Thursday, July 07, 2011

LA Times Editorial on New CIRM Chair: Tin Ears and Extinction

The Los Angeles Times said this morning that it suspects that the election of Jonathan Thomas as chairman of the $3 billion California stem cell agency "will go a long way toward assuring the institute's extinction."

In an editorial, the state's largest circulation newspaper said,
"It always annoys voters to discover that government workers make more than they do, but what especially rankles about Thomas' big paycheck is that his hiring comes at a time when most state agencies are making radical cutbacks and when the institute itself is considering a ballot measure to ask voters for billions in new funding."
The editorial is the latest in several negative pieces in the mainstream media about the choice of Thomas, a Los Angeles bond financier, to become chairman. The articles focus primarily on Thomas' $400,000, part-time (80 percent) salary.

The Times wrote,
"The new head of California's stem cell research agency, which has a staff of 50, not only makes more money than the governor, he makes twice as much as the chief of the National Institutes of Health, which has 17,000 employees. Does that make him overpaid? Not necessarily. But it does make the board that hired him remarkably tin-eared about politics."
The editorial did note that "it's possible" that Thomas "could earn his big bucks," given his background in finance, if CIRM is forced to try to sell state bonds privately.

The selection of Thomas also drew attention this week in the San Francisco Bay Area in a commentary by San Francisco Chronicle columnist Phil Matier in a report on KCBS television station.

The station picked up the LA Times news story on Thomas' salary, adding that it was one of the highest in state government. Matier said during the news story that it was all part of the "birth of a bureaucracy." He said voters shouldn't expect a stem cell breakthrough for another 10 years. He also called CIRM the "high speed rail of medicine." For non-Californians, that is a reference to another multibillion dollar California bond program that is staggering under heavy public criticism.

In another commentary on a blog called Secondhand Smoke, Wesley J. Smith, author and bioethicist, posted a video of the song "Hey Big Spender." Smith wrote,
"The state is sinking financially.  Cutbacks are being forced across the board.  But not at the CIRM....

"These people live in a different world of 'entitlement' (there’s another word) and 'luxury.'  This is just another reason for the people of California to turn off the borrowing money spigot in 2014."
Prior to the LA Times salary story, Pete Shanks of the Center for Genetics and Society of Berkeley, Ca., on June 29 wrapped up the election of Thomas on its Biopolitical Times blog, quoting John M. Simpson of Consumer Watchdog of Santa Monica, Ca. Simpson said that the selection of Thomas is "a public relations disaster from which the stem cell agency will never recover."

For other articles on the Thomas election and the situation at CIRM, see here, here, here, here and here. Sphere: Related Content

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