Stem Cell Institute Oversight Committee Chair Rejects Petition For Tighter Rules
Robert Klein -- chair of the Independent Citizens' Oversight Committee, which oversees the development of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine -- on Monday rejected each point in a petition calling for more open meetings, salary caps for employees and stricter conflict-of-interest rules for paid executives of the oversight board, the Sacramento Bee reports (Mecoy, Sacramento Bee, 3/22).
The petition, filed by public interest lawyer Charles Halpern and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Health Philip Lee, called for:
- Open meetings of the working groups that will make recommendations on grant requests;
- A $290,000 annual salary cap -- equal to the highest salary at NIH -- for the chair, vice chair, president and acting president of the institute;
- A $131,000 annual 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 (California Healthline, 2/18).
ICOC at its last meeting voted to give Klein power to respond to the petition.
In his response to the requests, Klein "defended" allowing closed meetings for the working groups, saying that NIH holds closed meetings for its peer reviews of research grants, the Bee reports. Klein said the public will be able to participate when the working groups' recommendations are publicly debated by ICOC and during the state's rule-making process.
Klein also responded to the request for salary caps, noting that Proposition 71, which created the institute, requires ICOC to base salaries on those paid at the University of California and other research institutes. He added that higher salaries would ensure the institute obtains the "best and brightest" staff.
In addition, Klein -- who has scheduled hearings on conflict-of-interest rules for all board and staff members -- said he is consulting with the National Academies of Science and other organizations on possible rules.
Klein said ICOC will hold hearings seeking a wider range of views on the issues raised in the petition.
"These are important issues," he said, adding, "But to make a deal with a special interest group is not consistent with the interests of the public in having a full public hearing of these issues."Petitioners' Reaction
Halpern said ICOC did not give Klein the authority to reject the petition, adding, he "exceeded his authority and made a tactical mistake." Halpern said, "I am hopeful we will be able to move ahead and get the committee as a whole to address the ideas Dr. Lee and I raised" (Sacramento Bee, 3/22).Broadcast Coverage
KPCC's "Talk of the City" on Monday included an interview with the UCLA Institute's Associate Academic Director Dr. Jerome Zack (Beaupre, "Talk of the City," KPCC, 3/21). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.