Filed today, the suit accuses the city of "trying to hurriedly squelch Dr. Costas and discredit him" after Costas accused fellow BARC vet David Rundell of operating without a controlled-substances registration. Costas also complained that Rundell's superior, former Chief Veterinarian Eunice Ohashiegbula-Iwunze, condoned Rundell's violation. (Rundell resigned in February, after the city took steps to terminate him; Ohashiegbula-Iwunze was fired earlier this month. Both vets were disciplined by the Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners in June.)
In addition to seeking job reinstatement, Costas is seeking "a civil penalty not to exceed $15,000" against Ohashiegbula-Iwunze and Michael Terraso, assistant director of Health and Human Services.
HHS Spokeswoman Kathy Barton told Hair Balls in February that Costas was officially terminated because "his services were no longer needed." But she also said the city had no choice but to fire him because he was missing some credentials. Specifically, the city maintained Costas violated a Texas Department of Public Safety requirement that it interpreted as stating vets must list with DPS all addresses where they handle controlled substances. Costas, who worked at BARC part-time, had listed his primary employer's address with DPS.
The suit also accuses Ohashiegbula-Iwunze of filing a "baseless complaint" against Costas with the state veterinary board. The board found the complaint "not substantiated" in a June 24 notification.
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Hair Balls checked with DPS last February to see if officials there agreed with the city's contention that veterinarians must list "site-specific" addresses for controlled-substances purposes. Jane Ray, of DPS' controlled-substances division told us that "site-specific" only applies to where vets store narcotics -- not to where they handle them.
Another DPS official explained it this way: say a vet working in a rural area is called to a farm to administer a controlled substance to a horse, because the horse cannot be transported a great distance to the vet's office. Per the city's logic, we were told, the vet would have to have the address of the farm registered with DPS before the vet could attend to the horse. Considering the number of rural farms/ranches, it would simply be impractical, we were told.
But who is the DPS to question the City of Houston? After all, the city has clearly demonstrated it knows what it's doing when it comes to BARC, right?