Monday, January 17, 2011

Fresh Approach Urged on CIRM Chair Selection, Self-evaluation of CIRM Board Included

Directors of the California stem cell agency are being asked to make a "clean start" in their effort to elect a new chair of the $3 billion enterprise – an effort that would also include a self-assessment of the board itself.

The appeal is being made by Claire Pomeroy, a CIRM director and dean of the UC Davis School of Medicine and is scheduled to be considered at a Jan. 26 meeting of the CIRM directors' Governance Subcommittee. The full board will take up the panel's recommendations the next day.

In an email to Sherry Lansing, chair of the Governance panel, Pomeroy said,
"In the spirit of a clean start and an open process, I would suggest that the Governance Committee consider proactively attaining input from all the board members in two areas:
"1. Self-assessment of board performance/function to date
"2. Desired attributes of board chair"
In her email, Pomeroy noted an article last month in Science magazine, headlined "CIRM: The Good, the Bad And the Ugly." Pomeroy said her recommendations would help to "to ensure an open process free of conflict of interest and personal agendas." She said,
"This is our chance to emphasize the mission over in-fighting and can define what kind of organization CIRM and the board will be."
Asked for a comment., John M. Simpson, stem cell project director for Consumer Watchdog of Santa Monica, Ca., said that Pomeroy's suggestions sound "like exactly the right approach."

Pomeroy's proposal and other important background material were posted on the CIRM web site on Saturday, 11 days in advance of the meeting. CIRM has had considerable difficulty in posting such material in a timely fashion. But the postings for the Jan. 26 session represent a substantial improvement and offer the public and interested parties an opportunity to make thoughtful comments in time for the meeting or to make plans to attend.

Pomeroy said she borrowed the self-assessment plan from another organization on whose board she serves. The plan would involve a series of questions for all 29 board members with "Yes/Sometimes/No answers" and a section for free-form comments.

Some of the questions proposed by Pomeroy:
  • "Board focuses on the appropriate strategic, fiduciary, and generative issues that guide the work of the organization
  • "Board attends to policy related activities that guide the work of management staff
  • "Board is composed of a diverse group of individuals with a variety of skills to consider the interests of the organization's broad constituencies
  • "Board avoids getting into administrative/management details
  • "Board members offer a diversity of opinions and addresses issues in a respectful manner
  • "Board is too influenced by the views of the president and/or other management staff
Another section would deal with individual board members. Some proposed questions:
  • "I understand my responsibilities as a board member
  • "I come to the board meetings fully prepared to participate
  • "I receive adequate information, presented in a concise and focused manner, on matters that come to the board in a timely manner
  • "At board meetings, I feel comfortable raising and discussing dissenting or contrary opinions
  • "I think about the work of the organization (CIRM) between board calls and meetings
  • "I understand the issue of conflict of interest and have no conflicts other than those disclosed in writing
  • "I receive personal satisfaction from my role as board member."/li>
On the subject of desired attributes of a new chair, Pomeroy said,
"It seems to me that we don't always hear from all the board members about their thoughts on this issue and as a committee we should know the ideas of all the (board) members."
She proposed a survey of all board members asking such things as:
  • "Desired attributes of a chair (e.g. collaborative, etc)- list top 3
  • "Desired skill sets of a chair (e.g. advocacy, financial, etc)- list top 3
  • "Desired background/experience of a chair (e.g. academics, patient advocate, industry experience, etc)- list top 3
  • "Recommended time commitment of chair (e.g. full time, 1 day a week, attendance at meetings and availability by phone in between, etc)
  • "Recommended financial compensation for chair (e.g. salary range)"
Included on the agenda for the Governance meeting in Burlingame is a memo on the legal criteria for the CIRM chair.

 Another issue dealing with openness and transparency is also on the committee's agenda. It consists of a request from the Citizens Financial Accountability Oversight Committee that CIRM post on its web site the statements of economic interests and travel expense claims by the CIRM board and executive staff. The committee, which reviews the financial operations of CIRM, made the request nearly a year ago.

The panel is chaired by the state's top fiscal officer, Controller John Chiang, one of four state officials who makes nominations for the CIRM chair. Chiang's office posts the economic interest statements and expense claims of its top staff on its web site, as did former Gov. Arnold Schwarznegger. It is unclear whether Gov. Jerry Brown will follow the practice.

(Editor's note: An earlier version of this story did not mention that the Governance Subcommittee's recommendations will be taken up by the full board of directors on Jan. 27.)

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