Kansas agriculture secretary blames KBA board for audit issues

Kansas Agriculture Secretary Dale Rodman said on Thursday that the board of directors of the Kansas Bioscience Authority should share some of the blame for issues unveiled in an audit.

Rodman, a major figure in the audits in Governor Sam Brownback's administration, said that a lax board led to issues about spending and perceived conflicts of interest. The audit by BKD Forensic and Valuation Services found various issues with the KBA's operation, including spending decisions by the authority's former CEO, the Associated Press reports.

"If the board had done its job we wouldn't be here today," Rodman said, according to the Associated Press.

Rodman said that the audit showed that the authority invested $200,000 per job created before Tom Thornton became CEO and president of the authority and jumped to $700,000 per job during his tenure. Other spending questions included an $18 million investment in an Olathe office building and Thornton's alleged misuse of approximately $4,700 in KBA funds that he later repaid.

"It's troubling to see that the KBA spent more than $700,000 per job it 'created' while Tom Thornton was its CEO," Sherriene Jones-Sontag, a spokeswoman for the governor, said, according to the Associated Press. "Clearly the audit shows that those who said they had no concerns about Tom Thornton were wrong. It is in every Kansan's interest in seeing that taxpayer money is well-spent and Kansas laws are upheld."

Dan Watkins, the chairman of the authority's board, took exception to the criticisms levied against the board.

"(Rodman is) impugning the integrity and ethics of a good group of people, and it's apparent that he and I read different audit reports," Watkins said, according to the Associated Press. "I think it's obvious that the governor's pursuing a scorched, you know, take-no-prisoners approach until he has control of the operations and the investments of the KBA."

Legislators have also found fault with expenses related to the authority's involvement with the state winning the bid for the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility. The project was awarded to the state by the Department of Homeland Security to be built in Manhattan, Kansas, to research deadly animal and plant pathogens. Construction on the $650 million project is expected to start this year.