever, was disqualified from participating or voting. Six of the 10 persons in the lab grant case are patient advocates. The others mostly represent industry, which sometimes has strong backing from patient advocates who want to see cures on the market quickly.

In theory, with absences, a quorum on lab grant issues could be as low as three, or so it appears. That would mean only two persons are needed to take action on some far-reaching and important issues. However, the possibility of that actually happening seems remote.

As for Wright's replacement, that is up to state Treasurer Bill Lockyer. According to state law, he must pick a patient advocate to fill the position. Lockyer's spokesman, Tom Dresslar, told the California Stem Cell Report,
"It's our intent to move with due diligence and as expeditiously as possible. Treasurer Lockyer's objective is to find a qualified person with impeccable credentials who demonstrates a strong commitment to helping ensure CIRM provides Californians what they voted for when they passed Prop. 71."
If you are interesting in serving on the board or want to recommend someone, you can write the treasurer at this Internet location.

Wright's new job was first reported in the Chico Enterprise-Record Feb. 26, which said she has become vice president for science and quality with the American College of Cardiology. She had worked in Chico for 23 years.

(An earlier version of this item incorrectly stated that the Wright had left for her new job last month. That information, reported by the Chico Enterprise-Record, was incorrect. As of March 17, CIRM could not say when she would no longer be on the board. Wright did not respond to email queries.) Sphere: Related Content

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