Basalt provides eye-opener for visitors in professional exchange
The weather in May guaranteed that two women on an international professional-exchange program had a memorial experience in Basalt and the upper Roaring Fork Valley.
But Prasongchaikul “Aroon” Aroonporn of Thailand and Joanne Constantino-Flestado of the Philippines said learning about local governing and citizen activism also made their trip worthwhile.
They immersed themselves in local government and culture throughout May, sandwiched between a week of orientation and wrap-up in Washington, D.C. They were among 225 professional fellows visiting a variety of states through an exchange arranged by the International City/County Management Association. Basalt Town Manager Mike Scanlon and Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock have hosted fellows in recent years.
The women’s trip was supposed to be punctuated by a group visit with President Barack Obama today. They were thrilled by that prospect and said Friday they were advised to have two questions each prepared for the president in case he called on them.
Constantino-Flestado is a licensed forester in the Philippines, so she soaked up any experience possible in the outdoors. She and Aroonporn visited the Maroon Bells, checked out the North Star Nature Preserve and hiked Light Hill in the midvalley.
Constantino-Flestado will remember her hikes because they nearly killed her, she quipped. The women had to adjust to the elevation. Neither had seen snow before arriving in the Roaring Fork Valley.
“We describe it as ‘crazy weather’ because it changes too fast,” Constantino-Flestado said.
Another thrill was seeing a young bear run past the window of their office in Basalt Town Hall. Constantino-Flestado took hundreds of photographs during her month in the valley and ran after the bear for a shot.
Aroonporn is in public management with the Thai government with a focus on local housing policy. She wanted to learn more about sustainable practices, active citizen engagement and environmental issues.
The women had an almost steady diet of interaction with local government agencies — from learning about the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s bus operations to touring the Pitkin County Landfill.
Both women were impressed by the amount of materials diverted out of the waste stream. In the Philippines, people might scavenge materials out of the garbage before it goes to the dump, but everything that arrives at the landfill gets buried, Constantino-Flestado said.
Other surprises for them: the Eagle and Pitkin County programs to buy private property and preserve it as open space, the general concern about water and air quality and the media coverage of local government actions and the efforts of local governments to provide information to their constituents.
Aroonporn said there hasn’t been much discussion about how to combat climate change in Thailand, but more people are becoming aware of it simply because rising ocean levels pose such a threat in a country with so much coastal area.
Aroonporn was intrigued by the caucus system that Pitkin County uses to incorporate neighborhood opinions into policy. Policy-making is top-down from the national government in Thailand, she said.
Constantino-Flestado said she learned that it can’t be assumed that local government officials know everything. They have to trust the people they are working with. She said she learned sustainable governing, where government seeks a balance among people, planet and prosperity.
Both women said they were a bit homesick and particularly missed their native foods. They were amazed by the portions of food served in the U.S.
Both women said they believe they learned techniques and practices that will help them govern better in their home countries.
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