Thursday, July 02, 2009

California Stem Cell Agency to Hit Staffing Cap

SAN FRANCISCO – The California stem cell agency has added two new positions to support its 29-member board in a move that is likely to push its staffing to its legal limit of 50 for the first time ever.

CIRM President Alan Trounson provided the additional staff after some members of the board complained at a meeting in June that they could not get adequate back-up from CIRM staff. The contentious session in San Diego also highlighted what several board members called “festering” issues dealing with governance and the limitations of Prop. 71, which created the stem cell agency and is virtually impossible to change.

One of those limitations is the 50-person cap on staff, which CIRM could reach this fiscal year. The agency was scheduled to hit 47 under the budget approved last month. However the spending plan did not include the two additional staffers for the board nor did it include a high level finance specialist that the agency is planning to hire.

CIRM Chairman Robert Klein told directors at a special teleconference meeting that the two new board staff positions will terminate at the end of 2010 because of the staff limit. He explained that the agency will then need to hire two additional scientific officers to help handle its burgeoning grant load. By the end of this year, the agency is expected to have approved $1 billion in grants.

Although Wednesday's meeting did not specifically discuss hitting the 50-person cap, Klein said the agency plans to come up with alternative means of financing the board positions after 2010.

Klein also raised the possibility of having the board vote on the move to add the two staffers. Several board members said that was not necessary because hiring the persons was entirely within Trounson's authority.

Board member Jeff Sheehy, who raised the board staffing issue at the June meeting, said adding the new staff still did not provide adequate support for CIRM's big board. Only one person has had primary responsibility for dealing with the board, although additional help is provided by others.

Sheehy, a communications manager for UCSF, alluded to criticism by some board members that the board was micro-managing by seeking additional support. He said,
“If the board can't suggest a minimal level of support for the board, the board is not in control of the agency.”
One of the two persons will be assigned to Vice Chairman Art Torres, who deals with bond financing and legislative issues. That position has been filled. The other position will be an administrative assistant for board executive director Melissa King. That job is expected to be posted shortly.

Following the brief public meeting, the board went into executive session to discuss personnel matters, including the recent resignation of Marie Csete as chief scientific officer. Sphere: Related Content

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