Thursday, June 23, 2011

Consumer Watchdog: $400,000 CIRM Chair Salary Will Incense Public

Consumer Watchdog's John Simpson, a longtime observer of the California stem cell agency, today said that the public will be outraged by the salary of its new chairman, damaging the prospects of a new multibillion dollar bond measure for stem cell research.

Simpson, stem cell project director for the Santa Monica, Ca., organization, supported the candidacy of Frank Litvack, writing an op-ed piece May 31 in The Sacramento Bee. Jonathan Thomas, a Los Angeles bond financier, was elected last night on a 14-11 vote.

Asked for comment on the outcome of the election, Simpson said in an email,
"The election of Bob Klein's successor was an opportunity for the board to end the dysfunctional dual executive model that has plagued CIRM since its launch and move to a structure where the chair serves in an oversight capacity. All outside evaluators have advocated this.

"Instead, after considerable arm-twisting from some of the state's top Democrats, the board picked a $400,000-a year candidate, Jonathan Thomas, who plans to be deeply involved in the agency's day-to-day operations. CIRM already has one executive who makes a half-million-dollar salary, President Alan Trounson. It's pure folly to spend nearly that much again so that two overly paid executives can trip over each other in a 50-person state agency.

"By comparison Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, gets a salary of $199,700, according to the NIH Department of Human Resources.

"The public outrage that will result from hiring a $400,000-a-year chairman will prove to be a public relations disaster from which the stem cell agency will never recover. Those contemplating going to the public in the future to seek another bond issue should have considered the negative impact such a salary will have. Opponents of a bond initiative will have a field day.

"The board had the chance to correct CIRM's management structure and put the agency on the right track for the future. They squandered that opportunity, opting instead to select the candidate with the best political connections, and did so at considerable unnecessary expense to the public."
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