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Archive for Friday, April 15, 2011

Tom Thornton resigns from Kansas Bioscience Authority

Governor remains sharply critical, even as others praise Thornton’s leadership

April 15, 2011, 10:50 a.m. Updated April 15, 2011, 4:06 p.m.

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Tom Thornton resigned as Kansas Bioscience Authority's CEO Friday, April 15, 2011, during an investigation of the agency. Top KBA officials say the investigation by the Johnson County district attorney is a response to legislative criticism that they say is unwarranted.

Tom Thornton resigned as Kansas Bioscience Authority's CEO Friday, April 15, 2011, during an investigation of the agency. Top KBA officials say the investigation by the Johnson County district attorney is a response to legislative criticism that they say is unwarranted.

— The leader of a high-profile economic development agency resigned Friday in the face of a criminal investigation and criticism from Gov. Sam Brownback.

But Tom Thornton’s sudden departure as president and chief executive officer of the Kansas Bioscience Authority didn’t stop Brownback’s attack on the KBA’s leadership.

Brownback called for an “independently overseen forensic audit of KBA,” and a new president and CEO “who has no ties to the current regime.” Last week, the KBA agreed to hire a firm to conduct a forensic audit, but Brownback has said he still isn’t satisfied.

Thornton silent

Thornton, the first and only president and CEO of the KBA, gave no reason for leaving the $265,000 per year job. He was hired in 2006 to lead Kansas’ bioscience development efforts, but has been under fire for several months. Funded through tax dollars collected from the payrolls of existing companies, the KBA is responsible for spending $581 million to lure bioscience companies and research to the state.

Sen. Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, and chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, criticized Thornton’s salary and bonuses. During committee hearings, Wagle alleged Thornton had conflicts of interest in his agency dealings. Also questions were raised about Thornton’s wife who also had worked at the agency and made more than $100,000 per year.

KBA officials, led by board chairman John Carlin, a former Democratic Kansas governor, defended Thornton’s salary as appropriate for the job, and said Wagle’s accusations of conflicts of interest were based on incorrect information.

Wagle then revealed that the Johnson County District Attorney’s Office was conducting an investigation into the KBA. Prosecutors have refused to comment on what is being looked at.

Again, KBA officials said the agency had done nothing wrong but then Brownback, a Republican, stepped into the fray, criticizing the agency.

Legislators supported Thornton

Despite Brownback’s statements, Thornton has enjoyed bi-partisan support from legislative leaders, who have said his efforts were instrumental in helping Kansas land the $650 million National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility.

Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, Vice President John Vratil, R-Leawood, and Senate Majority Leader Jay Emler, R-Lindsborg, each released statements on Friday praising Thornton’s leadership.

“Tom Thornton has raised the Kansas Bioscience Authority to its status as one of the shining lights in Kansas, a program that has become the envy of other states,” said Morris.

The Kansas chapter of Americans for Prosperity weighed in, blasting Thornton and Senate Republican leaders who have defended him. Americans for Prosperity was founded by billionaire David Koch, leader of Wichita-based Koch Industries, and is a major sponsor of the Tea Party movement.

“The protection given Thornton by Senate leadership even after his resignation today is astonishing,” said Alan Cobb, vice president of state operations with Americans for Prosperity. “The question is what else is being hidden and why are Morris and Vratil so willing to fall on their swords for Thornton and his corrupt behavior.”

Vranicar named interim CEO

Thornton’s resignation announcement came after a KBA board meeting on Friday.

David Vranicar, who has been president of the KBA’s commercialization arm, was named the agency’s interim president and chief executive officer.

“The state can be rightfully proud of the organization Tom helped build,” board chairman Carlin said in a prepared statement.

“He assembled and guided a stellar team of professionals who represent an innovative, independent agency that is envied by many other states across the nation. Tom will remain in contact, which will be helpful to us in the transition process. We are grateful for his service and wish him well in his future endeavors,” Carlin said.

On Friday, Sen. Wagle said Thornton’s resignation “resolves only one of the problems my committee has been addressing.”

She declined to provide more details, citing the criminal investigation.

“There is clearly a problem within the agency,” she said. “We have a lot more questions.”

Wagle’s Commerce Committee is scheduled to continue meetings on the KBA when the Legislature returns to session on April 27.

In his resignation letter to Carlin, Thornton said, “The KBA is hailed across the country as a model for bioscience development and the envy of other states.”

Thornton reviewed some of the KBA’s accomplishments, including helping secure the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, which will be built in Manhattan. He said Kansas has become positioned as an international leader in animal health research, while gaining national recognition in drug and bio-energy research.

He did not give a reason for his resignation and ended the letter with the state’s motto: “Ad astra per aspera,” which means “To the stars through difficulties.”

No severance deal

Wagle said she wanted to know how much Thornton’s severance package would cost taxpayers.

In an interview with the Journal-World, Carlin said there was no severance package, and that pay to Thornton ended Friday.

When asked why Thornton resigned, Carlin said he didn’t feel “comfortable” commenting on that. He said Thornton has another employment opportunity that may be announced later. Carlin said Thornton was in high demand. “I’m not surprised that somebody else is going to be wanting his services,” he said.

