Archive for Saturday, March 26, 2011

Kansas Bioscience Authority deserves closer inspection

March 26, 2011


Has the Kansas Bioscience Authority performed in the manner envisioned by those who drafted the legislation that created the authority or the legislators who approved the unique and creative method to raise money to help attract and recruit bioscience-related industry and business to the state?

The general answer should be a resounding “yes,” but there are many aspects of the KBA operation that raise serious questions and concerns.

This is why state Sen. Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, chairwoman of the Senate Commerce Committee, has held recent hearings on the salaries of KBA President and CEO Tom Thornton and other employees. These hearings also have opened up other questions about the KBA and Thornton’s actions.

The KBA started off well in 2005 and was very successful in attracting new business and new jobs to the state. KBA operated on a lean budget with a small staff and, yet, it was able to attract a number of businesses and generate much interest throughout the country about Kansas as an ideal site for bioscience businesses.

KBA officials also were alert to possibilities of helping existing companies already operating in the state to expand their facilities and add new jobs.

The KBA was so successful it started to attract the attention of then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and some of her political sidekicks. The authority started off as a nonpolitical entity with directors appointed by both Democratic and Republican officeholders and the governor.

Anytime an authority has the potential of handing out close to $580 million, it is bound to be looked upon as a powerful force that can be used for a number of reasons.

Clay Blair, former chairman of the Kansas Board of Regents, an individual deeply involved in efforts to encourage Kansas leaders to be more aggressive in attracting research-based industries, served as the first chairman of the KBA. He was extremely effective but resigned when it became apparent Sebelius and her Democratic cronies wanted to take control of the authority.

With Sebelius’ approval, Democratic members of KBA’s board — former Gov. John Carlin, former Kansas Congressman Dan Glickman, former state Rep. Ed McKechnie and, possibly, Sandra Lawrence — engaged in a phony, backhanded and shameful effort to get rid of Blair. CEO Thornton was one of the most aggressive individuals in trying to push Blair aside.

These individuals wanted to use the KBA as their checkbook and a way to strengthen their position in the state. In many ways, it was similar to Sebelius’ trying, unsuccessfully, to take control of the Kansas University Hospital board.

There were some very close to the situation who acknowledged the effort against Blair was wrong and politically motivated but claimed they couldn’t or wouldn’t do anything about it. They had no courage or backbone.

During its first two years, KBA identified and recruited a number of companies and sold them on the benefits of moving to Kansas. Likewise, the KBA worked with existing Kansas companies helping them to expand their operations.

Today, these companies have a total of 3,500 to 4,000 employees.

A state investigator assigned to determine whether Blair had done anything wrong told this writer, “The persons calling for the investigation are the ones who should be investigated for wrongdoings and their motives, not Blair.”

All this is in the past. How about the present?

Several weeks ago, Sen. Wagle opened hearings about the KBA, its spending habits, high salaries and leadership.

For example, Thornton paid himself a salary of $265,000 last year, plus a bonus of $100,000 plus liberal fringe benefits. He and his wife, also a KBA employee, are paid a total close to $500,000.

His defenders claim he is not overpaid and that he runs a tight ship. These supporters are quick to point to two matters as evidence Thornton is doing a good job and deserves the high salary.

First, KBA Chairman Carlin recently was quoted as saying, “The authority’s dogged determination led to Kansas winning the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility.”

This is baloney!

Sure, KBA dollars were used to pay expenses for trips to Washington, dinners and cocktail parties, limos, etc., but it was the hard and effective work of the Kansas congressional delegation that deserves credit for securing the highly prized facility.

Sen. Pat Roberts was the leading force and, if the state hadn’t had the Pat Roberts building at Kansas State University to offer, free of charge, to the government to use during the transition of the Plum Island facility to Manhattan, NBAF would be located someplace else.

Carlin and other KBA cheerleaders also point to 1,195 new jobs they say were created by KBA investments. (Apparently the jobs created under Blair’s leadership don’t count.)

It would be interesting to know what these 1,195 jobs cost (considering the tens of millions KBA has handed out), over what period these jobs were created, how many have been for positions at KU and KSU and what private businesses have been brought to Kansas.

KBA is a novel and great legislative achievement. It is unfortunate, however, that partisan politics has entered the picture and that KBA leadership has not reflected credit on the authority.

