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Institute's board will discuss structure

After several weeks of trading comments in the newspapers, leaders of the Johnnie B. Byrd, Sr. Alzheimer's Center and Research Institute will meet face to face tonight to discuss a major restructuring of the center's executive staff.

At the center of the controversial proposal is former state House Speaker Johnnie B. Byrd Jr., who presided over the House when lawmakers created the institute, and chief executive officer Huntington Potter, the former Harvard researcher who runs it.

Board members will discuss and may vote on Byrd's proposal to replace Potter with a business executive and to make other cuts to the staff. Byrd, the volunteer board's treasurer, first raised the idea last month, saying the institute was spending to much on administrative costs and not enough on research.

Byrd could not be reached Wednesday.

But Potter said he was confident the board will decide to keep a scientist at the helm of the institute, which will receive $15-million a year from the state for the next four years.

"The person has to be a research scientist," Potter said. There's no precedent for having a nonscientist run a research institute, he said. The CEO of H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute in Tampa, for example, is both a medical doctor and a research physician. The president and CEO of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., is a medical doctor, as is the president of the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif.

Potter said he has an alternative plan to offer that would keep a scientist as the CEO of the Byrd Institute but would restructure some other positions. He declined to give details, saying he had not yet discussed his proposal with board members.

Byrd has been accused of trying to control too much of the institute that bear's his father's name, and he has endured newspaper editorials calling for him to step down from the board.

Earlier this year, as a condition of funding the center over the next four years, state lawmakers changed the board from a self-appointing one to a group selected by the Senate president, House speaker and the governor. Although at least three board members are close to Byrd, it's unclear which way a majority of members would vote on his proposal.