Gov. Sam Brownback on Friday pushed for more oversight of a state economic development agency that is under investigation.
“I have a number of concerns,” Brownback said of the Kansas Bioscience Authority.
“I support the mission of the KBA,” Brownback said at a news conference, but added, “it has to be done right.”
The KBA is responsible for investing tax dollars to lure bioscience companies and research to Kansas.
In recent weeks, state officials have said the agency is under investigation by the Johnson County District Attorney’s office.
Prosecutors, however, have refused to say what they are looking into. Brownback said he met with the Johnson County district attorney and said he is “concerned,” although Brownback refused to say what his concerns were.
In the past month, the KBA’s president and chief executive officer Tom Thornton resigned and took a job with the prestigious Cleveland Clinic. Prior to that, Thornton had been accused by state Sen. Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, of conflicts of interest. Thornton and KBA board chairman, former Democratic governor John Carlin, denied he had any conflicts.
Legislative leaders — Republican and Democratic — have also defended Thornton, saying he was a good leader at KBA and was integral in helping the state land the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility, to be built in Manhattan.
Brownback had requested that KBA hire auditors to go over the agency’s financial records. The KBA complied, but Brownback has since said that he didn’t think the audit would be independent enough.
Wagle, who is chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, said while the investigation and audit are going on, there has been talk of re-structuring the KBA board to allow university leaders, who currently serve as advisers, to be voting members of the board.
Wagle said the proposal would be temporary and is aimed at making “sure we have oversight of the finances.”
Brownback said he supported such a plan, calling it a “prudent move” for perhaps one year.
Democrats have alleged that Brownback, a Republican, is seeking to get control of the KBA, but Brownback has denied that is the case.