This year the Kansas Bioscience Authority has come under scrutiny for a variety of reasons, including salaries, bonuses, and expenses paid by the authority. Especially troubling is revelation that money we all thought would be invested in Kansas businesses had no such requirement, as can be seen in this video of CEO Tom Thornton. Dion Lefler of the Wichita Eagle has other reporting on the KBA.
The problem with public-private partnerships like the KBA is that they are, in one sense, expected to operate like a private business, but they don’t have the freedom to operate as such. They also don’t have the same motivations and incentives that guide true private enterprise, namely profit and loss. Instead, we see agencies like KBA reporting their impact in terms of “return on investment.” For example, KBA claims: “Including estimated wages of jobs, that represents a $9.41 return to the state’s economy for each $1 invested by the KBA!” This “investment” by the KBA is nothing like the investments that business and individuals make.
Kansas Senate Leadership needs to answer for KBA protection
First the good news.
Kansas Bioscience Authority (KBA) CEO Tom Thornton resigned under pressure today.
Much credit goes to Gov. Sam Brownback and especially Sen. Susan Wagle who brought to public attention a slew of conflict of interest and other inappropriate behavior by Thornton and others at the KBA.
It is of little surprise the Johnson County District Attorney’s office is investigating the KBA. Wagle is totally vindicated and Kansas taxpayers owe her a big debt of gratitude.
Now the bad news.
From what we know so far, what’s happened at the KBA is a textbook case of what not to do at a public agency.
Thornton’s wife was receiving a $107,000 salary as an administrative assistant. The state of Kansas paid for a $1 million life insurance policy for Thornton’s ex-wife. The KBA invested $50 million to venture firms out of state with little oversight. The KBA invested in companies whose executives couldn’t be located by state officials. Many people in the know said an investigation of KBA and Thornton was “long overdue” and the KBA offices in Olathe were a “shrine” to Thornton.
And this is someone being praised and protected key members of Senate Leadership, President Steve Morris and John Vratil? Just last month Morris said he was 100 percent behind the ousted KBA leader. Morris recently said that the KBA was an “icon for the state.”
What planet do these guys live on?
Vratil and Morris sat in the hearings conducted by Wagle, certainly as a show of support for Thornton and for disdain for Wagle and much-needed oversight of KBA.
The protection given Thornton by Senate leadership even after his resignation today is astonishing.
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?
That’s the 800-pound rat in the middle of the room that’s eaten some bad Danish cheese.
Kansans are waiting are waiting for answers.