Former House Speaker Johnnie B. Byrd Jr.'s scorched-earth brand of politics long undermined the health of the Alzheimer's research center he established with public money in his father's name. But the announcement that the University of South Florida would take over management should put the center on firmer ground and enable its leaders to focus on science rather than politics.
The Byrd center board embraced a deal that enables USF medical school dean Stephen Klasko to become the center's CEO. The move is a reversal from only months ago when Byrd, with the help of House Speaker Marco Rubio, killed a legislative proposal to move the center under USF's umbrella. Byrd argued then that folding the center under USF would weaken its profile and threaten its financial viability. But the move was about Byrd protecting what he considers his turf. Putting some distance between the former speaker and the institute should help end the appetite for score-settling in Tallahassee.
The benefits go beyond the political. USF has strong programs in aging and health, added facilities to share and rich resources in attracting sponsored research and world-class academics. Combining what the institute and USF have to offer will make the research function more efficient. That is more important than ever in this slow economy and with recognized centers of excellence key to communities attracting quality growth and jobs. Having the dean as CEO will expand the center's access to scientific, marketing and funding opportunities.
The details of the governance change will not be made final until August. Byrd and Klasko both insist that money intended for the center will go toward Alzheimer's research. The university should ensure that Byrd does not get lost in the shuffle of USF's bureaucracy. The university has nothing to gain by cannibalizing a research center with such a high profile and worthy purpose. This is a good chance to make the center more accountable and bring a new era to the institute's name.