Alabama spay-neuter clinic veterinarian appointed to controversial ASBVME
It’s safe to say that virtually everyone with a stake in the highly publicized, political and controversial debate on the role of low-cost spay-neuter clinics in Alabama was, at the very least, surprised when Gov. Robert Bentley appointed the newest members of the Alabama State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners (ASBVME). Even the most notable appointee herself, Margaret Ferrell, DVM, says she did not expect the call.
Ferrell is the veterinarian at the Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic in Birmingham—the same clinic that has been embroiled in battle with the ASBVME for years. In fact, her appointment comes on the heels of an administrative hearing for the clinic’s veterinary owner of record, William Weber, DVM, whom the board found guilty on five counts against the state Veterinary Practice Act. He has since filed an appeal with the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit Court in Montgomery, Ala.
Ferrell’s appointment is not only of interest because she practices at Alabama Spay/Neuter, but because she too was served with an administrative complaint by the very board on which the Governor appointed her to serve. The 33-page administrative complaint is similar to Weber’s complaint—mainly claiming violations of the practice act regarding non-veterinary ownership, but it goes as far as charging her with incompetence and gross negligence; accusations she says were hurtful. Still, the Governor, who Ferrell says knew of the complaint before his decision, appointed her to the board.
“She is well qualified and brings a wealth of knowldege and experience to the board,” Gov. Bentley’s communications director, Jennifer Ardis says of the Governor’s decision to appoint Ferrell. “Obviously, he was aware of the complaint, but chose to move forward. He has a good deal of respect for her—she is well qualified.”
Longtime Alabama veterinarian H. Winston Pirtle, DVM, past president of the ASBVME and the American Association of Veterinary State Boards, a two-term president of the Alabama Veterinary Medical Association (ALVMA), and a lawyer to boot, says although he doesn’t know the mind of the Governor, one thing is obvious: “The Governor was not scared of her qualifications to be on that board—that complaint did not scare him,” Pirtle says.
Pirtle served on Weber’s legal team during his ASBVME administrative hearing. Some dubbed the drawn-out procedure—which resulted in a $5,000 fine and threatens to revoke Weber’s license—a circus. The board opted not to use an independent judge to run the hearing, but left it to its vice president, Sam Edit, DVM. Pirtle says, “It was uncomfortable to say the least.” He hopes Ferrell’s hearing will be executed more professionally.
Attorney Chris Waller will represent Ferrell at her hearing and it has been reported that recent appointee to the Alabama Ethics Commission attorney James Jerry Wood has been hired by the board to act as Administrative Law Judge for Ferrell’s hearing.
“I honestly don’t know how it’s going to play out,” Ferrell says. She officially introduced herself to the board at its August meeting. The last time Ferrell stood before the board was when she gave her testimony at Weber’s hearing.
Ferrell did not expect to be welcomed, but she says the reception was cordial and professional. Topics stuck to the polite—Ferrell’s new baby and when children would start school.
Ironically, Ferrell will take the seat of Robert Pitman, DVM, outgoing president of the ASBVME, and leader of the push against low-cost spay-neuter clinics. Pitman did not return calls to dvm360 prior to press time. Nor did like-minded former board member Ronald Welch, DVM, who is now retained by the board as a paid consultant. Welch applied for another term on the board this year, but was not recommended by the ALVMA, which provides the Governor with three nominees for each open position on the board.
Ferrell and her fellow appointees, T.C. Branch, DVM, Sandra Guyanne Harris, LVT, and Anne Athey Payne are scheduled to assume their positions Oct. 10. Ferrell’s administrative hearing is set for Oct. 1—just days before.
Ferrell says she was shocked when she read the complaint against her, especially since no one from the board had ever specifically come to the clinic and asked her questions. “I hope it can be cleared up during the hearing,” Ferrell says. “I hope the truth will get out.”
She’s not thrilled to join her peers on the board in the midst of an administrative hearing. “I’m definitely ready to move forward and I look forward to having a good working relationship with them,” Ferrell says. She hopes to get the chance. “If I can help at all with building bridges and opening lines of communication between nonprofit spay-neuter clinics and private practitioners and state legislators too, that would be nice,” she says.
She also hopes to ease some of the tension she believes has been created between the board and veterinarians. “I don’t think you should be afraid of the state board,” Ferrell says. “I want veterinarians to feel like they can come to the board, I want to mend the division across the state. Let’s get this resolved.”
However, she worries a solution to the now years-long debate concerning low-cost services may be years away. Pirtle says legislation may be the only way to settle it. “I’m sure that somebody will provide legislation this coming fall. I just cross my fingers and hope it happens,” he says. “I may be overly optimistic, but I think some people are saying, ‘I’m getting tired of this—let’s get on with life.’
“At 72 years of age, I’d like to leave [the profession] better than when I entered it,” Pirtle says. “I wish I knew how to make it that way.”
He thinks Ferrell’s appointment may signal a change in the tide. “I think she’ll do a good job,” he says. “She’s a real smart lady; a go-getter type, but not an affront to anyone. A real organized person.”
When she does take her place on the board, she may have to recuse herself if her own case comes up.