Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Stem Cell Board Tackles Troublesome Issues Next Week

The men and women who oversee the $3 billion California stem cell agency will meet next Wednesday to act on some of “festering” issues that triggered a robust exchange at last week's board meeting.

The discussion highlighted a host of problems, ranging from whether the agency should staff up to its 50 person legal limit to micromanagement built in by Prop. 71, the ballot measure that created CIRM. One key problem is the super-majority quorum requirement embedded in state law that now makes it difficult for the CIRM board to act legally.

The quorum matter, however, can only be changed by legislation, which is all but impossible to pass because of language in Prop. 71. Next week, CIRM board is only scheduled to address complaints that the board is not adequately supported.

During the San Diego session, several board members indicated they would prefer to deal with the matter in private. The upcoming meeting, available at teleconference locations statewide, includes an executive session that will allow the board to speak candidly about specific individuals and also quite probably prevent the public from understanding the full nature of all the issues.

We understand the desire to take the matter behind closed doors. Some of the comments last week did not reflect well on CIRM's leadership. We also understand that because of state open meeting laws the CIRM board operates under restrictions that make it difficult to do business.

Consider, for example, the legal ban on serial meetings. Those could be private telephone calls or emails between board members that could result in a majority of board members having conferred on an issue.

The Institute for Local Government explains,
“The communication does not need to be in person and can occur through a third party. For example, sending or forwarding e-mail can be sufficient to create a serial meeting, as can a staff member’s polling governing body members in a way that reveals the members’ positions to one another.”
Such restrictions are hard for folks from the private and non-profit sector to understand. They are certainly a departure from the way business is handled in most non-governmental enterprises. And the restrictions on serial meetings are but just one example of the requirements of the state's open meeting law.

That said, some of the problems that were aired last week would have long been solved long ago if they had been dealt with in a forthright and public manner. Going behind closed doors creates a cover of secrecy and non-accountability. The result in this case was the frustration and outpouring that emerged last week.

The issues raised in San Diego are certainly public business. They go to the effectiveness of the stem cell agency and how well its board exercises its responsibilities.

A skilled attorney can, nonetheless, find a way to provide a personnel justification to exclude the public. But it probably would do little good to upbraid individuals either in a public or private board meeting.

Given the festering nature of the problems, it makes more sense to tackle them once again in public. Doing so enhances the board's credibility and helps to maintain public confidence in CIRM operations.

The public can take part in the discussions at teleconference locations in San Francisco (2), Los Angeles (2), Sacramento, Elk Grove, La Jolla, Healdsburg, Irvine and Stanford. See the agenda for specific addresses. Sphere: Related Content

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