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Face facts: Institute needs an overhaul

While driving up to the Organizational Session of the Florida House of Representatives last week as a guest of Speaker Marco Rubio, I got a good chuckle reading the Times' rambling diatribe on the Byrd Alzheimer's Institute. It was like old times again.

Fortunately, as President Reagan was fond of pointing out, "Facts are stubborn things." And the facts cry out for some real changes at the Byrd Institute.

As a preface, the Johnnie B. Byrd Sr. Alzheimer's Institute exists because the Legislature intended to accelerate the research that will lead to the prevention and cure of Alzheimer's disease. This is done through a $15-million annual appropriation to the Byrd Institute for research by scientists who work for or receive grants from the institute. Thus, the more spent on bureaucracy, the less spent on research, and vice versa.

The Byrd Institute board performs its oversight through its officers and various committees, such as the management and finance committees upon which I serve. (By the way, the only fact in your editorial, i.e. that Dempsey Barron's widow was on our board, was wrong.)

As a member of the Byrd Institute board, I bear a portion of the fiscal and policy responsibility for that mission and cannot abdicate those fiduciary duties.

I was recently appointed treasurer of the institute, and in examining the books of the institute, I found some troubling facts: Taxpayer dollars allocated for Alzheimer's research paid more than $200,000 per year for an in-house lobbyist; paying $10,000-20,000 per month to a cadre of outside lobbyists and a public relations firm; paying $15,000 for a "personal coach" for a $150,000-plus-per-year administrator; proposing to pay a consultant $50,000 to analyze why more pay raises would be good for the growing bureaucracy; the payment of fringe benefits for administrators that far exceed any paid in the public or private sector; and the staff traveling far and wide, London, Spain, etc., on the public tab.

I also discovered that the institute had paid over a quarter of a million taxpayer dollars to fund research in Finland and spent an additional $30,000-plus to promote the research worldwide. A year later, the research was abruptly terminated without any real explanation to the board, such as whether any intellectual property rights or promising research was acquired for the expenditure. Despite repeated requests to our CEO and a public records request, I have received nothing from our administration on this problem.

At my request, the institute management committee recommended an administrative overhaul to reduce the bureaucracy and increase research spending. Obviously, top administrators seek to resist any changes and have taken this debate public in an attempt to dissuade the board from action.

I believe the facts support a new management structure versed in best management practices - scientists doing science and a lean, clean management structure to move the process along. This is the modern way - managing the research process, not just hoping for synergy.

At any rate, if we can't rein in the Byrd Institute bureaucracy, I agree that the delivery system for these precious taxpayer research dollars should be re-examined by the next Legislature.

I bet the Legislature will choose managed research over personal coaches!

Former state House Speaker Johnnie Byrd lives in Plant City.