Monday, July 04, 2011

LA Times on $400,000 CIRM Chair Salary: Not a Clipping for CIRM to Parade Around

Until today, the Los Angeles Times, California's largest circulation newspaper, has remained silent on the election 11 days ago of bond financier Jonathan Thomas as the new chairman of the California stem cell agency.

The Times' first story on Thomas' election, however, was not the sort of good news that Thomas has made one of his top priorities in his new post at the $3 billion enterprise.

The piece by reporter Jack Dolan focused on Thomas' $400,000 salary for part-time work (80 percent) as well as other salaries at the agency. And they were not placed in a favorable context.

The first three paragraphs of the story said,
"California's stem-cell research agency says it needs billions more taxpayer dollars to deliver on promised cures to major diseases. Yet at a time when other departments are cutting back spending, the agency recently agreed to pay its new boss one of the highest salaries in state government.

"The 50-person grant-making body will pay a Los Angeles investment banker $400,000 to serve as its new part-time board chairman, pushing the combined salaries of its two top officials to nearly $1 million per year.

"Santa Monica-based Saybrook Capital founder Jonathan Thomas - chosen over a former cardiologist who was willing to take the job for less than half the salary - said his pay is 'reasonable' because he has the background to help the agency raise the money it needs to survive. 'Without funding, everything else suffers,' Thomas said."
The story appears to be destined for publication in tomorrow's Los Angeles Times and will probably receive prominent play, perhaps even page one. But the piece first surfaced, as best we can tell, on the web site of the Bellingham Herald in the state of Washington. Presumably the paper subscribes to the Times news service, and the story was posted automatically to the Bellingham web site. (The Times has now posted the story, which can be found here on its web site.)

Dolan's story noted that Thomas' well-qualified rival for the chairman's job, Los Angeles cardiologist Frank Litvack, would have served for $123,000 a year. Dolan quoted John M. Simpson of Consumer Watchdog of Santa Monica, Ca., as saying that the decision on Thomas was "tone-deaf" in a state mired in a financial crisis. Simpson said it will come back to haunt the agency.

The last two paragraphs of the Times story said that Thomas told CIRM directors last month that "they were in a 'communications war' in which 'the world seems to be focused on internal issues instead of the grand big picture' of the institute's mission to cure disease.

"His solution? In late June the agency posted an ad for a new public relations director who will make as much as $208,520 per year."

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:50 AM

    Glad the LA Times ran this piece, it said things that I believe needed to be said!

    Litvack was a terrific candidate and had business as well as scientific experience, and his willingness to take a salary much less than $400K spoke volumes. I liked him, as well, because I read he didn't have the backing (silent or otherwise) of anyone related to CIRM.

    Don't know much about either Thomas or Litvack, just for me all things added up to having Litvack as Chair of CIRM.