Open-Government Advocates Critical of Proposition 71 Committee
The Independent Citizens Oversight Committee, which is charged with determining how to distribute funds for stem cell research available through Proposition 71, faces additional criticism from some open-government advocates that it "isn't trying hard enough to conduct its affairs in public," the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Hall, San Francisco Chronicle, 1/4).
Proposition 71, a measure approved on the Nov. 2 statewide ballot, calls for California to issue bonds to raise an average of $295 million annually over a decade to promote stem cell research and provide funds for a new stem cell research center, as well as grants and loans for lab projects (California Healthline, 12/20/04). The committee is responsible for distributing $3 billion in taxpayer-backed bonds for facilities and research over the next decade.
ICOC's first meeting on Dec. 17 became a "near disaster" when Attorney General Bill Lockyer's (D) office advised that the agenda be fundamentally altered because of opponents' claims that the meeting as structured would have violated the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act, the Chronicle reports. Critics have voiced similar concerns about the committee's meeting scheduled for Thursday.
Charles Halpern, a Berkeley public interest lawyer who filed a complaint with the attorney general's office about the first meeting, issued new charges in letters sent to state officials and the 29 stem cell committee members. Halpern said the stated agenda for Thursday's meeting was "cryptic, vaguely worded and [did not] meet the requirements of the law." Halpern said the committee needs to make clear the kinds of research it plans to finance, to allow the public to assess whether the financial disclosure and conflict-of-interest provisions are adequate.
Halpern also criticized the "odd arrangement" under which ICOC Chair Robert Klein's not-for-profit organization, California Research and Cures Coalition, provides clerical and public relations support to the committee. Halpern has called on Klein to resign from the not-for-profit group and cancel CRCC public hearings on the stem cell effort.
Terry Francke, general counsel of Californians Aware, and the Center for Genetics and Society also have criticized the committee's failure to inform the public of its activities.
In addition, the Chronicle reports that "[b]ackground materials for the meeting still are not being provided to the public," although "calls to members of the stem cell board suggest they haven't gotten any homework materials, either."
Ed Penhoet, vice chair of the committee, said that "there aren't any" such materials.
One of the primary agenda items for the Thursday meeting is the creation of a search committee to hire a full-time president for the new stem cell institute. Some of the hiring authority may be delegated by the board to Klein, and a process may be started to appoint outside advisers to three working groups (Hall, San Francisco Chronicle, 1/4).