Thursday, December 04, 2008

CIRM's Klein Deserves a Salary

In February 2006, Robert Klein, chairman of the $3 billion California stem cell agency, testified in court that he did not consider himself a state employee.

The justification appeared to be that he did not accept a salary and has not since beginning his state stem cell work in December 2005.

That appears to be ready to change. Next week, he is going to seek a salary that could run upwards of half-million dollars a year. The move raises anew questions about his role with his private lobbying stem cell lobbying group. It also raises questions about whether it is possible for him to devote sufficient time to his state responsibilities and also continue to run his real estate investment banking firm in Palo Alto, Ca.

As of this morning, CIRM has yet to post on its agenda for next Tuesday and Wednesday any supporting material concerning the salary request or the conditions under which it would be granted.

Klein holds his post as chairman as the result of a vote of the 29-member board of directors, who may want to establish some clear ground rules for Klein along with approving a salary. Technically he may not even need a vote of the board to draw a salary since he is entitled to one as chairman. However, it would be impolitic to take a salary without running the matter by the board of directors.

Klein's salary move has drawn some reaction from longtime CIRM observers. John M. Simpson, stem cell project director of Consumer Watchdog of Santa Monica, Ca., told the California Stem Cell Report:
"If Bob Klein is working full-time as chairman of the ICOC(CIRM's board of directors) he deserves a salary. The question is how much. A sensible benchmark would be what the director of the National Institutes of Health makes -- $191,300. Round it off to $200,000. More than that is inappropriate and, in fact, would be outrageous in these economic times.

"Klein at his own choice donated his time since CIRM was launched. Californians owe him thanks for that gesture. However, it also allowed him to say he was not a state employee. If he takes a salary, he clearly is a state employee and needs to act accordingly in every respect. Receiving a salary should prompt a close look at Klein's non-CIRM activities and just how much time he spends on the job."
Jesse Reynolds, director of the Project on Biotechnology in the Public Interest at the Center for Genetics and Society in Oakland, Ca., said,
"Chairman Klein's large proposed salary, making him the second highest state employee, is symptomatic of the CIRM's exemption from California's civil service laws - a provision that Klein himself wrote into the state's constitution via Proposition 71. What's gone less examined is that he quietly dropped his promise to serve only the first three years of his term, a promise made when he first assumed office to assuage concerns of potential power-mongering."
The news about Klein's salary has drawn little media attention. The only item we have seen came on the Capitol Alert section of The Sacramento Bee's website. Two readers filed extremely hostile comments in connection with the item.

Klein, who is a multimillionaire, is to be lauded for working without pay for the state of California for nearly four years. He has brought considerable energy and talent to a worthwhile endeavor. In decades of following California state government affairs, I cannot recall another case that comes close to Klein's example. If he will be working fulltime in his role as chairman, he merits a salary and should be well paid.

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