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Despite difficulty mustering a quorum the stem agency's Governance Subcommittee Wednesday approved a 66 percent increase in a contract with its outside legal counsel, Remcho, Johansen and Purcell.

The contract for 2007-2008 had been $250,000. The committee increased the pact $165,000 to $415,000 for the fiscal year that ends on June 30.

I told the committee that I wasn't disparaging James Harrison, the member of the Remcho firm who works with the agency, but wondered why the need for outside counsel had increased when the agency had hired a staff counsel.

Tamar Pachter, a former deputy attorney general, was hired at $160,000 as staff counsel. After 10 months on the job she got a raise to $225,000, making more than the California Attorney General.

Stem Cell Agency Chairman Bob Klein said Remcho billed the additional hours because of Harrison's work on the agency's first bond sale, efforts to negotiate discounts in the grant awards to build research facilities and added involvement in vetting Requests for Applications (RFAs) for grants.

I suggested that retroactively approving the increase was bad policy. Klein said the item was on the agenda for an earlier planned governance committee meeting, but the session was canceled.

He said that Harrison ran up the additional billable hours at the law firm's risk, though I can't imagine the agency would have refused to pay.

The committee finally approved the increase unanimously, but it wasn't a pretty process.  The group lacked a quorum and couldn't  take a vote.  Dr. Phil Pizzo was scheduled to join the telephonic meeting half an hour late, at 3:30 p.m. However, when he got on the conference call at 3:40 p.m, Dr. Claire Pomeroy was gone.  She was said to be on a call with the UC president and couldn't get off that call.

The solution? The committee went into a planned closed executive session to discuss personnel matters. When Dr. Pomeroy became available about  4:15 p.m., the public conference call was reconvened and the vote taken.

There really ought to be easier way to do this.