Granted, it has given away millions upon millions of dollars, but this is pretty easy to do. It’s not hard work and such handouts are an easy and effective way to win friends and admirers — and to keep these recipients from raising any questions.

Some say it is wrong to ask questions about the KBA because it might cause the federal government to think about moving NBAF to another state. If there is a delay on the project, it will be due to the critical fiscal situation in the country, not because some are calling for more oversight of the KBA.

It is interesting that some state lawmakers don’t see any need for more or closer oversight of KBA. For example, Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, has praised both the KBA and Thornton, saying he has 100 percent confidence in Thornton.

Wagle’s hearings have focused new attention and concern about the KBA, and it obviously has touched some tender spots with Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, who called Wagle’s hearing a “witch hunt.” He claimed Gov. Brownback, and apparently Wagle, are “determined to undermine the Bioscience Authority and it couldn’t come at a worse time.”

It is believed Wagle plans to hold additional hearings. Also, it is believed she and others are concerned and disappointed it has taken Thornton and his associates so long to provide materials and information requested by the Senate committee. Some have wondered why Thornton has not been more prompt and forthcoming in providing the requested information.

Wagle has opened what appears to be a can of worms, and Thornton, Carlin and their supporters apparently would like to put the lid back on this situation.

At a time when the state is facing severe fiscal constraints, it is difficult to understand why some lawmakers are not applauding Wagle’s effort to make sure there is proper and sufficient oversight of how KBA, under the leadership of Thornton and Carlin, is using more than $500 million of taxpayers’ money.

— The writer of this column served on the original board of directors for KBA and resigned just prior to the end of his first three-year term, indicating he did not wish to be reappointed.


Bob_Keeshan 7 years, 1 month ago

Now here's a real story about the development of the life sciences in Kansas.

Compare that to this latest tirade which is all about "this writer" not being an insider. In "this writer's" mind, that means it is time to run down hard working people who are doing amazing things.

"This writer" may still hold to the old adage of "ink by the barrel," but really "this writer" has cried wolf so many times over the past 10 years that it just doesn't matter anymore.

You may despise economic growth and the development of the life sciences at KU, Mr. Simons, but your negativity won't hold that growth back. You know, your newspaper also does video now. Perhaps you could just film yourself holding "this writer's" breath until "this writer" turns blue, throw in some kicking and screaming for fun.

weeslicket 7 years, 1 month ago

hmmmm...... Q: can "one" make a video using passive voice? A: it is believed not....

Richard Heckler 7 years, 1 month ago

Kansas Bioscience Authority has been a political agenda from day one. There are zero guarantees attached to these big tax dollars.

Gov Brownback is killing jobs in Kansas and I would imagine Susan Wagle may well be standing by his side.

Would Susan Wagle be concerned if it were not for the democratically appointed people being questioned?

I'm not sure Brownback has a grip on smart economics for various reasons such as:

A. Wall Street Bank Fraud on Consumers

B. Bush and Henry Paulson blew the $700 billion of bail out money?

C. Social Security Insurance AT Risk for no reason( This would cost taxpayers $4 trillion, add $700 billion to the debt each of the next 20 years, place taxpayers insurance money at risk and wreck the economy)

Richard Heckler 7 years, 1 month ago

Brownback does not strike me as a man who can be trusted with tax dollars and finance. Did he ever come back to Kansas to warn of the impending financial disasters or did he turn a blind eye pretending all was well?

Taxpayers can only hope the millions upon millions of our tax dollars aka Kansas Bioscience Authority will not ultimatley prove to be a scam on taxpayers. Perhaps it was smelling scam like before Sebelius stepped in?

Instead I say set that money aside in a healthy revenue building account to generate grant/scholarship money for Kansas students to attend 4 year college institutions,JCCC or Vo-Tech schools. Educating our citizens would be the better bang for the buck!

As a taxpayer I believe any large salary attached to Kansas Bioscience Authority money is wasted no matter what political leanings.

I'm all for dumping the Kansas Bioscience Authority because it will always be subjected to politicians who I believe are some to the most uninformed citizens in the USA.

