Thursday, June 21, 2007

A Dissection: CIRM's Presidential Meeting Next Week

A couple of alert readers have raised questions concerning next Tuesday's special meeting of the Oversight Committee of the $3 billion California stem cell agency, which is scheduled to consider presidential candidates and a new salary for the position.

The teleconference meeting will be conducted from sites that span the length of California, reaching even into Australia. They offer an unusual opportunity for the public to take part in discussions of the agency.

Veterans of California state public meetings have some idea how this might work. Others are not entirely clear and wonder whether it really meets the requirements of state open meeting laws.

One stem cell observer, who asked for anonymity, wrote in an email:
"I have this image of a large crowd being ushered in and immediately being ushered out, waiting 90 minutes and then being ushered in and then out again."
That observer is not far off. However, it is unlikely that a large crowd will be on the scene at any of the locations. Most Oversight Committee meetings draw only about 10 or so members of the public, and that is when the meeting is only in one location.

We could be wrong, but this is likely how the session on Tuesday morning will go.

The committee will convene in public. It will then go into executive session to consider personnel matters – the hiring of a new president. Such sessions are permitted by state law. The public will have to wait outside the meeting room while this goes on. Then the meeting will go public. At that point, the committee has the ability to vote on the salary for a presidential candidate in public session and a new president because the matters have been properly noticed as required by state law. The committee does not have to vote on those matters. They could be delayed to another time. But once the committee is back in public session, members of the public can address the presidential topics or any other topic they choose. However, by state law the committee cannot act on matters that have not been announced in advance.

That means that a person could show up at one of these locations, sit around for about 90 minutes or so and not hear any significant discussions of CIRM matters. Unless you are interested in saying something to the directors of the $3 billion research effort, it may not be worth your time to attend the meeting. Or you may want to test public access -- required by law -- to site locations around the state for the teleconference meeting.

Will the new president be announced or voted on at Tuesday's meeting? Probably, but again we could be wrong. There is only one reason to put consideration of presidential candidates on the agenda, and that is to vote on them. One possible scenario is that the candidate is all but in the bag, with only ratification of a new salary or compensation package needed to clinch the deal. Another scenario could be that California stem cell Chairman Robert Klein put consideration of presidential candidates on the agenda just in case the deal would come to fruition in time for the 7 a.m. meeting next Tuesday. But given the unusual nature of the session, that may be unlikely.

Finally, if the Oversight Committee does fail to make a decision on Tuesday, it could mean that some sort of snag has once again hit the presidential selection process.

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