Outcry As Stem-Cell Agency Puts Chairman On The Payroll
The board of California’s state stem-cell agency has voted to pay its
chairman a salary, even as the state plunges deeper into financial
Robert Klein, architect of the ballot initiative that led to the
creation of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM),
is a real-estate developer who has chaired CIRM’s board without pay
since the agency was conceived in 2004. On 10 December, the board
decided to give Klein $150,000 a year for his work, defining his role
as a half-time position.
The vote took place on the same day that governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
described the state’s growing budget shortfall — almost $15 billion for
the current fiscal year — as a potential "financial Armageddon". On 4
December, Schwarzenegger had sent a letter to CIRM’s board expressing
"deep concern" about the plan to award salaries to its chairman and
vice-chairman. "I urge you to ensure that compensation for these
positions is offered only if and to the extent absolutely necessary to
implement its mission," Schwarzenegger wrote.
But Klein said last year that he needed the salary owing to the bad
economic climate, leading CIRM to conduct a survey and set the salary
range for Klein’s position with an upper limit of about $500,000 a
year. Some, such as John Simpson of the taxpayer’s group Consumer
Watchdog in Santa Monica, had objected to that figure, pointing out
that the director of the National Institutes of Health makes about
$200,000 a year.
Simpson called the salary agreed by the board last week "at the high
end of reasonable," and said that Klein will have new responsibilities:
"Now that Klein is taking a salary he must truly act like a state
employee, something he’s not always done in the past." For instance,
while chairman, Klein vilified state senator Deborah Ortiz (Democrat)
and served as head of an advocacy organization, Americans for Cures,
that attacked another lawmaker, Sheila Kuehl (Democrat). He has since
resigned as president of that organization.
Klein’s salary also raises issues about the board’s vice-chair
position. That open slot was previously held by Ed Penhoet, a
businessman who took no compensation. Two competing candidates for the
job have been nominated. One, Art Torres, leader of the state’s
Democratic party, requires a salary; the other, Duane Roth, is already
on the CIRM board and would not need a salary. The position could be
worth up to $332,000 a year.
Klein’s term is set to expire in 2010; he has said he won’t be seeking
to extend it, but in the past also said he would serve just three years.