It appears there is a serious effort to try to raise suspicion concerning the activities and practices of the Kansas Bioscience Authority, its chairman, Clay Blair, and/or other individuals serving as trustees of the authority.
A recent Kansas City news story carried the headline "Bioscience agency paid chief's firm," with a deck headline stating "Money was for office services and travel expenses before and after a CEO was hired." The story reported on reimbursement payments received by Blair to cover office expenses and travel and asked whether Blair had profited from his role as KBA chairman. This idea was shot down, however, with all KBA executive committee members contacted by the writer being high in their praise of the Johnson County businessman's actions and policies.
Blair was elected chairman of the KBA soon after it was created by the Kansas Legislature in 2002. At that time, there was no office, no staff, no anything, just Blair and other board members. This writer was and is a member of that board.
Blair committed almost two years to representing the KBA throughout the country, calling on leaders of prospective companies that might be interested in moving their facilities to Kansas. His office staff provided all the necessary services, and he devoted the majority of his time, with no compensation, to spreading the word about the funding available from KBA and selling Kansas as the ideal location for those in the bioscience field.
All of his actions were approved by members of the group's executive committee. From the time the KBA was created, the importance of being "squeaky clean" in every activity was stressed time and time again.
It wasn't until fairly recently that an individual was hired to serve as president. Others had been considered for the post; a search firm was employed to scour the country to find the right individual; and, finally, Tom Thornton was hired to fill the office. During these two years, Blair carried the weight of the office and the performance of the KBA on his shoulders.
During this period, the KBA - primarily Blair - helped bring six new companies to Kansas: Prescription Solutions and Quintiles to Overland Park, Hospira to McPherson, American Ingredients and OncImmune to Lenexa and IdentiGen to Lawrence. The KBA has been involved in supporting four additional bioscience efforts and in community development partnerships with several Kansas communities.
Those experienced in the business of attracting new employers, new jobs and increased revenues for the state say the state's bioscience results are excellent - and that Blair's services were a tremendous asset obtained at a bargain price.
Nevertheless, it is clear some critics want to raise suspicions. A few years ago, Blair served as chairman of the Kansas Board of Regents. He was a strong leader who wanted performance measurements for Regents institutions and those leading the schools. In fact, he was an excellent chairman - so good that Gov. Bill Graves would not reappoint him. Perhaps Blair left some scars and those bearing those scars now are trying to get even.
There are former state legislators who do not agree with Blair. Maybe they are trying to tarnish his record.
The city of Olathe recently gave 100 acres of prime real estate to the KBA to bring in bioscience-type industry that would provide good, well-paying jobs to keep young people in Olathe rather than losing them to other parts of the country. With the enthusiastic approval of Olathe officials, the KBA gave 40 of the 100 acres to Kansas State University. Maybe some at Kansas University were upset by having a K-State presence so close to Mount Oread.
If this is the case, it should be remembered that Blair gave the state 40 prime acres in Johnson County for what is now KU's Edwards Campus.
Maybe raw politics, egos or jealousies are involved with someone in Topeka, possibly a defeated office seeker or someone carrying a grudge trying to soil Blair's image and reputation. Maybe it's someone who thinks his or her own efforts to attract business and industry are not getting enough attention.
Rather than spending their time trying to distort Blair's record, they ought to be spending more time trying to do a better job themselves.
It is expected there will be more stories sometime soon questioning Blair's actions or trying to raise suspicions, but the record of the KBA, its success in attracting more than 3,000 new well-paying jobs to Kansas and the likelihood of other companies Blair has recruited eventually coming to Kansas provides an excellent record of Blair's hard and effective efforts on behalf of Kansas.
Unfortunately, this will not stop those who, for whatever reason, want to tarnish Blair and the KBA with suspicion of questionable actions.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this column misstated the identity of the governor who did not re-appoint Clay Blair to the Kansas Board of Regents.