Sunday, September 28, 2008

Ballot Blowback: The Klein Quorum Petard

Prop. 71 created the California stem cell agency nearly four years ago, but the ballot measure also plays hob with CIRM from time to time.

One of those occasions came last week at its directors meeting in San Diego, which barely mustered the 65 percent quorum necessary to conduct its business legally. It was not the first time. Maintaining a quorum is a regular problem at meetings of directors and their subcommittees. Thursday's meeting also set a record for the largest percentage of alternates filling in for directors. Five alternates were there, 28 percent of the 18 directors in attendance.

John M. Simpson, stem cell project director for Consumer Watchdog of Santa Monica, Ca., was there and wrote about the events on his organization's blog.
"Chairman Bob Klein is so worried about the possibility of no quorum at the December meeting when the board is slated to award a substantial number of grants, that he announced he will schedule a special ICOC(directors) meeting in about 30 days to adopt the procedures to allow telephone participation in December.

"All of this trouble comes from what I believe is a paranoid fear that stem cell research opponents could somehow gain control of the board and wreak havoc with a mere simple majority quorum requirement.

"And so Proposition 71 passed with a super-majority rule that Bob Klein wrote into it. And now he is often hoisted by his own petard."
The super-majority quorum also does something else. It gives a minority on the board tremendous power. All a handful of persons – maybe even one -- have to do is walk out of the room, and CIRM directors are legally paralyzed.

There is definitely an attendance problem at CIRM meetings, which stems in part from the membership of the board of directors. Prop. 71 stipulates that 29 persons serve on the board, which makes it difficult to schedule meetings at mutually convenient times. It also stipulates that the most of the directors come from top executive positions at other enterprises. These are folks who are more than busy. They already have important responsibilities at their own organizations, and naturally those come first.

The use of alternates to fill in for the directors additionally nullifies some of the justification for the selection of the directors. That argument contends that deans of medical schools and the chancellor of UC Berkeley, among others, should serve on the board because they bring skills and knowledge from their own positions to make good decisions on stem cell matters. So the fact that their organizations also stand to benefit to tune of hundreds of millions of dollars should be put aside. But if they are sending alternates, the state does not receive the benefit of their expertise. That said, at least some of the alternates more than hold their own and make significant contributions at the meetings.

So why not just change the law to reduce the quorum? Easier said than done. Under Prop. 71, that requires another super-majority vote – in this case, a 70 percent vote of both houses of the legislature and the signature of the governor. That is an exceedingly difficult task. Nonetheless some legislator might be willing to carry the bill. But to win approval, Klein might have to do some horse-trading that would affect other aspects of CIRM in ways that do not find his favor. In other words, it is a legislative can of worms that Klein probably does not want to open. Sphere: Related Content

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