Democratic legislators have said Brownback wants control over the KBA, an allegation that the governor has said isn’t true. Carlin declined to speculate.

“The governor has certainly shared some thoughts and concerns, but the focus right now is getting these rumors cleared up,” Carlin said.

Carlin said the board would probably hold off starting a search for a permanent president and CEO until after the audit and investigation have been completed. He said he had full confidence in the KBA’s staff.

“One of the good things is Tom put a great team together,” he said.

Comments

UNIKU 3 years, 3 months ago

Why resign if you didn't do anything wrong? Telling. And seriously? A top exec doing an interview in a restaurant - looks like a Shhhpangleshhh? Sounds like he had something to hide.

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bad_dog 3 years, 3 months ago

Why? Perhaps he's just tired of dealing with all the negativity and politicization?

Time will tell whether this is a "Blubaugh" style resignation...

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haggisgirl 3 years, 3 months ago

Why should he stay around? There are plenty of states/organizations that would love to have him. Its too bad he had to deal with the lies and rumors spread by government officials. Good luck, Tom. And thanks for a job well done. Some of us appreciated what you were doing.

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redmoonrising 3 years, 3 months ago

Read closer. His salary and wife's equal $365,000.

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Brock Masters 3 years, 3 months ago

Nah, he got 265 plus a 100K bonus.

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Joe Blackford II 3 years, 3 months ago

KBA is laundering tax $ to bring NBAF to KS to a select circle of Col/Dr David Franz' friends.

Google: ivins Franz NBAF search for Ivins on .dhs.gov EIS pdf

Recall that KSU has never mentioned its direct connection to the enablers of the ANTHRAX MAILER.

Look up Wefald & NutriJoy for a primer on NISTAC ethics.

Ask yourself how security @ NBAF would be so tight as to prevent an employee from leaving with a viral or bacterial terrorist sample.

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Alceste 3 years, 3 months ago

It's not particularly "telling" of anything except the guy was fed up with Kansas nonsense.

Granted, he's paid way too much money and the fact his wife was employed by the same joint didn't help anything.

However, Brownback will simply replace him with a patronage job for one of his own with a similar pay and benefit package, and it'll be back to business as usual in no time. They're a LOT of ward heel political hacks who are needing high paying do nothing slots and Brownback's doing his best to get them into jobs.....just take a look at the SRS "secretary".

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 3 months ago

There's almost surely a good number of eco-devo shell games going on at KBA. Republicans are just looking to make sure that they and their benefactors are the primary recipients of said shell games.

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notanota 3 years, 3 months ago

No. Aside from the fact that he'd get nowhere near his salary on unemployment, you're not eligible to collect any if you resign.

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DeMontfort 3 years, 3 months ago

Not true. Read up on these things before you post nonsense.

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notanota 3 years, 3 months ago

You should follow your own advice:

Voluntarily Leaving (Quit) K.S.A. 44-706 (a)

"You are not eligible for unemployment benefits if you voluntarily quit your job without good cause, effective the day after your separation, and continuing until you become re-employed and have insured earnings of at least three times your weekly benefit amount (WBA)."

There are a few exceptions, but I doubt any of them apply in this situation. And I am absolutely correct that he would get nowhere near $350k a year worth of bennies even if he did leave for cause.

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yourworstnightmare 3 years, 3 months ago

No detailed accusations or information yet. Still looks like a political witch hunt.

Brownback and Wagle are simply making broad hints at wrong doing with no specifics.

If I recall, this is also how Clay Blair left the KBA, under a cloud of suspicion with no hard data or accusations. None of these was ever continued after Blair left.

My guess is all of these accusations against Thornton will cease once Brownback and Wagle have placed their people in the KBA, and we will never hear of Thornton again related to these matters.

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sciencegeek 3 years, 3 months ago

"My guess is all of these accusations against Thornton will cease once Brownback and Wagle have placed their people in the KBA"

Wjile that would defintiely go along with the governmental takeover strategy in place since January, there is one other possible motive behind this withch hunt. It is, after all, the BioSCIENCE Authority, and anything involving SCIENCE, and hence requiring rational, objective thought, is not to be trusted. In the case of Wagle the Wingnut, thought of any kind is anathema.

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Jimo 3 years, 3 months ago

Once again, who in the heck would ever invest in Kansas?

Bioscience just died in Kansas after a sudden eruption of Wagle-itis followed by Brownback-mylasia. Bioscience is survived by out-of-state relatives Knowledge Gates of Nebraska and Job Sopportunitese of Missouri. In lieu of sunflowers, family ask any memorial donations be made to the non-Kansas Department of Revenue of your choice.

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Richard Heckler 3 years, 3 months ago

I'd be okay if this authority were terminated.

BUT send my tax dollars back to me NOT to Wagle or Brownback. These two certainly cannot be trusted!!!

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mdlund0 3 years, 3 months ago

The KBA is not funded by your tax dollars.

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DeMontfort 3 years, 3 months ago

FWIW, some of your friends are employed by companies that receive funds from KBA. Be careful what you wish for.

