It has a can on its tail, and nobody seems likely to come to its rescue.
The nagging irritation trailing CIRM comes in the form of repeated news stories about salaries at its executive levels. Just a few weeks ago, a round of pieces surfaced concerning pay at CIRM. The touchy subject popped up again this past weekend.
The Orange County Register carried a page-one story on Sunday with the headline "'Special fund' salaries fall off the radar." The fourth paragraph of the piece by Ramon Solis said,
"Alan Trounson, president of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the state stem-cell research agency, is the highest-paid nonacademic employee in the state, making an annualized salary of $490,008 as of June 2011. His salary is paid by bond funds."Solis continued,
"The regenerative medicine institute is a prime example of a well-funded state agency operating outside of the constraints of the General Fund.
"On average, institute employees made $103,435.08 in 2010, according to 2010 salary data from the State Controller’s Office – the most of any department in state government.
"In addition to employing the state’s highest-salaried nonacademic employee, Trounson, the institute also employees the state’s highest-paid part-time employee, Art Torres, the former chairman of the state Democratic Party, who made $230,000 last year as the institute’s co-vice chairman. Institute staff members, however, say Torres handles the responsibilities of two people. Staff maintain that the institute would have to spend more money on two separate employees if not for Torres.
"'Given the fact CIRM is a research funding institution, it is critical that CIRM have the ability to competitively recruit and retain employees who have the skills and backgrounds necessary for these positions,' said Melissa King, the institute’s executive director of the governing board, when asked about Torres’ and Trounson’s salaries.
"The institute has one of the smallest payrolls in state government, with just 46 employees who account for around 1 percent of the agency’s $3 billion budget, King said. Unlike other agencies in state government, the institute’s payroll and administrative overhead is capped at 6 percent of its budget, to ensure that most of its money goes to stem-cell research. The institute also has an added protection in that an independent committee composed of leaders in the biotech and medical industry as well as patient advocates set the salaries of its employees."It could be said that CIRM fared better in the Orange County Register story than many of the others in the past about its salaries. The piece noted that CIRM has a tight operational budget. The article also cited as "an added protection" an "independent committee" that sets CIRM salaries. The committee is the CIRM board of directors. The story also did not report that, with interest on the borrowed funds for Trounson's salary, its actual cost is around $1 million.
Nonetheless, the issue of high salaries will dog the agency as long as they exist. CIRM pay is also likely to surface in a much more visible way in the event that the agency goes to the voters for another multibillion bond issue in a few years.
The agency's new chairman, Jonathan Thomas, has said that the agency is in a communications war. As part of its arsenal, it needs to devise strong counter measures to deflect what will be a continuing assault tied to its high salaries. Sphere: Related Content