Monday, December 06, 2010

Read This Item to See What CIRM Has Expunged From Its Web Site

With one day left before Wednesday's meeting of the directors of the California stem cell agency, the public can find much to mull over by reviewing the agenda for the session.

But no one will find anything on three matters that have been expunged from CIRM's Web site. They deal with the less than artful attempt by CIRM Chairman Robert Klein to engineer the selection of his successor.

The items were removed after Alan Bernstein was scrubbed as a candidate following reports of conflicts of interest, inappropriate closed-door meetings and a late-coming disclosure that his Canadian citizenship reportedly disqualified him.

Here are the items that were stripped from CIRM's official agendas for both last Wednesday's meeting of the Governance Subcommittee and the full board session this Wednesday.
“Consideration of budget allocations and structural priorities.

“Consideration of future assignments to and volunteer support by Chair Emeritus.

“Consideration of authorization to compensate Patient Advocate Vice-Chairs of Grants Working Group in excess of cap if service as GWG Vice-Chair and Vice-Chair of any other Working Group requires commitment of more than 26 days per year.”
On the Governnance Subcommittee agenda today you will find only one word – “CANCELED” – in the place of these proposals. No mention is also made on the agenda for Wednesday's full board meeting that the document has been significantly altered and matters removed with no explanation.

Last week, we reported that CIRM had left the public and industry in the dark when it failed to provide any additional information beyond the cryptic listings of the three items, which appeared to involve fairly significant matters.

The board's outside counsel, James Harrison of Remcho Johansen and Purcell of San Leandro, Ca., Harrison, responded at the time, defending its information practices and also indirectly shedding some light on Klein's scheme to select his own successor. Harrison said in an email on Wednesday,
“In the case of the Governance Subcommittee, there are no written materials for two of the items because they are placeholders which will not be addressed at the meeting (because Bagley-Keene requires CIRM to post the agenda ten days in advance of a meeting, we sometimes include items before we know whether consideration of the items will be required in order to preserve the opportunity to consider them).  As to the one item which will be considered (the role of the former chair), the discussion is intended to be conceptual.  If the Subcommittee decides to move forward on this item, written materials will be prepared and distributed well in advance of the Board meeting at which it is considered.”
Our response? From the very first, CIRM should have said on the agenda that the items were placeholders involving selection of a new chairman or involved a conceptual discussion and why. To do otherwise is to withhold from the public important information that the State Constitution says it has a right to see. The upshot is that interested parties are left to ferret out or speculate on reasons behind the proposals, which, quite frankly, is not in CIRM's best interests.

CIRM also compounded the error by expunging the items entirely. It is not the first time that material on CIRM's Web site has been altered without providing any indication to readers that it has been changed. The information that CIRM presents on its Web site constitutes an official government document. When changes are made, there should be a trail that shows the changes. In this case, the items should have been left on both both agendas with a note that the meeting was cancelled or the matters would not be taken up. In essence, stakeholders and interested parties now have to save all versions of CIRM Web documents in order to detect whether changes are being made, significant or otherwise.

As for the items currently listed by CIRM to be considered by its directors on Wednesday, they include the report of the external review panel(see here and here), changes in IP policy, current budget figures and changes in its biotech loan programs.

The Irvine meeting will be audiocast on the Internet. Directions for tuning in can be found on the agenda.


  1. Anonymous5:56 PM

    Oh, so CIRM puts placeholders on its agenda to "preserve" the right to discuss issues? How dainty! Why, then, didn't they put on the agenda "Sunday night dinner in Potola", just so ya'll will know that we're gonna talk about how Klein is to replace Klein, but now you wait a doggone minute here before you get all excited, YOU'RE NOT INVITED!"

    Or maybe this Sunday night dinner came together just-all-of-a- sudden, with MULTIPLE PEOPLE just gettin' together outta thin air, on a little ol' bit of notice, and there really was just no time at all to put a little ol' placeholder on the little ol' thing like a state agency meetin' agenda.

  2. Note the coverage in Nature of the situation at CIRM:
    Stem cells: The impatient advocate [ Nature 468, 620-623 (2010) ]

    Of the CIRM requirement -- a direct knowledge of bond financing. --, note the rather sad misunderstanding by CIRM of requirements for tax-exempt bonds, a mistake which cost California taxpayers quite a bit of money.

    This is part of continued misunderstanding by CIRM of the role of intellectual property in a state-financed research venture, a matter which has also cost California taxpayers a bit of money.