Friday, March 13, 2015

Chairman of $3 Billion California Stem Cell Effort Up for Evaluation Next Week

One week from today, a select panel of the directors of the $3 billion California stem cell agency will meet for the first time to assess the performance of its chairman, Jonathan Thomas, during his nearly four years in office.

Thomas, a Los Angeles bond financier, was elected as chairman of the agency in June 2011 on a 14-11 vote of the 29-member agency board. (See here and here.) He is paid $400,000 annually for his part-time work (80 percent), according to a Sacramento Bee database. His salary has remained unchanged since he took office.

Left to right, Robert Klein, Art Torres and Jonathan Thomas (2009 photo)
Thomas succeeded Robert Klein as chairman of the agency. Klein was elected in December 2004 after shepherding the ballot campaign that year to pass Proposition 71, which created the agency and funded it with state government borrowing.

The agenda for next week’s meeting gave no clue to the reason for calling this particular evaluation session. But good personnel practices would seem to require regular evaluations, perhaps even more often than every four years.

In 2012, then outside counsel to the board, James Harrison, prepared a memo for the subcommittee discussing evaluation procedures. In the memo, Harrison, now general counsel to the agency but still an independent contractor, summarized procedures that called for Thomas to submit his job goals for 2012-13.

Also to be evaluated, according to the memo,  was Art Torres, vice chairman of the board. Torres was also elected by the board and works part-time (80 percent) at an annual salary of $225,000. The subcommittee has not scheduled a meeting to evaluate Torres’ performance. Torres has been paid $225,000 annually during the last two years. However, his pay ran up to $247,000 in 2012, $239,000 in 2011 and $230,000 in 2010, according to The Bee database, which is drawn from public records.

(In response to a question, the stem cell agency said later today that the money paid to Torres in those three years was for unused vacation time. Earlier versions of this item did not contain that response.)

The Evaluation Subcommittee has six members, including Thomas and Torres. However, Thomas is not likely to be sitting in on his own evaluation next week. Chairman of the panel is Francisco Prieto, a Sacramento physician. The others are Stephen Juelsgaard, former executive vice president of Genentech; Sherry Lansing, former head of a Hollywood studio and a University of California regent, and Jeff Sheehy, a communications manager at UC San Francisco.

The subcommittee has met six times since Thomas was elected. All of those meetings dealt with assessment of Alan Trounson, former president of the stem cell agency, according to agendas.

Next Friday’s meeting will be almost entirely behind closed doors, but the public does have an opportunity to comment.  Two locations for the public exist in San Francisco and one each in Los Angeles, Calistoga and Napa. Specific addresses can be found on the agenda.

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