Educating our citizens would be the better bang for the buck!

weeslicket 7 years, 1 month ago

Q: why is this editorial in the news section instead of the opinion section? A: it is believed that mr. simons thinks his opinions are facts.

yourworstnightmare 7 years, 1 month ago

I initially agreed with Mr. Simons and Ms. Wagle that a thorough vetting at the KBA was required.

I now see, however, that it is politically motivated. It is clear that Mr. Simons and many in the GOP are upset with Clay Blair's exit, and believe it was a political scheme by the Governor and her cronies. If I recall, there were some serious allegations of negligence and mismanagement leveled at Blair that were never fully addressed or investigated and were dropped upon his exit.

Mr. Simons and the GOP don't see it that way. Now, they want to use legislative oversight to attack their perceived political opponents. This is silly, unprofessional, childish, and counter productive.

Let's see some real, objective oversight of the KBA, with clear goals and clear problems to address. As it is, I am afraid Mr. Hensley is correct. This has become a political witch hunt.

Very sad. Kansas just can't get it together.

Phillbert 7 years, 1 month ago

If oversight is so important to Dolph then maybe he shouldn't have resigned from the KBA board less than a year into his second term. But it is apparently easier to just lob insults from the sideline than to actually be involved.

Joe Blackford II 7 years ago

Google: Ivins + Franz + NBAF = KBA voting member / DHS Science & Technology Advisor / KSU alum & former head of NABC / USAMRIID commander / MRI VP; who:

1) enabled the 2001 Anthrax Mailer to become the first bio-terrorist.

2) picked his alma mater to be the site of the NBAF.

3) voted to hire Thornton & his wife + exorbitant salaries & bonuses for a BS degree'd PR man to shield Franz' actions from public view.

4) VP of Midwest Research Institute's USAMRIID lab (Dod revolving door job) & will likely have DHS select MRI to run the NBAF (that last is only a prediction, the others are fact).

I gave every member of the Commerce Committee the links to look these facts up themselves. The NBAF will be only as safe & secure as Franz has learned from his mistakes in supervising the Anthrax Mailer, see:

Panel: security check missed clues in anthrax case

Olympics 7 years ago

What a rambling mess of an article. Based on your other writings, you don't have a lot of credibility for reporting or exposing a story. You should of delegated to a real journalist.

Kontum1972 7 years ago

the only place the gov.

has a grip on is u know where!

LegisHater 7 years ago

It's your motives that deserve closer inspection. Clay Blair resigned amidst a growing scandal regarding his multiple conflicts of interest . He was using the KBA as his own personal piggy bank and 'creative ways' to advance his real estate development projects and his cronies.

When that got cleaned up, the KBA hit its stride, got focused and played a key role in the NBAF win, other federal labs and advancing KU's drug programs, and helping young companies like mine grow, attracting capital. These are topics your paper and those nationally have heralded and are producing results all over Kansas.

Now, you say the KBA is political. Nonsense! It's their independence that makes them so novel and effective. You say Sebelius tried to take it over. More nonsense. Brownback supports legislation SB 78 to name his heads of commerce (a car dealer) and revenue (didn't even graduate from college) to run the KBA and bring it under his administration!

As for Wagle, she's on her annual witch hunt and everyone knows it. What she really wants is more money to be spread around to her pet projects like CIBOR. Let's see the results there...let's see salaries and expenditures there, let's see if there are conflicts there.

The KBA is working, read your own news reports. Rather than tear it down for political ends, we need them to support major jobs programs like NBAF and NCI.

Flap Doodle 7 years ago

Could you please get some new links, planet-killer merrill? You're just repeating yourself now with the same drivel from 2009.

BigPrune 7 years ago

Sebelius is as dirty as they come.

quetzal 7 years ago

Get a grip. The KBA's outcomes are on their website. Very respectable, and very precise but not close to the unsubstantiated figures Clay Blair and you state. Perhaps, these are a continuation of the unethical practices that forced Blair to resign? The minutes of the KBAs board meetings are also on their website. They show the board approved Thorton's salary and you voted to approve it, twice. Hardly a case of him setting his own. As for SB 78, Sen. Wagle stated during the committee's vote on the bill that it was proposed and supported by Brownback. So, who's unaccountable? Who's being political? Who lacks integrity? The KBA makes sense and should be held accountable but should not be the subject of wonton distortions.

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