Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Dual Execs at CIRM Severely Weaken Oversight, CIRM Directors Told

California's top fiscal officer today called on directors of the state's $3 billion stem cell agency to overhaul the role of its chairman, declaring that oversight of the enterprise is "severely compromised" when the chair is part of management.

In a letter to the 29 members of the CIRM board of directors, State Controller John Chiang said,
"It is difficult to uphold the appearance of accountability and objectivity when the board chair is involved in both management and oversight of CIRM's operations. In essence, under the current co-executive model, the chair is responsible for evaluating much of the work of the chair."
CIRM directors meet tomorrow in Burlingame to discuss the selection of a new chair to replace Robert Klein, who is its first and only chairman. Proposition 71, written by Klein and a handful of associates, legally gives the chair overlapping responsibilities with the president, a situation that has created friction in the past. Klein has additionally reached deep into the organization to deal with relatively minor matters.

Chiang said,
"The (directors') most important role – to provide independent oversight of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine management – is severely compromised when that management includes the (board) chair."
Chiang, a Democrat, is one of four state elected officials who can nominate candidates for chair of CIRM. Chiang is also the head of the only governmental entity specifically charged with financial oversight of the agency. Last fall Chiang nominated Art Torres, co-vice chair of CIRM, to replace Klein, whose term has expired. Torres declined to run following a flap that arose when Klein tried to engineer the selection of his successor.

Chiang noted that principles of good corporate governance call for boards to "be objective and distinct from management."

Chiang continued,
"I understand that part of the concern in moving to an oversight function from the co-executive model is the need for the chair to have expertise in certain areas as bond finance or the process of moving research to commercialization. Corporations and public agencies throughout the nation hire that expertise rather than rely on the chair."
A representative from the controller's office is expected to appear before the CIRM board at its meeting in Burlingame tomorrow. Remote locations in Irvine and two in Los Angeles are available where the public can participate in the meeting. Specific addresses can be found on the agenda. Instructions for listening to the Internet audiocast also can be found on the agenda.

(Ron Leuty of the San Francisco Business Times has also written about Chiang's letter. Leuty's article can be found here.)

1 comment:

  1. Don C. Reed2:54 AM

    The chair of the ICOC, like the governing board itself, represents the public. Weakening him/her is to weaken the public participation.

    The idea of a "part-time" chair does not fit with the tremendous success CIRM has achieved.

    Anyone who attends the meetings can verify that while there is often enthusiastic discussion--sometimes very enthusiastic-- the decisions are generally near-unanimous.

    This depends on a Chair who knows what is going on in all areas, and who makes sure all sides are heard.

    Recent recommendations of a "20-80%" chair to me are a serious mistake-- 20% is one 8 hour day-- how can anyone possibly know what is going on in that short time? ICOC members themselves put in far more time than that just preparing themselves for the meetings!

    If there is friction, "dueling executives", that is often the price of progress.

    We have tremendous leadership right now. The scientific expertise of Alan Trounson, President, is partnered with the vision and enthusiasm of Bob Klein.

    Personally, I hope for a continuation of that synergy.

    Because the California stem cell program is an absolute success-- so why make drastic changes to something that already works?

    Don C. Reed


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