Archive for Thursday, December 27, 2007

Branson forwards second Deciphera complaint to AG

Political advocacy group’s questions center on Johnson, Hack

December 27, 2007


Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson is forwarding a new round of complaints about the controversial Deciphera Pharmaceuticals deal to the Kansas Attorney General's office.

Branson announced this afternoon that he's asked the Attorney General's office to investigate alleged conflicts of interests involving Mayor Sue Hack and County Commissioner Bob Johnson. Both Hack and Johnson own more than $5,000 worth of stock in the Lawrence-based start-up company, but a local citizens group alleges that they illegally participated in the crafting of an incentives package designed to keep Deciphera in town.

This will be the second investigation the Attorney General's office has conducted in regard to the Deciphera deal. Earlier this month, Attorney General Paul Morrison found that the City Commission had violated a portion of the state's open meetings act by conducting a closed-door executive session to discuss the deal.

Those open meeting complaints originally were sent to Branson's office, but he forwarded them to the Attorney General's office because he wanted the investigation to be free of any questions of impropriety or favoritism. This afternoon, Branson said it made sense for the Attorney General to continue the investigation.

"When I initially forwarded concerns about violations of the Kansas Open Meetings Act to the Attorney General's Office, they agreed to accept responsibility of all related questions," Branson said in a statement.

Both Hack and Johnson ultimately abstained from voting on the incentives package, which could be worth about $1 million to Deciphera over a 10-year period. But members of Grassroots Action, a Lawrence political advocacy group, have alleged Hack and Johnson still participated in discussions they should have recused themselves from.

Hack and Johnson have both denied they did anything to try personally enrich themselves, and have said their only interest in the deal was to keep a promising employer in the city.

An attempt to reach a spokeswoman at the Attorney General's office to determine a timeline for the office to deal with the matter was unsuccessful.


kujeeper 10 years, 2 months ago

Why can't these stupid Grassroots hippies shut up?! Why do they want to derail efforts to make Lawrence better? The AG already looked at this once...

Baille 10 years, 2 months ago

The Deciphera deal looks to be good for Lawrence; however, whatever benefits it will bring to our community pale when compared to the benefit of an open and transparent government free from corruption and self-serving politicians. Natural consequences can be harsh, but an honest and thorough independent examination of what Hack, Johnson, and the rest of them did should not endanger this project. On the other hand the chance that it might should not terminate the investigation. Hopefully, this debacle will teach the commissioners to follow the law in every instance.

fetch 10 years, 2 months ago

Everybody can foam all they want. Do you want to "invest" in Deciphera, well, call them up and write your checks.....get in on this great investment deal. I am sure they will take your checks. .. Bioscience start-ups are high risk. And this one is no different. Could it hit? Sure! And Lawrence and the economy would benefit.

Could it bomb? yup.

I vote on our Mayor and others to continue to "invest" on these start-ups.

All the noise about self-interest can and will be solved by better rules about all of this. The Mayor screwed up, but this is a mutual screw up, and I am sure the conflict of interest rules will be increasingly followed.

Meanwhile, all the perverts here who complain about things can put-up or shut-up.

It aint Rocket Science. It is exactly trying to keep Lawrence attracting the correct type of job.....despite all the chamber of commerce - jabbing which goes on.

Including you Merrill!


camper 10 years, 2 months ago

I don't know for sure if we can invest in Deciphera in the same way. To my knowledge nothing has been released about the timing or the price paid for these investments.

I also thought Deciphera was a privately held company. I am not sure investing in such a corporation can be done as easily as a publicly traded company.

Godot 10 years, 2 months ago

By continually handing this off to the AG, Branson is as much as admitting that he had knowledge of this deal before it went down. And/or, he is so afraid to rock the boat that he is incapable of doing his job.

Ragingbear 10 years, 2 months ago

No, Branson did the right thing. He made sure that since it was the city's political system being examined, that nobody in that system would be in charge of overseeing it. Kinda like when the Cops in Internal Affairs clear officers of shooting a 5 year old 50 times in the back because they thought he was going for a weapon.

pace 10 years, 2 months ago

Questions. Did Sue Hack recuse herself from the discussion and voting on the city's contract with the chamber? I am amazed if she didn't , Everyone involved should of known that would be a conflict since that is her primary employer. Corliss is an attorney. I don't suspect corruption, I do feel pretty sure this is one bungled mess. Sue Hack should resign or she should communicate frankly.

camper 10 years, 2 months ago

I agree with Ragingbear. I also take slight exception to comparing this to complaining. Political corruption is always possible. Local governments probably have the loosest controls of almost any organization I can think of.

