Archive for Friday, March 4, 2011

Senator calls Kansas Bioscience Authority spending ‘very flagrant in a time of need’; board chairman defends expenses

March 4, 2011


— Stays at the Ritz-Carlton, limo rides and a million-dollar life insurance policy were among the Kansas Bioscience Authority’s expenses that had the Senate Commerce Committee asking questions Friday morning.

In its third hearing on KBA spending, the state committee continued to grill the KBA about staff salaries, bonuses and expenses — CEO and President Tom Thornton’s in particular.

“It just seemed very flagrant in a time of need,” committee chairwoman Sen. Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, said.

Wagle is asking for an audit of the agency, and the Commerce Committee has proposed a bill that would change how the KBA is governed.

Among Wagle’s concerns was a letter sent by Melissa Lynch, the former executive assistant of Tom Thornton. Lynch, who in 2006 was the first employee other than Thornton hired to operate the KBA, wrote that she left after 16 months because she was uncomfortable “with how things were being handled and the unethical actions of Tom Thornton and the waste of taxpayer money.”

In her letter to the committee, Lynch said that while at the KBA she paid Thornton’s personal bills, picked up his children’s nanny and negotiated and purchased a Toyota Camry for his personal use.

The letter also included details of Thornton’s $1 million life insurance policy for which the board agreed to pay premiums.

Thornton said Lynch, who wasn’t at Friday’s meeting, was terminated for cause. He also said those bills were paid from his personal bank account and that his contract, which included the life insurance policy, was approved by the board. Thornton’s salary is at $265,000 a year. He received a $100,000 bonus last year, and another $43,000 is spent on insurance and retirement benefits.

KBA board chairman and former Kansas Gov. John Carlin defended Thornton, saying he came with the experience of having worked for a former U.S. speaker of the House and an Illinois technology development organization .

Carlin credited Thornton for the state landing the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility.

“He understood instantly how to put a plan together to make that possible. I don’t think we had anyone else,” Carlin said. “We don’t have too many that have the experience he had.”

Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, said he was bothered by how the KBA traveled, including nights at the Ritz-Carlton and limousine service. He asked Carlin if he signed off on that spending.

“We approve of that level if it is appropriate for what is being done,” Carlin responded. “We deal with folks who travel in those circles and, consequently, from time to time, yes, we have to do something that a lot of us Kansans, including myself, would say that is a little beyond what is necessary.”

After the meeting, Carlin said those costs were associated with a trip to Washington, D.C. The KBA chose the hotel because a meeting was being held there. The limo service was used to transport a large group of people and was cheaper than paying for multiple cab rides.

Much of Friday’s hearing was spent with the KBA defending the need to spend more than $2 million to employ a staff of 21.

More than half of the staff makes more than $100,000, and last year $206,500 was handed out in employee bonuses.

“We have to pay the salaries to attract the talent and to retain the talent to get the job done,” Carlin said.

Next Friday, the Commerce Committee will discuss a forensic audit of the KBA.


tunahelper 7 years, 1 month ago

the Kansas Bioscience Authority is necessary and we definately need the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan. clean up the corruption and get to work!

haggisgirl 7 years, 1 month ago

Sounds like a disgruntled former employee.

blindrabbit 7 years, 1 month ago

If there are accountability problems with KBA (which sounds like there may be) why should we Kansans cover up the problem. If there is some embarrassment, then so be it; two wrongs don't make a right. I'm not sure the NABF is a good idea here anyway; there was some reason it has been located in at remote non-agricultural (Plum Island, New York) area where a release of toxins and biologicals could be more easily controlled. Remember what happened in Britain and Europe when Hoof and Mouth disease got away from them several years ago; it nearly wiped out the livestock industry.

susieparker 7 years, 1 month ago

The former employee states that she resigned because she was uncomfortable with "unethical practices" by Tom Thornton. How is that being a disgruntled employee? Congratulations to Senator Wagle for having the guts to go against the status quo by covering up government waste. I haven't seen it mentioned anywhere, but the KBA also employs Thornton's new (much younger) wife who just happens to be Senator Kit Bond's niece. Last year she was paid $107,000 with a $5,000 bonus to be the KBA's "Director of Special Projects". What exactly is that? The Kansas City Business Journal has an interesting article.

Bob_Keeshan 7 years, 1 month ago

Indeed, this is an interesting article.

In this article, former House Maj. Leader Ray Merrick says this is much ado about nothing. Ray Merrick is as conservative a Republican as there is.

Sorry, Sen. Wagle, everyone is onto your game. Folks have tried to earmark KBA money for go-nowhere projects in the past, and it lead to actual corruption. See Simons, Dolph.

The only thing to see here is Sen. Wagle and her pursuit of pork spending in her district.

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