Kent Henderson’s Georgia home is a manicured jungle. Fragrant lilies project out of attractive planters in the living room and oversized, split-leaf philodendrons creep up the dining room walls.
But Henderson, a soft-spoken man with a warm smile and a tidy mustache, is no gardener.
The flora, he said, belongs to Mrs. Henderson.
“I’m just trying to keep them alive for the week,” he explained with a chuckle.
Henderson is more of a fauna guy. In his younger days, he was a roving cattle veterinarian, working with farmers to keep their furry friends happy and healthy. Eventually, the physical demands became too much for him, and he was forced to retire.
“Forty-two years as a cattle veterinarian takes a toll on you,” he said.
Now, Henderson continues to serve his community in other ways. On September 15, Gov. Phil Scott announced the appointment of Henderson and over 150 other Vermonters to various statewide boards and commissions. Henderson was reappointed to the Livestock Care Standards Advisory Council, a position he’s held for a number of years.
Henderson and his fellow appointees are civilian volunteers. But as members of state boards, the recommendations they make can affect state policy.
Rachel Feldman, director of boards and commissions for the governor’s office, said the state employs over 180 of these boards to inform policy decisions and manage the state’s affairs.
The most prominent ones, like the liquor board or parole board, are easily recognized. Feldman said some boards, mandated by archaic statutes, are so obscure, legislators forget they exist and create a new, redundant board to solve very similar problems.
This web might seem dizzying, but even the most obscure boards serve a valuable purpose, Feldman explained, regulating professions or studying items in legislative bills.
Henderson said the livestock committee was created toward the end of Gov. Jim Douglas’ administration, when reports of inhumane treatment of veal calves at a slaughterhouse in Grand Isle caused a public outcry. Douglas’ response was to form a citizen committee to help advise legislators and develop policy.
“We were charged to take a scientific approach,” Henderson said, “to have our work based on science and not just innate feelings.”
According to the committee’s founding statute, it must be chaired by the state veterinarian and comprised of civilian experts who represent human societies and large and small farms.
Besides the state veterinarian, none of the committee members are government officials and have no regulatory power of their own – rather, they serve in an advisory capacity, counseling legislators on best practices and specific agricultural issues.
But these civilian volunteers hold a lot of sway: The average legislator has a limited understanding of proper livestock management and even less freedom to research a specific issue in the field. As a result, Henderson said, the LCSAC is held in high regard by lawmakers, who rely on its reports and recommendations to pass policy.
For Milton resident Tom Frank, being part of a state advisory committee allows him to share his experience with people who could benefit from it most.
Frank, a longtime civil-servant and advocate for people with visual impairments, was reappointed to the State Rehabilitation Council for the Blind & Visually Impaired and was newly appointed to the Vermont Board of Libraries, the Governor’s Office announced in the September 15 press release.
Among other services, the former committee provides rehabilitation services, vocational training and job-placement services to blind Vermonters.
“Being legally blind myself, I wanted to support that,” Frank said.
Frank said he began to lose his eyesight at age 21 while serving in the Army. Because his eyesight deteriorated gradually, he said, he adapted to the changes as they occurred.
“I was able to build up my skills over years,” he said. “You also have people who are 45 and all of a sudden, through an accident, diabetes, glaucoma, they lose their eyesight. They might be highly skilled individuals, but now they’re unemployed. What do they do? They go to the [Vermont] Division for the Blind.”
Despite Frank being a volunteer, Feldman said, the services his board provides have a tremendous impact on the state.
“They really are so important as both a group of subject matter experts as well as people with hands-on experience. They’re also an important resource for the blind community. They’re very much listened to. All of our boards are very much listened to,” she said.
That ability to impact the community on a state level is what drew Frank to public service.
“I want to make a difference,” he said. “I don’t want to sit at home and twiddle my thumbs, I want to make a difference. You can only have value if you’re valuable to someone else.”