I have second hand knowledge, don't hold me to it, of certain county commissioners in another city who readily took money under the table and they would do no business unless one acquiesced. At the time I thought Wow! Unbelievable! Never thought about it much until this Deciphera debacle.

I hope this thing blows over though because I take no pleasure in reading about it. While conflict of interest is hard to define, in my heart of hearts I believe the officials had somewhat of a "pet project" that they believed in and wanted to see thru...for the benefit of Lawrence. I hope this is the case.

But I don't think you can call concerned citizens complaniners. If you have a moment go to Wilkipedia and search "political corruption". There is a reason why these things should be looked into.

ASBESTOS 10 years, 2 months ago

Just remember OREAD LABORATORIES, and how much money that sucked out of the State and the city.

Is David Kimbrel involved in this?

Grump 10 years, 2 months ago

Branson, as a district attorney, is an officer and employee of the state, not the county, and certainly not the city. I don't see his conflict.

Nonsense 10 years, 2 months ago

He gets his funding from the County - even as a state employee. Why not remove any issues for someone to complain about later?

Richard Heckler 10 years, 2 months ago

  1. At the Douglas County Commission meeting on Oct. 24, 2007, when the County Commission considered, and approved, Deciphera's incentive package, Commissioner Bob Johnson presided over and participated actively in the discussion of Deciphera's proposal. Though Johnson abstained from the vote, he defended Deciphera's incentive package during the meeting (as revealed by the minutes) and said that, if allowed, he would vote for this incentive package (as reported by the Lawrence Journal-World).

Since Johnson acknowledges an $8,200 financial stake in Deciphera, we regard his participation in the County Commission's deliberations on this matter as an apparent violation of K.S.A. 75-4304, which forbids official participation by local governmental officers or employees in the making of a contract with any business in which the officer or employee has a substantial interest.

  1. Bob Johnson also apparently attended a meeting with Lawrence Mayor Sue Hack, City Manager Dave Corliss, and Chamber of Commerce president Lavern Squier, among others which discussed Deciphera's tax break on the afternoon of the very same day that the City Commission held its illegal closed meeting (9/20/07). According to a recently released email by a participant, the two meetings that day (the City Commission's executive session, followed by the "afternoon group") produced an effective "consensus" in favor of granting Deciphera public incentives including a tax break. Again, given Bob Johnson's financial interest in Deciphera, his participation in this meeting (with City and Chamber officials) appears to have been unlawful.

  2. Sue Hack's role in forging the "consensus" at the two meetings on 9/20/07 also appears to have violated Conflict of Interest laws. When she filed the legally required form disclosing her significant financial interest in Deciphera in November 2007 which she had earlier failed to do, in violation of state law this financial interest was revealed to exceed $5,000. So Hack's participation in these and other meetings on Deciphera (if any) also appears to have been illegal.

texburgh 10 years, 2 months ago

This needs further investigation if for no other reason than to teach future commissioners - and the chamber of commerce - to obey the law.

The meeting where this deal was made violated the open meetings act. We know that. The Commissioners violated the law.

Hack failed to report her own interest in Deciphera. That was wrong and she should face some punishment.

Hack further participated in the meeting, discussing the deal. Given her financial interest in Deciphera, that was illegal. She should face some punishment.

Laverne was in an executive session of the Commission. Not being a Commissioner, that is wrong. Laverne should know better. The chamber at the very least owes an apology to the community for working to suppress democracy by negotiating deals in secret.

Hack should do the city a favor and resign. It is high time for her to admit to failing to uphold the public trust.

The Commission should stop using the Chamber to do their economic development work. Since when does it make sense for the representative of business to be the city's representative when negotiating with businesses. Most people call that "the fox guarding the henhouse."

How I long for the days when the US really practiced representative democracy.

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