Tuesday, June 02, 2009

CIRM Board Meetings, Attendance and Discounts

The California stem cell agency has negotiated a discount hotel rate for persons who want to attend the June meeting in San Diego of its board of directors.

It is a step -- a first one for CIRM -- in the right direction to help out interested parties who must travel to attend the board meetings. It is also a move that highlights the attendance -- or lack of it -- at meetings of a $3 billion state government enterprise that is now the largest source in the world of funding for human embryonic stem cell research.

But first, the discount rates, whch are not inexpensive: A room for one night will cost $179 for one person compared to the $234 offered Monday afternoon on the Web site of the Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina (see photo).
The break may help to encourage attendance, particularly if somebody is looking to put together a holiday in San Diego.

However, attendance by the public, researchers, businesses or other interested parties has been sparse at CIRM board meeetings, to put it mildly. Many times the CIRM staff in attendance outnumbers other attendees, who often total only 10 to 20 persons. A few researchers or company representatives turn up regularly, knowing that $3 billion is not something to sniff at.

But most potential recipients -- be they businesses or academics -- are notably absent, a fact that has surprised us. CIRM board meetings (and those of their working groups and subcommittees) present an exceptional opportunity to talk directly to board members and staff, along with hearing their thinking during formal presentations. We understand that this openness is much different than at the NIH.

Meetings of the CIRM board are not a minor expense. Last time we checked, the cost of sessions of the 29-member board ran about $20,000 each, but that could have changed. Presumably the amount includees travel, cabs, meals, etc., for the board and staff members. The normal California state per diem rate for reimbursement for lodging in San Diego is $110. We assume that CIRM has negotiated that rate at the Sheraton for board members and employees. However, the board also has other, special needs, including meeting rooms, audio equipment, staff support and meals.

This month's meeting is scheduled for the 17th and 18th. The June 17 session is expected to begin late in the afternoon at the hotel and probably extend to about 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. At some point, the board will break for a closed-door dinner. The main business of the session is likely to be consideration of grant applications, but anything could and has come up in the past.

The session the next day is likely to be at San Diego State University, which is about eight miles from the hotel.

Melissa King, executive director of the CIRM board, said indivudals who want to take advantage of the Sheraton discount rate should call 877-734-2726 to make their reservations. She said interested parties must reference the ICOC meeting. (ICOC is the abreviation for the official name of the CIRM board.)
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