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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

RKLOG 3 years ago

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

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pace 3 years 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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Jan Rolls 3 years 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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edjayhawk 3 years ago

Wow, mentioning something like recalling Susan Wagle deserves to be removed? Dolph must be in bed with her.

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Bob Reinsch 3 years 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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edjayhawk 3 years ago

What would it take to recall Susan Wagle?

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Uhlrick_Hetfield_III 3 years 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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Les Blevins 3 years ago

I think it would be worth millions of dollars to Kansas to stop NBAF from coming to Kansas. Whoever set KBA's priorities has done a disservice to Kansas and the world. For about 10% of KBA's endowment Kansas could have empowered humanity to avoid the worst of global warming and the sea rise of 30 meters it will produce. Japan has just seen what a sudden30 meter Tsunami looks like and because we are not addressing global warming the world will see what a slow 30 meter sea rise looks like.

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BigPrune 3 years 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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dabbindan 3 years 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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yourworstnightmare 3 years ago

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

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edjayhawk 3 years ago

What would we need to do to recall Susan Wagle?

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Paul R Getto 3 years ago

Muscular Sam, "I am the man, I am." Now the witches are hunting unicorns as the billionaires play in the sun. I tend to agree; it will settle down once Muscular Jesus tells the governor whom to hire.

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Bob_Keeshan 3 years 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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booklover2 3 years 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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throwdown_wallet 3 years 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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Richard Heckler 3 years 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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Jimo 3 years 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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yourworstnightmare 3 years 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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seeker_of_truth 3 years ago

Think he simply got tired of that mindless, obnoxious,clueless broad from Wichita.

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oneeye_wilbur 3 years ago

Does this mean there is a new job opening and another on the unemployed list? I'm sure he has made enough money to be 'laid off' for a while.

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years 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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UNIKU 3 years 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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