Tom Thornton’s sudden resignation as president and CEO of the Kansas Bioscience Authority is sure to generate much fingerpointing in an effort to blame this or that person for Thornton’s departure.
The one true fact is that the KBA is a unique, visionary creation of the Kansas Legislature, and it has the potential to play a tremendous role in the Kansas economy.
Whether Thornton was the right man to lead this effort is debatable. Whether he and/or board members engaged in questionable policies and actions is up in the air. KBA Chairman John Carlin is quick to say Thornton and board members were responsible for getting the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility located at Manhattan and Kansas State University. This is a giant overstatement. Also, there is unanimity among many with whom Thornton worked that his manner often was offensive, arrogant and uncommunicative.
At the request of Gov. Sam Brownback, KBA officials have contracted with the accounting firm of BKD to perform a forensic audit in order to try to prove there have not been any questionable fiscal actions by Thornton or board members. This is the same firm that handled the recent audit of the Kansas University athletic department ticket scam. Some question whether the BKD action at LI was a true audit or a mere review.
Many observers also believe the public should know whether KBA placed a cap on the fee BKD would receive, which could limit the scope of the audit. They also are interested in the identity of the lead auditor and his or her past experience.
Many supporters of Thornton have said they believe the KBA/Thornton question was fueled by Brownback, who wanted to take control of the body. Maybe some of those making this charge were aware of how former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius did, indeed, try to take over the KU Hospital board and how she injected herself into the KBA board.
Brownback makes it clear he has no desire to control the KBA but he does say he wants to make sure there is proper stewardship of state taxpayer dollars. Apparently, there are sufficient questions relative to this that Johnson County officials have issued subpoenas to individuals seeking more information about possible questionable actions.
Thornton, Carlin and board members have handed out millions of dollars, which is one way to win friends and admirers. Also, it’s almost guaranteed to win defenders.
The KBA, the authority itself is great for the state, but there appears to be reason to question Thornton’s leadership, as well as board actions and the defense of Thornton by former Gov. Carlin.
In order to protect the KBA and not handicap what this authority can do for the state, this unfortunate situation should be clear ups as soon as possible.