Sunday, March 08, 2009

Hear CIRM Board Live on its Financial Woes and Politically Charged Election of Vice Chair

This week's meeting of the board of directors of the $3 billion California stem cell agency, which will include an update on its financial woes, will be available live via telephone and the Internet.

The audiocast is the second for the CIRM board and provides a valuable opportunity for public and those affected by the agency's actions to hear first hand its deliberations and actions.

In addition to a briefing by CIRM Chairman Robert Klein on his efforts to peddle state bonds privately, the board is expected to choose a new vice chairman, probably two, in fact. You can find the politically charged details here involving Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democratic State Treasurer Bill Lockyer.

According to the agenda, part of the vice chairman deal now involves an unspecified reduction in the salary range for the position, which currently is $180,000 to $332,000 annually.

Klein, a millionaire real estate investment banker, receives $150,000 for what the board has defined as a half-time job.

The board will also consider unspecified changes at the top of the CIRM organizational chart in connection with the new vice chairmen or whatever the designation for the posts will be.

None of the details are available on the agenda although the meeting is only three days away. Based on past performance, a strong likelihood exists that the public will be denied access to the proposals in advance of the meeting.

Also scheduled for board action are staff recommendations on research funding priorities that reflect that CIRM will run out of cash by next fall unless bonds are sold. The agency has not released anything beyond a cryptic agenda item on that matter.

Another topic before the board is the actual funding of $58 million in training grants approved in January. The board delayed delivery of the cash in light of CIRM's bleak financial situation.

Expected to be approved are additions to CIRM'S outside legal contracts that will push the total to more than $1 million for this fiscal year. The figure does not include the salaries and benefits of attorneys on staff.

John M. Simpson
of Consumer Watchdog attended the directors' Governance Subcommittee meeting last week and reported that it approved a $180,000 hike (40 per cent) in the $450,000 contract with the law firm of Remcho, Johansen & Purcell of San Leandro, Ca.

It also approved a $180,000, 6-month extension on a contract with attorney Nancy Koch, Simpson said. Koch started with a $150,000 contract last April. It jumped to $245,000 sometime after Nov. 30 and now will total $425,000 by the end of September if it is not extended further, based on the Dec. 22 and March 5 outside contract reports.

No written justification for the increases was provided last week, although Simpson reported that Klein said the money was needed for legal work connected with CIRM's financial troubles and the inquiry by state's Little Hoover Commission. Koch is also supposed to help fill the gap until the new counsel to the president comes on board in July, although CIRM also has a $140,431 arrangement with the state Department of Justice.

In an email, Simpson said the additional funds were approved only after CIRM director Claire Pomeroy, dean of UC Davis School of Medicine, insisted on a written justification prior to final board action on Thursday. Klein said the justification would be forthcoming. Last year, Klein pushed through a 66 per cent hike in Remcho fees with no public, written justification.

Thursday's board meeting can be heard by dialing in 866-254-5934 or using this Internet address – The access code is 991416. The audiocasts do not provide for participation, however.

The public can hear AND participate in the Sacramento meeting at teleconference locations in Southern California, including the City of Hope, the Salk Institute and two in Los Angeles, one at UCLA and one at the office of CIRM director Jonathan Shestack. Specific addresses can be found on the agenda.

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