Petition Calls for Changes to Stem Cell Oversight Committee Operating Procedures
Public interest lawyer Charles Halpern and Phillip Lee, a former U.S. assistant secretary for HHS and a former chancellor for the University of California-San Francisco, on Wednesday filed a petition calling for more open meetings, salary caps for employees and stricter conflict-of-interest rules for paid executives of the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee overseeing California's stem cell research program, the Sacramento Bee reports.
The petition calls for:
- Open meetings of the working groups that will make recommendations on grant requests;
- A $290,000 salary cap -- equal to the highest salary at NIH -- for the chair, vice chair, president and acting president of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine;
- A $131,000 salary cap -- equal to the salary of the Health and Human Services Agency secretary -- on salaries for other institute employees and an open hiring process;
- Rules that would require paid executives and working group members to divest any investments in biotechnology firms; and
- A delay in awarding grants, slated to begin in May, until grant guidelines are adopted and applicants have had sufficient time to submit their proposals.
"Because it is a petition, they can't ignore it. They have to take it seriously," Halpern said. He added that the committee must discuss the petition at its March 1 meeting since it is the only one within the 30-day period.
The Administrative Procedure Act requires the committee to examine each issue set forth in the petition, according to the Bee.
If the petition's recommendations were enacted, the salary for the chief executive of the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine likely would be reduced (Mecoy, Sacramento Bee, 2/18). Executives at Spencer Stuart, the firm ICOC has hired to help identify candidates for the position, said the annual salary for the head of CIRM likely would be between $300,000 and $600,000.
Currently, the annual salary of only one of the nine staffers hired at the institute exceeds the cap called for in the petition (Hall, San Francisco Chronicle, 2/18).
In addition, the petition's provisions would require ICOC Vice Chair Edward Penhoet, who does not receive a salary for his ICOC work, to sell more than $3 million in biotech stocks or put them into a blind trust.
Halpern said Penhoet also would have to resign from the boards of three biotech companies and the venture capital firm where he is employed part time (Sacramento Bee, 2/18).
Hutton called Halpern's and Lee's petition a "reframing" of previous complaints "in a different document" and said the committee already is addressing issues such as conflict of interest.
ICOC officials also said that the salaries announced to date comply with the provisions of Proposition 71, which requires salaries to be comparable to those of the University of California system (San Francisco Chronicle, 2/18).
Penhoet has "repeatedly said" that his investments and work do not represent a conflict of interest because the companies he is involved with do not plan to conduct embryonic stem cell research, the Bee reports.
Halpern said he is not trying to create difficulties for ICOC, saying, "We do this only to prod them a little, that's all. Open meetings to me are absolutely critical. Issues around conflicts of interest are absolutely critical."
Lee said, "The public has to have confidence in what's going on" (San Francisco Chronicle, 2/18). He added, "This is a public agency. This is public money. These are public issues" (Sacramento Bee, 2/18).