Stem Cell Research Panel Meeting Agenda Cropped Due to Criticism
Treasurer Phil Angelides (D) and Controller Steve Westly (D) on Thursday made "last-minute changes" to the agenda of the inaugural meeting of the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee, the panel created by Proposition 71 to oversee administration of stem cell research funds, because critics said the session violated state open-meeting laws, the Sacramento Bee reports (Mecoy, Sacramento Bee, 12/17).
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. State analysts say the measure will cost a total of $6 billion, including interest.
Charles Halpern, an independent public interest lawyer in Berkeley who attempted to get appointed to the oversight committee, filed a protest in an attempt to delay the first committee meeting, which is scheduled to take place Friday in San Francisco. Halpern said that the official agenda and public notice for the meeting did not comply with the state Bagley-Keene Act, which addresses public access to meetings of state bodies.
Halpern also said the meeting planners did not provide adequate notice, gave only minimal descriptions of items on the agenda, provided no backup materials for the principal issues to be discussed and scheduled comments at the end of the meeting, after most decisions likely would have been made.
In addition, Terry Francke, general counsel of Sacramento public advocacy group Californians Aware, in a letter to Attorney General Bill Lockyer (D)
endorsed Halpern's protest (California Healthline, 12/16).
Because the meeting agenda was released four days prior to the meeting and state law typically requires 10 days advanced notice, Lockyer agreed that the inclusion of some items on the agenda violated the law.
Westly and Angelides, who were responsible for scheduling the session, recommended that the agenda be limited to electing a chair and vice chair, which is permitted at a "special meeting" that is not subject to the same public notice requirements, according to Knight Ridder/Contra Costa Times (Jacobs/Krieger, Knight Ridder/Contra Costa Times, 12/17). The 27 appointed committee members also will be allowed to take their oaths of office.
The original 15-item agenda, which Westly and Angelides issued on Monday, included a discussion of bylaws; location of a headquarters; appointment of a search committee to select an institute president and key advisers; an overview of finances and ethics issues; and details on patent royalties and product licenses (Hall, San Francisco Chronicle, 12/17).
In a statement, Angelides and Westly said, "It's critical that the institute's start-up proceeds as quickly as possible to realize the promise of stem cell research" (Knight Ridder/Contra Costa Times, 12/17).
Lockyer spokesperson Tom Dressler said, "The attorney general did not sign off on the extended agenda" (Washburn, San Diego Union-Tribune, 12/17).
Francke said, "I am very gratified," adding, "This is not something as simple as a city hall meeting. This is something that is unique in the world" (Knight Ridder/Contra Costa Times, 12/17).
Halpern said he was "delighted that (state officials) have accepted the core of my legal argument," adding, "This represents a right-angle turn, which is what was needed. ... The period of secrecy and the promotional orientation which carried through from Nov. 2 is over ... [and ICOC] will have to function as a state agency in public" (San Francisco Chronicle, 12/17).
Summaries of other recent articles related to Proposition 71 appear below.
Orange County Register: The Register on Friday profiled Robert Klein, a Portola Valley real estate developer who chaired and contributed financially to the campaign for Proposition 71. According to the Register, Klein's supporters describe him as a "'dynamo' whose charisma, past public policy work and indefatigable dedication to embryonic stem cell research makes him a natural to head the institute," while his critics say he is an unknown who "seems too perfect for the job," noting that the description of the ideal chair of the institute -- written by Klein and others -- "strongly resembles" Klein's own resume (Saar, Orange County Register, 12/17).
San Diego Union-Tribune: The Union-Tribune on Friday examined how leaders of the state's stem cell initiative will "face the task of correcting the public's often lofty misconceptions about scientific realities" (Lieberman, San Diego Union-Tribune, 12/17).
- USA Today: According to USA Today, a number of states -- including New Jersey, Wisconsin, Illinois, Texas and Wisconsin -- are working to "catch up with California in encouraging stem cell research, with an eye on the prestige and economic benefits that could result," while lawmakers on both sides of the issue in Congress are "gearing up for battles next year" (Kasindorf, USA Today, 12/17).
Proposition 71 is a "highly flawed law" and "[c]oncerns about transparency, accountability and conflicts of interest abound," Francine Coeytaux and Susan Berke Fogel, co-founders of the Pro-Choice Alliance for Responsible Stem Cell Research, write in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece. The top four elected state officials are "stumbling right out of the gate" by unanimously nominating Klein, Coeytaux and Berke Fogel continue.
Coeytaux and Berke Fogel write that "[n]owhere in the initiative does it say that the chair should go to the highest bidder" and Klein's appointment raises the question as to whether "the top job" should be "held by someone with no technical or scientific background whatsoever." Coeytaux and Berke Fogel conclude that Klein should "decline the nomination" and the oversight committee members should "show some independence and not vote for Klein" (Coeytaux/Berke Fogel, Los Angeles Times, 12/17).