Tuesday, September 28, 2010

One Hour Public Access at Critical Two-Day Review of $3 Billion State Stem Cell Operation

The California stem cell agency today officially notified the public for the first time about next month's sweeping review of its operations and said the public may attend for one hour at the beginning of two days of meetings.

CIRM's announcement was the first such notice that it has given the public via its Web site about the sessions that begin Oct. 13 at its San Francisco headquarters. The announcement also said for the first time that the public can submit written comments and questions in advance of the meeting.

CIRM's announcement did not make it clear that the public would be barred from the remainder of the sessions. However, a separate agenda for the meeting, also the first to be published by CIRM, specified that public would, in fact, be banned from virtually all of the most comprehensive review ever of the $3 billion operation.

The California Stem Cell Report last week wrote that the agency planned to ban the public entirely from the sessions. It was the first public news of the external review outside the sparsely attended meetings of the CIRM board of directors. Yesterday, we pointed out that the ban is not in the best interests of either the public or the agency and that the secrect testimony would not accomplish the agency's goal of candor from witnesses.

Today's announcement from CIRM implicitly recognizes that the public has a right to attend the hearings. However, barring the public from the remaining 19.5 hours falls far short of being either open or transparent, something CIRM has had problems with for years. One hour could not even be considered paying lip service to the state Constitution's guarantee of a broadly construed right of public access to the doings of state government.

CIRM gave no reason for its marginal change of position. We are querying the agency concerning its reasoning.

Material posted by CIRM also shows a change in one of the panelists. Dropped is Myrtle Potter, former head of Genentech who now runs her own San Jose, Ca., consulting firm. No explanation was given for the removal of Potter. We are querying CIRM about that as well. She is being replaced by
Igor Gonda, CEO of Aradigm Corp. of Hayward, Ca., an inhalation drug product firm.

The agency also posted a 384-page briefing document that has been given to the eight panelists who will be reviewing CIRM's strategic plan.

We will have more later on all this.

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