The matter involves the election of a vice chairperson for the CIRM board as well as the wishes of Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democratic State Treasurer Bill Lockyer. While the scheme may satisfy those two, it was called “ridiculous” by one longtime CIRM observer.
The governor has nominated Duane Roth, a current member of the CIRM board of directors and an executive with close ties to the biomedical industry, for the vice chair slot. Lockyer has nominated state Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres, a friend and former state legislator.
The governor has been a good ally for CIRM and loaned it $150 million in state funds a few years ago during the agency's first financial crunch. Lockyer controls the issuance of state bonds, which are the only significant source of funds for CIRM. He is a key player in the agency's current plans to market state bonds privately.
The CIRM board is set to elect both men to vice chair positions at its meeting Thursday in Sacramento. That became clear this morning when the agency posted proposed changes in bylaws that create a “statutory” vice chair and a “bylaws” vice chair.
It appears that Torres will be elected to the statutory slot because it carries a salary, which he said he needs. Roth has declined a salary.
The CIRM board is also scheduled to reduce the salary for the vice chair from its current range of $180,000 to $332,000 a year. The agency has not yet posted information on its plan, but we believe the new range to be roughly $75,000 to $90,000. CIRM Chairman Robert Klein is paid $150,000 for his halftime position. It is not clear at this point whether Torres will be designated halftime.
In response to a query, John M. Simpson, stem cell project director of Consumer Watchdog of Santa Monica, said,
“This is a ridiculous attempt to try and please both the governor and the treasurer. It’s also an insult to the candidates who were originally nominated and faced a real election when the (CIRM board) was first organized. Suppose next time there are four different candidates for chair. Do they create a 'statutory' chair and three bylaws co-chairs? I’ve got a modest proposal: Really please everyone and name 28 'bylaws' vice chairs.”We are reserving comment on the deal at this point. But the bylaws changes were posted extremely late. They contain no explanation, context, justification or further details. The result is that the public and interested parties are effectively denied the right to comment intelligently or register their comments in the presence of the CIRM board of directors. Failure to provide details about the plan in a timely fashion is certainly a violation of the spirit of the California state Constitution, which guarantees a broadly construed right of access to information about issues before government agencies.