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throwdown_wallet 3 years, 3 months ago

I'm sad to see that Tom Thorton was pushed out. I'm afraid it gets Brownback one step closer to taking control of the KBA. I would say that Susan Wagle should be ashamed of herself for drumming up this witch hunt; however, she has done little to make me believe that she is actually sane, so expecting her to feel normal human emotions may be asking too much.

I worry that all this political grandstanding combined with a governor who doesn't believe in evolution will scare off any firms who are considering coming to Kansas. Our state did not need this.

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Joe Blackford II 3 years, 3 months ago

Our state DOES not need NBAF. IF you want it, please move it to Lawrence, the germs are not as likely to swim upstream.

Let them make The Day After 2: NBAF leaks in Lawrence.

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mdlund0 3 years, 3 months ago

Wagle is merely Brownback's tool of destruction. Do not think for a second that she is capable of these actions on her own. Once Brownback and the Koch bros. have their people running the KBA, you'll never hear from Wagle again either.

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Joe Blackford II 3 years, 3 months ago

She didn't reply to my email, providing all members of the Senate Commerce Committee links for the numerous conflicts of interest among those pushing for the NBAF in KS.

I'm more concerned about the continuous subterfuge for the NBAF in KS, it's highly unlikely that Kansans will be hired to work there.

http://www.niar.wichita.edu/profile/index.asp

It's my understanding that WSU's National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR) told the KBA to take a flying leap when it asked for more & more documentation. NIAR's contracts have made it self-sustaining, & no longer sucking the KBA &/or Govt. teat(s).

The NBAF & BRI @ KSU were designed to be perpetual leeches on the DHS & USDA teats; eventually rupturing a deadly disease & switching to the EPA Super Fund Teat.

IF some snake oil salesman has sold you a share of an NBAF spew-off, good for him, some of the people can be fooled all the time.

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booklover2 3 years, 3 months ago

Whether Tom Thornton actually has done anything shady or not, I don't know. But, I just hate the fact that Susan Wagle played a part in ousting him. The current administration seems to be on a witch hunt and I don't like seeing things being played out in their favor.

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Bob_Keeshan 3 years, 3 months ago

Thornton has clearly been recruited by another state eager to grow its economies and attract high paying jobs.

Well played, Brownback.

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yourworstnightmare 3 years, 3 months ago

Brownback is employing his Muscle Mystics and Spirit Mystics to handle the economy and society, respectively.

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dabbindan 3 years, 3 months ago

no fan of brownback and most republicans but... lots of money involved. he hired his wife. wouldn't be shocked to see improprieties discovered.

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Bradley Kemp 3 years, 3 months ago

He did not hire his wife. He hired a woman with whom he fell in love over the course of a couple of years. They got married, and she quit.

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BigPrune 3 years, 3 months ago

This guy and the KBA take credit where credit is not due, National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility my *ss. Thank our representatives in D.C. for that one.

What's that old Harry Truman saying? If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Resignation.

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Flap Doodle 3 years, 3 months ago

Interesting, however the tsunami seems to have been around 30 feet (not meters) high and a high-end project for sea level rise by 2100 is 37 inches. "..In 1995 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report which contained various projections of the sea level change by the year 2100. They estimate that the sea will rise 50 centimeters (20 inches) with the lowest estimates at 15 centimeters (6 inches) and the highest at 95 centimeters (37 inches)...." http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/earth/geophysics/question473.htm But don't let a little thing like getting inches, feet and meters all mixed up keep you from making a good rant.

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Uhlrick_Hetfield_III 3 years, 3 months ago

I really thought that no one could put a more corrupt administration than Bill Graves, but Kathleen Sebelius succeeded mightily. This is just another one of her legacies. And, "Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, Vice President John Vratil, R-Leawood, and Senate Majority Leader Jay Emler, R-Lindsborg, each released statements on Friday praising Thornton’s leadership" this is a complement? Those are the worst legislators this state has to offer. Can the Democratic Party not find an honest candidate to run against Morris and Vratil? Is there anyone who hasn't figured out how slimy they are?

It's unfortunate that Mark Parkinson didn't run for re-election (or wasn't governor the whole time instead of Governor Roundheels) Democrats would have had far more to be proud of.

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Bob Reinsch 3 years, 3 months ago

You can bet that the new head of the KBA will be rubber stamped with Koch brothers' seal of approval. Whereas the KBA had asked CIBOR for results before giving them another handout, now you can expect KBA to funnel millions to Wichita. Once again, welcome to Kansas, a division of Koch Industries.

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Jan Rolls 3 years, 3 months ago

Why not investigate sam's deal with AT&T since he is so worried about corruption? He received over $80,000 in contributions from them and the next thing you know they get a new deal to get more money from us. Needs to be be investigated.

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pace 3 years, 3 months ago

I quit one job because I didn't want my name and word tarnished by a drunken criminal type. Brownback is turning the KBI into a personal goon squad. They will probably be losing men and women who can't stomach their work being turned from one of law to one of secret services for low political maneuvers.

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RKLOG 3 years, 3 months ago

Our elected Republicans are quickly replacing the tornado as the most fierce and unaccountable natural destructive force in Kansas.

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