Topeka Former state representative Kenny Wilk, who was the co-author of legislation that established the Kansas Bioscience Authority, said he hopes the controversy surrounding the agency doesn’t damage its mission.
On Friday, Tom Thornton, the KBA’s president and chief executive officer, resigned. The Johnson County District Attorney’s Office is reportedly investigating the agency, a state senator continues to raise questions about spending, and Gov. Sam Brownback has publicly criticized leaders at the KBA.
“It is essential we get to the bottom of the recently raised issues that prompted a criminal investigation,” Brownback said.
Wilk, a Republican who represented Lansing for 16 years in the House before he retired from the Legislature in 2009, said he didn’t want to comment on Thornton’s departure, but added that publicly raised doubts about the KBA “is disappointing to me.”
KBA board chairman John Carlin, a Democratic former governor of Kansas, has defended the agency. He said he doesn’t know what the Johnson County investigation is focused on. The district attorney’s office has refused to comment.
In 2004, Wilk, along with former state senator Nick Jordan, a Republican from Shawnee who is now Brownback’s secretary of revenue, pushed through the Legislature the Kansas Economic Growth Act. It won bipartisan support and allocated $581 million over 10 years to bioscience initiatives.
Wilk said the objective of the legislation was to create a new segment of the Kansas economy.
“We are certainly on track, but we are not done,” he said. “I would hate to see it derailed.”
Wilk, who is now a consultant and led Brownback’s transition team, said he has no interest in Thornton’s former job.
But, he said, he wants to make sure the KBA mission continues. He said he was encouraged that Brownback and legislative leaders still maintain they support the KBA’s goal.