Friday, December 10, 2010

Torres Withdraws from Contest for CIRM Chair , Klein Now a Shoo-In

Robert Klein today appeared certain to be re-elected as chairman of the $3 billion California stem cell agency after the only opposing candidate, vice chairman Art Torres, dropped out of the race.

Torres disclosed his withdrawal in a statement posted quietly yesterday on the agenda for next week's board meeting, which is scheduled to consider election of a chair. Torres basically said that he is dropping out for the good of the agency. He declared,
“I believe that the board needs more time to process the qualities it needs in a chair as we move forward to the next crucial phase. We also need to recognize the hard work and accomplishments of this board, as validated by the positive review of the External Advisory Panel’s report. We cannot let our collective success be overshadowed by a leadership debate.

“I initially stepped aside when Dr. Alan Bernstein’s candidacy became apparent. The mission and funding the best science have always been my priority. We owe nothing less to patients and the taxpayers of California.”
Torres continued,
“I am taking Bob Klein at his word that he will serve only for a limited transition period. That will give time for our Governance Subcommittee, under the leadership of Sherry Lansing, to determine the qualities we need in our next chair and to report its assessment to the full board for further discussions and deliberations.”
Torres, a former veteran state legislator, also remarked on the flap in the media about Klein's attempt to engineer the selection of his successor. One longtime observer and participant in CIRM affairs, John M. Simpson, stem cell project director of Consumer Watchdog of Santa Monica, Ca., earlier described the Klein's efforts as “sleazy and inappropriate backroom tactics.”  Klein's actions drew international, unfavorable attention on the Internet and even generated an article in the Toronto Globe and Mail concerning what turned out to be Klein's specious claim that the chairman had to be a citizen of the United States.

Asked for a comment on the latest development, Simpson said,
“The entire 'succession' saga is a debacle that reflects poorly on the ICOC (the agency's governing board), but especially on Bob Klein, who tried to create new criteria for the chair's position not specified in Proposition 71, which he apparently cites when it is convenient and flagrantly flouts when it is not. He wanted to hand pick his own successor, but that effort blew up in his face.

“Art Torres is eminently qualified to serve as chair and I am sorry to see him withdraw. Klein is the one who should stand down.”
In his statement to board directors, Torres said,
“As I'm sure is true for many of you, I am saddened by the recent press and blog stories that have compromised our collective hard work, history and mission. Further, these stories embolden our opponents who seek to stop stem cell research on the federal and state level. We must stand together to confront the challenges that lie ahead.”
Technically another challenger to Klein could arise but that is highly unlikely given Torres' statement, which undoubtedly reflects board sentiments as expressed during closed door board meetings last Wednesday.

Torres' reference to future actions by the Governance Subcommittee concerning selection of a new chair could mean that Klein's attempt to lead the process will be shunted aside. Earlier, Klein, a real estate investment banker, indicated that he thought it was necessary to find a nationally respected scientist to replace him. He said he would engage in a major search to find such a candidate. The board, however, has never said that it thought a scientist was necessary to fill the post.

Simpson said today,
“CIRM does not need a $500,000-a year scientist to serve as chairman when it already as a $500,000-a-year president. If this attempt was prompted by the belief the president is not performing adequately as CIRM's chief executive, the solution is simple. You fire the president and hire a new one. You do not spend another $500,000 of taxpayers' money to create a new position of "executive chairman."
Klein has said he will not serve for more than 12 months. He also recently said he would forego his $150,000, halftime salary, a move that allowed him to take part in the closed-door discussions involving selection of a chair. The action removed an economic conflict of interest on his part.

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