Tuesday, October 12, 2010

More Time for Public Comment at CIRM Review But Doors Still Closed Otherwise to Public

Making a last minute change, the California stem cell agency has decided to allow more time for public comment during the sweeping review this week of its operations, but still will apparently bar the public from hearing testimony by witnesses.

The first public comment session will come tomorrow morning at 8 a.m. Other public comment sessions will be on Thursday and Friday mornings.

In the announcement posted just yesterday on the CIRM Web site, the agency also changed the location of the public comment sessions from CIRM headquarters to the Marriott Hotel in San Francisco.

The new information on the CIRM Web site removed an earlier agenda that said that the public would be barred from the panel's other sessions. However, this afternoon when we encountered Don Gibbons, CIRM's chief communications officer, at CIRM headquarters, he did not mention any change in policy. But that encounter was before we saw CIRM's new announcement, and we are querying Gibbons again concerning the likelihood of a change.

Also posted on Monday was a 29-page report (dated Oct. 8) by CIRM Chairman Robert Klein that will be presented to the blue-ribbon panel that is conducting the most comprehensive review ever of the $3 billion agency.

Our view on these last minute changes? The notice comes too late for all nearly all interested parties to find the time and make the effort necessary to prepare thoughtful comments. Plus the public still is apparently banned from hearing information that will be critical in determing the future direction of an agency that is spending $6 billion (including interest) of taxpayer funds.

We first wrote about the external review on Sept. 23. At that time, CIRM had not notified the public that the external review would occur nor had it solicited publicly any comments from interested parties, although the review had been planned for many months. Nor was any provision being made for public testimony at the review. CIRM has changed its position somewhat, but the public is still barred from what essentially is its own business.

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