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Idaho drops state veterinarian legislation

Article

Boise, Idaho — The Idaho State Department of Agriculture plans to shelve legislation that critics say would have demoted the state veterinarian's status in an attempt to cement the position.

BOISE, IDAHO — The Idaho State Department of Agriculture plans to shelve legislation that critics say would have demoted the state veterinarian's status in an attempt to cement the position.

There is no official state veterinarian according to Idaho code, yet officials' effort to outline the job has met widespread opposition from the Idaho Veterinary Medical Association (IVMA) and agricultural groups. It's even led to the departure of Dr. Clarence Siroky, Idaho's former state veterinarian.

Initially, plans were underway to ignore a statutory directive stating the administrator of the department's Division of Animal Industries should be a DVM. The move attempted to split administrative duties from the state veterinarian's role, reportedly downgrading the animal health expert's rank and position.

While department officials could not be reached for comment by presstime, Pat Takasugi, director of the Idaho Department of Agriculture, echoes his desire to split the animal health job from the division's daily administrative duties. "However, several industry groups have asked us to do additional work on the mechanics of this proposal," he says.

The state's leading animal health expert can't properly manage the division's 47 employees, agriculture department spokesman Wayne Hoffman told DVM Newsmagazine prior to officials' decision to table the measure. He says technicalities of how the new state veterinarian's role will fall on the organizational chart have not been addressed.

"If there is an avian influenza outbreak, we need to be able to say that our state veterinarian was working on avian influenza 100 percent," Hoffman says. "At the same time we have a functioning division in the department. He cannot devote 100 percent of his time to administer the position and 100 percent of his time to administer health."

Showing concern

While Hoffman insists, "We're listening to all the stakeholders involved," IVMA wants a seat at the table. Board Chairman Dr. Jim England chalks Siroky's departure up to "in-house politics no one understands."

"I believe there is a very good consensus that the state veterinarian should not report to a mid-level administrator but to the director and the governor," he says. "We've got state veterinarians around the country pretty concerned, especially when we've got brucellosis in our cow herds. The state veterinarian has to be able to make decisions immediately, and that means not reporting to someone who's not a veterinarian until he gets to the top of the heap."

Hoffman suspects a series of meetings on the subject will continue throughout 2006 and end with new language brought before the Legislature next year.

Behind closed doors

Prior to the delay, director Takasugi reportedly assigned former State Veterinarian Siroky the task of authoring legislative language for his own position's demotion. In an interview with DVM Newsmagazine, the longtime government DVM, who also served as Montana and Wisconsin state veterinarian, says emerging diseases have elevated the job's status, affording the position higher levels of power and influence.

That doesn't sit well with career politicians, he says.

"They aren't concerned about issues; they're concerned about power, acceptance, visibility, etc.," Siroky says. "This position shouldn't have that kind of political vulnerability. In-your-face jealously made my job a hostile work environment. I went to the governor several times. Finally, I just had enough."

While Hoffman refuses to comment on personnel issues, he insists there's a "very good" work environment at the department. "We have half a dozen veterinarians here, and they're a pretty important part of our staff," he says.

New blood

For now, dairy management consultant Dr. Greg Ledbetter prepares to lead the troops. Recently named the state's interim state veterinarian/Division of Animal Industries administrator, he plans to spend at least six months on the job serving the public as well as agricultural interests. The 28-year veteran of the private sector shuns controversy and plans to run the office as it currently exists.

"I don't know what the issues were, and I have no interest in figuring them out," he says. "Right now, it's critical I receive all the help I can get. I hope to be able to offer my perspectives. It's phenomenal what the livestock industry means in this state."

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