Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Klein Given New, Six-Month Term as Chairman; Board to Examine Criteria for Replacement

Directors of the California stem cell agency today re-elected Robert Klein as chairman of the $3 billion enterprise, culminating a weeks-long flap that included closed-door dealings, allegations of “sleazy” conduct and dubious, last minute financial warnings about CIRM's financial condition.

Klein said he would serve for no more than six months and would prefer a shorter term. He is expected to serve without a salary. The directors also instructed its Governance Subcommittee to examine the criteria for a replacement and report back to the full board in 60 days.

The vote on Klein was not entirely audible on the Internet audiocast but it appeared nearly unanimous with the exception of Jeff Sheehy, who abstained.

Sherry Lansing, chair of the Governance Subcommittee and a former Hollywood studio chief, supported Klein's re-election and defended the election process. She said,
"Nothing was done that was not correct."
She said all actions taken were in the best interests of CIRM's mission.

Klein had been publicly telling the board and others for months that he would not seek re-election to a six-year term. Behind the scenes, he began to attempt to engineer the selection of his successor, a Canadian scientist, Alan Bernstein, who chaired the recent “external review” of CIRM's programs.

Klein's effort began to fall apart after Bernstein's name surfaced publicly in an item Nov. 29 on the California Stem Cell Report.

A spate of articles dealing with the issue appeared in a number of publications, including the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Business Times, Nature magazine's Web site, the Biopolitical Times, the Toronto Globe and Mail and The Sacramento Bee as well as here. The various articles detailed the reports of backroom dealings and issues with Klein's conduct.

On Monday, the state's top fiscal officer, John Chiang, who has a special role in connection with the agency, urged cancellation of this week's election, declaring that the process was fundamentally flawed. Sheehy read Chiang's letter to the board and said he agreed with it.  No other CIRM directors publicly raised questions about the election flap.

Klein has been chairman of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, as the agency is formally known, since voters approved its creation in 2004 through Prop. 71. Klein and a handful of associates wrote the measure, which included a detailed legal list of qualifications that fit only one person in the state – Klein. The move so angered one early major backer of Prop. 71 that he now refuses to speak to Klein, according to Nature magazine.

Klein has been the dominate force at the stem cell agency since he was elected by the 29-member board to his first six-year term. He also has angered at least some members of the CIRM board and clashed with its first president, Zach Hall. Prop. 71 gave overlapping executive responsibilities to the chairman and president of the agency.

As of this week, CIRM has approved $1.1 billion in grants, 90 percent of which has gone to institutions that have representation on the CIRM board of directors. The board is making larger awards currently, and Klein is looking for more cash. His plans include another bond measure, perhaps as high as $5 billion, before voters possibly in 2012 or 2014.

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