Sunday, November 21, 2010

California Stem Cell Directors Take Up Klein's New Role, Future Priorities

An old saying in the world of governance and politics goes like this: “The king is dead. Long live the king.”

It all has to do with transition, power and, in the case of the California stem cell agency, possibly new initiatives.

On Dec. 1, those issues and more will be on the table publicly at the agency. The CIRM directors' Governance Subcommittee is scheduled to deal with at least one aspect of the looming departure of Robert Klein, who has been the majordomo of the Golden State's stem cell experiment since its inception six years ago.

Klein has said he will leave in December at the expiration of his six-year term as chairman. However, should a successor not be chosen, it is conceivable that he would stay on.

The Governance Subcommittee, headed by former Hollywood film studio chief Sherry Lansing, is making plans, however, for the “chair emeritus” after he vacates the post. The agenda for the Dec. 1 meeting has this tidbit: “Consideration of future assignments to and volunteer support by Chair Emeritus.” The agency, however, provided no further information for the public, as is its wont.

One likely possibility is that Klein will continue to work on the multibillion dollar bond measure that he has been talking up for CIRM during the last several months. The proposal could range as high as $5 billion and be on the ballot in less than two years. It is not too early to begin lining up that effort, given magnitude of the challenge. California is mired in a $25 billion financial mess that makes approval of another bond measure problematic, unless something changes. And over the weekend The Sacramento Bee published a piece by Kevin Yamamura that said that state is most likely to be “swimming in red ink” for the next four years.

Also on tap at the Governance meeting is a related and equally cryptic proposal: “Consideration of budget allocations and structural priorities.” Again, the public was not given access to any additional information about this $2 billion matter. That is the amount that the agency has left to spend out of its original $3 billion.

However, the topic of the future spending was explored behind closed doors for three days in October by a blue-ribbon, external panel selected by CIRM, which orchestrated the proceedings. Nonetheless, it was – or should have been --- the most sweeping review ever of CIRM's program. The panel's report is scheduled to be released about the time of the Dec. 1 Governance session.

The panel is expected to make recommendations about future initiatives, possibly identifying some ripe targets that past funding did not hit. CIRM is already sharply focused on funding activities that are likely to generate results that will find favor with voters when a new bond measure is presented.

The Governance meeting is a prelude to the Dec. 8-9 meeting of the full board of directors in Irvine. Last month Klein said he was hoping to bring the entire review panel, including Nobel Laureate Sir Martin Evans from Great Britain, to that meeting for a discussion of the panel report.

Klein also said last month that he wanted to have another full board meeting around Dec. 15 to deal with selection of a new chairman and vice chairman or chairmen. The board cannot pick any individual they want. Instead it must choose from candidates nominated individually by the governor, treasurer, controller and lieutenant governor. Of course, CIRM directors do not have to vote for any of the candidates if they are not to the directors' liking. The board could instead ask for new candidates to be submitted by the politicos. Also, if the current holders of those statewide offices do not make a nomination, the responsibility would fall to those elected earlier this month to replace them.

The public can participate in the Governance meeting at site in San Francisco(2), Los Angeles(2), Palo Alto, Sacramento, Emeryville and Irvine. Specific addresses can be found on the agenda.

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