Thursday, February 17, 2011

From PR to 'Monitoring' Board Members, Klein Spells Out His Routine

Robert Klein, chairman of the California
 stem cell agency
Robert Klein, lawyer, real estate investment banker and the chairman of the $3 billion California stem cell agency, has produced a remarkable document that details how he reaches deeply into CIRM operations on matters ranging from its economic impact to employee travel policy.

The 9-page, single-spaced memo was prepared for this afternoon's meeting of the directors' Governance Subcommittee meeting on criteria for the person who is to replace him in June -- if not sooner. The document was posted on the CIRM web site yesterday.

In the memo, Klein chronicled what he described as his "routine" activities for CIRM. Writing in the third person, he indicated that he attends virtually every public meeting involving CIRM in addition to many closed-door sessions. Another document offered earlier by Klein lists a host of meetings that he believes the CIRM chair would need to attend this year. The time required runs to about 12 business weeks of meetings with about another 24 weeks required for preparation, according to the document.

Klein's memo said he delved heavily into preparation of the recent rosy report on the economic impact of CIRM. He said he examined its "technical accuracy" and "strategic implications for participating companies, including those with publicly traded stock."

Klein additionally reported,
"In every board, subcommittee and working group meeting, the chair provides continuous, 'real time' legal guidance to the discussion, monitoring and suggesting phrasing and specific, descriptive wording that is consistent with the agency’s litigation record and constitutional/statutory authority."
Klein wrote,
"The chair must -- by design -- attend every Grants Working Group meeting -- fully prepared -- and take extensive notes to understand the context and conflicting points of view that affect the viability of recommended grants and loans, as well as future, potential extraordinary petitions and the scientific staff’s research of potential errors or contradictory positions." (The grants group makes the de facto decisions on virtually all grant applications.)
Klein reviews drafts of policies, including those for contracts and travel, RFAs and seemingly all CIRM material before it is presented to the public or the board. Klein wrote,
"The complexity of (policy) reviews generally requires the coordination of four or more external and internal legal perspectives to avoid esoteric state statutory and/or judicial conflicts, political sensitivities."
He is responsible for all the board agendas. He reviews each request for information under the state public records law. He monitors "the number of board members who discuss a particular topic outside of a noticed meeting." He is currently personally developing PR plans connected to what will be CIRM's first-ever entry into clinical trials.

In his memo, Klein sketched out his strategy to deal with "any negative announcement" – presumably death or grave illness – coming out of a CIRM-funded clinical trial. He said CIRM must be prepared "to assure the public that the predictable, sensationalized news turbulence surrounding any negative clinical trial event should not derail vital medical progress, with appropriate safeguards."

In 2008, the CIRM board defined the chair's job as a part-time, 50 percent position. Klein was paid $150,000 annually under those terms. Prior to that he took no salary. In December, the CIRM board extended his term into June, but at no salary.

Under the terms of Prop. 71, the chairman and president of CIRM have overlapping responsibilities, which has created problems in the past. They surfaced publicly and sharply in 2006 in directors' meetings that nominally focused on travel decisions and office assignments. In 2009, California's Little Hoover Commission, the state's good government agency, warned of "personality driven" leadership at CIRM. Its report said,
"An agency governance structure that features key positions built around specific individuals does not serve the best interests of the mission of the agency or the state of California, however well-qualified the individuals may be. Such a situation distorts accountability and succession planning and could, in the event of an abrupt departure of the individual, leave the agency leaderless for an extended period."
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