Rounding out a quorum at stem cell meeting

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Plagued yet again by the problem of a lack of a quorum, California’s stem cell oversight committee Tuesday evening coped in an unusual way. The board, known as the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee, essentially drafted a member from the audience.

Assembling a quorum for the 29-member ICOC is never easy. It’s comprised largely of high-powered academic and industry representatives. Moreover, Proposition 71 requires a super-majority. A quorum is 19 members.

Organizers had expected that number and it looked to most observers that the threshold had been reached. There were 19 people around the table at Stanford University’s McCaw Hall in the Arrillaga Alumni Center.

The only catch was that two came from Cedars Sinai. Both regular board member Ricardo Azziz and his alternate, Donald Dafoe were there. Only one could count for a quorum and vote.

Nineteen members had been expected, but last minute illness and other complications shrunk the number in attendance.

So the meeting progressed, with all issues being discussed and no votes taken.

Then as the board broke for dinner, Jacob E. Levin, Director of Research Development at UC Irvine, who was in the audience, asked Board Executive Director Melissa King what was necessary to serve as an alternate member.

His boss, board member Dr. Susan Bryant, was one of those who was unable to attend. Under the ICOC’s rules, board members from universities and research institutions may appoint alternates if they can’t make it. The designee must be an executive of the university or institution.

The lawyers determined Levin met the requirements, staff caught up with Dr. Bryant by phone, who agreed Levin could be her designate and after dinner the board got down to business. Chairman Bob Klein noted that Levin had been present for all the agenda items that had been discussed.

For what it’s worth, I volunteered to be drafted to the board, but for some reason folks just smiled.

On a serious side this demonstrates the dangers of getting what you wish for. Proposition 71 was written with super-majority requirements because its authors feared opponents of stem cell research would somehow infiltrate and manage to muster a simple majority and thwart the agency’s goals. In fact the quorum requirements have all too frequently hamstrung the board, its subcommittees and the agencies "working groups."

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