Thursday, January 27, 2011

California Stem Cell Directors Chart New Path to Find New Chairman

Directors of the California stem cell agency today embarked on a fresh course for selection of a new chairman of the $3 billion effort, including a self-evaluation of the performance of the agency board itself.

On a unanimous voice vote, the governing board initiated a survey of its 29 directors to determine criteria that they believe is desirable in a new chairman, in addition to the legal requirements. The survey, to be conducted next week, will also ask directors to evaluate the board's role.

The questions will address such concerns was whether the person who will replace Robert Klein should have experience in academia, industry or patient advocacy, among other things, such as time commitment and compensation.

Board members will be queried on whether they have enough information on matters that come before the board, the amount of their preparation and whether they feel comfortable raising dissenting opinions in addition to other matters..

The new procedure was suggested by Director Claire Pomeroy, dean of the UC Davis School of Medicine. It came after Klein's attempt to engineer the selection of his successor floundered in the wake of news reports that reflected less than favorably on CIRM and Klein.

Sherry Lansing, chair of the Governance Subcommittee and a former Hollywood studio chief, said she expected to hold a meeting of the panel in two weeks to consider the results of the survey. She anticipated another meeting following that session. The criteria could come to the board for its meeting in March in Sacramento.

Klein says he plans to leave his post by June. He was re-elected in December at no pay for six months in December.

The plan to address the chair selection process triggered a short but sharp debate that veered into a discussion of some of the criteria, including whether the chair should also have CEO responsibilities, be a US citizen and the amount of time required.

Klein was paid $150,000 a year for a half-time effort until last month. He told directors that he is putting in considerably more time than that.

The discussion about the citizenship requirement came up because Klein last month said that the person his candidate for the job had to drop out because state law required him to be a US citizen. However, an official opinion of the state attorney general's office has pronounced that provision unconstitutional. Nonetheless, Art Torres, co-vice chair of the CIRM board, said a chairman must be a citizen until an appellate court rules otherwise. Some board members and the board's general counsel took pains to say that the provision did not apply to CIRM President Alan Trounson, who is Australian.

In electing a chairman, the CIRM board is handicapped by Prop. 71, which dictates that it cannot choose anyone it finds qualified. Instead, the ballot measure, written by Klein and others, says the board must choose between candidates nominated by four statewide officeholders: the governor, lieutentant governor, treasurer and controller. Prop. 71 also contains a list of detailed, restrictve legal requirements for the position.

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