Pitkin County manager Jon Peacock goes to Thailand
Special to The Aspen Times
Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock will spend two weeks of July in Thailand — not drinking beer on a white-sand beach but as a fellowship recipient in a government exchange program.
Peacock begins his educational journey July 12 when he flies to the Thai capital, Bangkok, spending his days in orientation classes to get familiar with Thailand’s constitutional-monarchy system and the relationship of the federal government to local entities. After a week in Bangkok, he’ll travel north to the mountainous region of Chiang Mai, where he’ll experience firsthand some of the challenges that Thai officials are grappling with. Peacock is scheduled to return July 28.
The trip is supposed to be a two-way exchange, with the Thais learning from the Americans and vice versa.
In April, Thai fellows visited Basalt and other U.S. municipalities, and Peacock’s trip is an outgrowth of that visit. Peacock will travel with another fellow, a community relations manager from Tulsa, Okla., who hosted a Thai group in April.
Pitkin County will pay for Peacock’s time while he’s abroad, but all other costs will be borne by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, which organizes the fellowship program in cooperation with the International City/County Management Association.
Despite huge differences between the U.S. and Thai systems of government, the two societies are wrestling with similar problems. For example, Peacock said, Pitkin County has a strategic goal of expanding cellular and broadband service to rural areas. He hopes to learn something from Thai officials, who might be farther along this particular path than their American counterparts.
“Thailand has put out a plan to have 90 to 95 percent of rural areas covered by 2020,” Peacock said. “I suspect there will be lessons there that I can bring back.”
Part of Peacock’s mission is to deliver some kind of community presentation about the trip when he returns.
Another theme of the trip will be building sustainable communities, Peacock said, a subject “near and dear to the hearts of people in our community.” Though popular with trekking tourists, Chiang Mai also has been deforested. Thai officials are exploring ecotourism and other ways of developing an economy to support residents and restore damaged areas.
“It’s going to be interesting to see how they go about that issue,” he said. “My understanding is one of the things Thailand is going through is figuring out how to decentralize certain duties and authorities from the central government to local government, such as land-use planning. … If decision-making is decentralized, then they’ll have to engage local citizens in decision-making.”
Citizen engagement and decentralized government is something Americans, with their deliberately stratified federal, state and local governments, know very well.
“They’re going through a lot of the same things we are, but in a different governance structure,” Peacock said.
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