Tuesday, June 14, 2011

California Stem Cell Agency Beefing Up PR, Financial Expertise

The Governance Subcommittee of the California stem cell agency yesterday approved a major reorganization of the way it does business, including the hiring of its first-ever chief financial officer and a new, executive-level public relations person to add to its $1 million PR efforts.

The CFO will report to both the chairman and the president. The new PR person reports only to the chair. It is unclear what his or her relationship will be to the existing CIRM communications chief, who reports to the president. The creation of the posts appears to add a new layer to the much-criticized dual executive arrangement at CIRM.

The Governance panel, composed of 10 CIRM directors, unanimously approved the new management plan on Monday, according to Don Gibbons, the agency's communications chief. The proposal now goes to the full 29-member CIRM board next week for final adoption. The positions are among the 56 employees (including two members of the board) approved in the CIRM budget for the coming year.

CIRM directors have described the proposal as a "starting point" for its new chairman, who is expected to be elected, also next week, at the two-day San Diego meeting. Directors have indicated that no hiring is to take place until the new chairman has begun work. Additionally, a job description has not yet been written for the new PR position. That comes up on June 20. Some CIRM directors have raised questions about the urgency of adopting the plan on the eve of the election of a new chair.

CIRM President Alan Trounson and the No. 2 executive at CIRM, Ellen Feigal, also raised questions about some of the aspects of the new structure in a memo posted on the CIRM web site. Art Torres, co-vice chair of the board, rebutted the questions in another posted memo.

In other matters, the Governance committee approved a new $325,000 contract for legal work from attorney Nancy Koch for the coming fiscal year and a $450,000 contract for the coming year with the Mitchell Group, a Long Beach, Ca., firm that recruits information technology professionals. The arrangements are among the $3.3 million in spending for outside contracts that is the second largest item in CIRM's $18.5 million operational budget, trailing only the $10.3 million compensation for its staff.

Action on a proposed code of conduct for CIRM directors was put off for unspecified revisions.

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