Thursday, March 10, 2011

CIRM Directors Move to Alter Role of Chair of $3 Billion Stem Cell Program

Directors of the California stem cell agency, in sharply divided moves, today said that its next chairman should serve in a part-time capacity in largely an oversight role.

The board's actions are aimed at giving guidance to four elected state officials who have the authority to nominate persons for the job, which carries a salary that can reach as high as $500,000 for fulltime work. The moves are the latest effort by the board to deal with top-level management issues that have troubled the agency since its inception.

In a 17-5 vote, the 29-member board approved a motion designating the position as parttime with the "best assessment" that it needed only a 50 percent to 80 percent time commitment, depending on the candidates.

On an 11-8 vote with three abstentions, the board approved a motion indicating that the new chair would fill more of an oversight role with the board delineating the responsibilities of the chair and president. The state's top fiscal officer, Controller John Chiang, warned yesterday that the current co-executive situation "severely compromises" accountability at CIRM.

The board hopes to elect a new chair perhaps as early as May but possibly in June to replace Robert Klein, whose term has expired.

Finding a replacement roiled the board last fall. Discussion was also vigorous today during the debate over the role of the chair – an issue that has troubled CIRM since its earliest days. Prop. 71, which created CIRM in 2004, established a dual executive situation that has created friction and still troubles the agency today, CIRM President Alan Trounson acknowledged during today's meeting.

Duane Roth, co-vice chair of the board and a San Diego businessman, noted the longstanding problem
He said,
"This has been something we need to get fixed."
Director Claire Pomeroy, dean of the UC Davis School of Medicine, said that CIRM has evolved to the point that the board must ensure that the staff is respected and allowed to run the organization. She said,
"We should empower them to go and do their job without the micromanagement of our board."
She said the public understands that CIRM has not been optimally functional because of the "lack of clarity" between the roles of the chair and the president.

Art Torres, co-vice chair of the board and a fomer state legislator, also warned that the nominating state officials – governor, treasurer, controller and lieutenant governor – may well find themselves hard pressed to nominate someone for a $500,000 state job as the state faces a financial crisis.

Some board members offered suggestions that the time commitment range be altered to 20 to 80 percent or from 20 to 100 percent but those proposals did not win sufficient support.

The board also recommended additional criteria for the position that included "experience with advocacy, proven vision and leadership abilities, and prior scientific understanding and experience with governance."

The board 's timetable calls for nominations from the officials by April 11 with public presentations by candidates at the May board meeting.

Here is the text of the successful motion by Director Jeff Sheehy, a communications manager at UC San Francisco on the role of the chair.
"The Governance Subcommittee recommends that the board clearly delineate the discrete responsibilities of the chair, vice chairs and president, and that the chair and vice chairs lead a robust oversight effort, including taking advantage of the skills of the board members in conducting their oversight role, and if the chair and vice chairs possess expertise in the areas of responsibility assigned to the chair in Proposition 71, then the board may elect to take advantage of their expertise operationally in those areas as well."
Here is a link to the CIRM press release that deals with the succession issue and other matters at today's meeting.

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