Friday, February 27, 2009

Overseeing Top CIRM Execs: A Reading of the Tea Leaves

Next Thursday, a key panel of the directors of the world's largest source of funding for human embryonic stem cell research will consider a matter that could give some indication of its future direction,

Nominally, the issue seems less than controversial. The agenda says it involves “consideration of policy/procedure for performance evaluation” of the chairman, vice chairman and president of the $3 billion stem cell agency.

But lying behind that bland language are such matters as the political and lobbying efforts of CIRM, its connections to industry and the election of a vice chairman to assist in those endeavors. Will the agency continue pushing hard to become a global powerhouse for stem cell research, pleading for billions from Congress for industry? Will it embrace the biomedical industry ever more closely, funding its efforts to bring products to markets? Or both, for that matter?

The agency could get to those issues through more closely defining the position of the vice chairman, which is now vacant, and discussion of related matters. The two contenders for the post come from radically different backgrounds. One is Art Torres, now the head of the California State Democratic Party and a former state lawmaker with good connections in the nation's capital. The other is Duane Roth, an executive with biomedical industry ties and head of Connect business development organization in La Jolla, Ca.

Roth was nominated by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican. Torres was nominated by Democratic state Treasurer Bill Lockyer, whose good offices are especially important to CIRM as it attempts to market state bonds privately. The treasurer is the ultimate arbiter on state bond deals. On the other hand, the governor loaned CIRM $150 million in state funds a couple of years ago when it had another period of financial difficulty. The loan has been paid back, but CIRM has had to seek his support on other matters, such as his veto of legislation that the agency opposed,

Also entering into the mix is the salary for the vice chairman. The job carries pay that could run as much as $332,000. Torres says he needs a salary, but has not indicated a figure. Roth says he will not accept a salary. In December, CIRM directors awarded CIRM Chairman Robert Klein a $150,000 salary and defined his job as halftime. Klein, a millionaire real estate investment banker, previously declined a salary.

Sadly, the public is pretty much out of the loop in advance of the meeting on the policy/evaluation agenda item, which first came up Dec. 22 last year. The proposal discussed at that meeting was only described orally and never publicly disclosed in written form in its entirety. The only access to what it contains is the transcript of the meeting. Given CIRM's past performance, do not expect to see any written material ahead of the upcoming meeting.

Also missing from next week's meeting are proposed changes in CIRM's internal governance policies, which are closely tied to the responsibilities of the chairman, vice chairman and president. The proposal came up at the Dec. 22 meeting, and directors said it would come up again at the next governance meeting (the one that is next week). However, it is not on the agenda, although it could be discussed.

Next week's meeting will be available to the public to hear and participate in via teleconference locations in La Jolla (Roth's office), Duarte, Sacramento, Irvine and San Francisco. But don't expect a “full and frank” discussion, The board generally deals obliquely with these sorts of issues, It could also sidestep them entirely.

The specific location for the teleconference sessions can be found on the agenda. Sphere: Related Content

1 comment:

  1. Dave,

    I expect very little will be done in public to define the role of the ICOC vice chairman at Thursday's Governance Subcommittee meeting.

    The Internal Governance Policy, which outlines job descriptions and was discussed at December's meeting, is not even on the agenda. Committee members then said they intended to bring it up with suggested changes at the next meeting -- this one. You can check the transcript. I don't know the reason for the delay.

    I understand that the terms of the vice chair's employment -- salary and whether it's a full-time job -- will be discussed in closed executive session.

    One would think you'd want the job description before you decided salary and hours, but that doesn't seem to be what's happening.

    John M. Simpson

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