Friday, October 17, 2008

CIRM Seeking Solution to Director Absenteeism

The California stem cell agency has been dogged for four years by problems with attendance of its directors at its board meeting, and it now is moving forward on a plan to allow some of them to participate by telephone.

The attendance issue is not minor. Without a quorum, the board of the directors cannot take legal action. Concerns arose last month that the board would have difficulties at an important, two-day meeting in December.

John M. Simpson
, stem cell project director of Consumer Watchdog of Santa Monica, Ca., attended the meeting of the CIRM Governance Committee that approved the telephone participation. He wrote on his organization's blog earlier this week about the problems with attendance:
"Even when there has been a quorum present there has all too often be a mad rush to take votes before members left for the day. It's not the sort of atmosphere which is conducive to sound deliberation and good policy making."
The attendance issue stems from inflexible language in Prop. 71 that can only be changed by the legislature or another vote of the people. The measure requires a supermajority of 65 percent of directors to conduct business. It also created an unwieldy board of 29 persons, all of whom have major responsibilities elsewhere.

Here's how Simpson described the proposed changes to ease the current problem, short of changing state law.
"The proposed rules would allow up to five members to take part in ICOC meetings by teleconference, but would give the chairman the discretion to limit the number based on 'his or her assessment of the importance of in-person attendance at the ICOC meeting for which a teleconference participation request was made.'

"The rules also limit the number of times a member could phone in to twice a year and offer the teleconference option to ICOC members with significant medical needs."
Simpson continued:
"First, of course, folks who cannot maintain the substantial commitment to the ICOC (the board of directors) ought to quit. There's nothing wrong with that. There is something very wrong with holding a seat and never showing up.

"Second,  a better solution would be to reduce quorum requirements to a simple majority and to adopt a procedure to remove or otherwise sanction members who are chronically absent. Perhaps such suggestions will come from the state's efficiency panel, The Little Hoover Commission, as a result of its planned study."
The CIRM board of directors plans to call a special meeting to adopt the new rules so that they will be in place in December.

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