Olathe A high-powered struggle between Gov. Sam Brownback and the Kansas Bioscience Authority exploded into public view on Friday.
Brownback demanded that the KBA, which has been hit by allegations from a state senator and is apparently under investigation by the Johnson County District Attorney’s office, submit to a “forensic” audit.
Brownback, a Republican, also wanted to have his team “observe” all actions, activities and records at the economic development agency. He set a 3 p.m. deadline for an answer.
In a hastily called meeting, the KBA board of directors, led by former Gov. John Carlin, a Democrat, agreed to the audit.
Then Carlin sent an e-mail to Brownback and said that any observers from Brownback’s administration would have to agree to maintain the integrity of confidential business records regarding companies that receive grants from the KBA. The authority is charged with investing $581 million in tax dollars to develop the bioscience industry in Kansas.
That brought a sharply worded news release from Brownback.
“Now they say observers may only see what the KBA wants them to see, and auditors can only look at what the KBA wants them to look at. That is not effective oversight,” Brownback said.
“This does nothing to satisfy the public’s or the administration’s legitimate concerns,” he said.
Carlin responded that he didn’t want to get into a back-and-forth with Brownback.
“We are not trying to delay anything. We will demonstrate that we are serious and it (the forensic audit) will be done right,” he said.
Sen. Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, who is chairwoman of the Senate Commerce Committee, has held several hearings during which she has criticized the KBA’s President and Chief Executive Officer Tom Thornton.
Recently, she accused him of having conflicts of interest by serving on an Illinois economic development panel and chairing an Illinois political action committee. But Thornton has said Wagle has her facts wrong -- he stopped serving in those capacities more than 10 years ago, years before he came to the KBA in 2006.
The Johnson County District Attorney's office has issued several subpoenas to employees at the KBA but investigators have refused to comment on what they are looking into. Both Carlin and Thornton have said they don’t know what the investigation is about.
Several Senate leaders, Republican and Democratic, have said Wagle’s inquiry has gone out of bounds.
Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka has said that Brownback is trying to take control of the KBA.
Brownback has denied the allegation. In a letter dated Thursday, he said his administration has been working with the KBA for more than a month, asking that a forensic audit be done. The KBA had maintained that it is regularly audited and been given a clean record.