Santa Monica, CA — Frequently facing difficulties mustering a quorum for meetings, California’s stem cell oversight board has five members who showed up for 40 percent or fewer of regular board meetings so far this year, an analysis of attendance records by Consumer Watchdog found. The nonpartisan, nonprofit consumer group said members unable to attend regular sessions should step aside to allow people who can participate in deliberations to be appointed.
"Being a member of the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee (ICOC) is hard work and requires a serious commitment,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Stem Cell Project director. "Patients hoping for stem cell cures rightly expect 100 percent commitment by board members. If they can’t do that, the fair thing for everyone is to step aside."
The meeting minutes analyzed actually understate the attendance problem because a member is marked present if they are only at part of a session.
"At this month’s ICOC meeting Chairman Bob Klein was urging members to act quickly because the board would lose a quorum in 25 minutes. That’s no way to make substantive decisions affecting a $6 billion program," said Simpson.
Complicating the task of mustering a quorum is the supermajority required under Proposition 71. Instead of a simple majority, two-thirds, or 19 members, of the 29-person board are required.
This year seven ICOC meetings are scheduled. Six of them are two-day sessions. Five have been held. To help planning for next year, a schedule of the ICOC’s regular meetings was posted on the CIRM website Wednesday. It also calls for seven meetings, six of them two-day sessions. This year’s meeting schedule was also available far in advance.
"When you know what’s expected this far ahead," said Simpson, "there really is no excuse for flagrant absenteeism."
The worst attendance records for the five meetings this year, according to ICOC minutes, are: Marsha Chandler, executive vice president and chief operating officer, Salk Institute, an executive from a California Research Institute (20 percent); Jonathan Shestack, founder & vice president, Cure Autism Now, patient advocate mental health (20 percent); Tina S. Nova, president and CEO of Genoptix, executive officer of a commercial life science entity (40 percent) and Marcy Feit, president and CEO Valley Care Health Systems, patient advocate Type II Diabetes, (40 percent).
John Reed, president and CEO of the Burnham Institute, an executive officer from a California Research Institute, has attended no meetings since December. He recused himself from all ICOC deliberations pending the outcome of an investigation by the state ethics board into charges that he improperly tried to influence the awarding of a grant to a researcher affiliated with his institute. The investigation by the Fair Political Practices Commission was requested by Consumer Watchdog and State Controller John Chiang.
Under Proposition 71, which created the state stem cell agency, members who hold their seats because they are representatives of universities, research institutes and life sciences entities may designate an executive from their organization to represent them at meetings. There is no provision for patient advocate ICOC members to send a designee. Some academic board members take full advantage of the provision allowing designees to represent them.
Robert Birgeneau, chancellor of UC Berkeley, an executive officer from a California University, has attended no ICOC meetings this year, sending Robert Price in his place. Nonetheless, Consumer Watchdog’s analysis credits Birgeneau with 100 percent attendance because his seat on the board was represented at every meeting. Another member taking advantage this ability was Ricardo Azziz, chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Cedars-Sinai, an executive officer from a California Research Institute, who sent Donald Dafoe to four meetings while attending one himself and half of another.
"With this ability to send a representative, there is no excuse for a seat held by an academic or industry representative to go unrepresented at a meeting that’s scheduled at a minimum six months in advance," said Simpson.
Consumer Watchdog analyzed attendance records for all members of the ICOC since 2006. There were six regular meetings in 2006, seven in 2007 and five so far this year. Not included in the analysis were five special meetings conducted by telephone conference call focused on hiring a new president. There were a total of 18 regular meetings over the period analyzed. Not all were members the entire time. Shestack with 28 percent and Chandler with 43 percent emerged with the worst attendance rate records over the longer time period.
Here’s a look at attendance by member (or designee) including the number of meetings they were eligible to attend and the rate of attendance:
Ricardo Azziz — 14 of 14 — 100 percent
David Baltimore — 10 of 10 — 100 percent
Robert Birgeneau — 16 of 18 — 89 percent
Keith L. Black — 2 of 2 — 100 percent
Floyd Bloom — 6 of 6 — 100 percent
David Brenner — 11 of 11 — 100 percent
Susan Bryant — 17 of 18 — 94 percent
Marsha Chandler — 3 of 7 — 43 percent
Marcy Feit — 12 of 18 — 67 percent
Michael Friedman — 15 of 18 — 83 percent
Leeza Gibbons — 5 of 6 — 83 percent
Michael Goldberg — 13 of 18 — 72 percent
Brian E. Henderson — 14 of 15 — 93 percent
Edward Holmes — 4 of 6 — 67 percent
David Kessler — 10 of 13 — 77 percent
Robert Klein — 18 of 18 — 100 percent
Sherry Lansing — 16 of 18 — 89 percent
Gerald Levey — 11 of 18 — 61 percent
Ted Love — 15 of 18 — 83 percent
Richard Murphy — 5 of 10 — 50 percent
Tina Nova — 10 of 18 — 56 percent
Ed Penhoet — 16 of 18 — 89 percent
Philip Pizzo — 17 of 18 — 94 percent
Claire Pomeroy — 17 of 18 — 94 percent
Francisco Prieto — 15 of 18 — 83 percent
John Reed — 9 of 18 — 50 percent (Recused himself during ethics probe)
Duane Roth — 16 of 16 — 100 percent
Joan Samuelson — 12 of 18 — 67 percent
David Serrano Sewell — 15 of 18 — 83 percent
Jeff Sheehy — 15 of 18 — 83 percent
Jonathan Shestack — 5 of 18 — 28 percent
Oswald Steward — 16 of 18 — 89 percent
Leon Thal — 6 of 6 — 100 percent
Janet Wright — 15 of 15 — 100 percent
Consumer Watchdog’s Stem Cell Oversight and Accountability Project is working to ensure that California’s landmark stem cell research program offers accessible and affordable cures and treatments to the taxpayers who have funded it. The program will sell $3 billion in bonds over a decade to fund stem cell research. Financing charges mean the project, the largest source of stem cell research funding in the world, will cost California taxpayers $6 billion.
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Consumer Watchdog is California’s leading nonprofit and nonpartisan consumer watchdog group. For more information visit us on the web at: www.ConsumerWatchdog.org.