Meeting minutes from 1st Board Meeting 24/01/2021

Hey everyone, here are the notes from the 1st ORBTS Board meeting. During the meeting a couple of people signed in. That is okay, we are an open and transparent organization. General members are always invited to come log in with us. We will give you time toward the end to ask questions, make policy statements, or just tell us what you are thinking. 

We started off with introductions. One board member had trouble logging into the meeting. We will see to that before our next meeting in about a month. 

I informed the Board regarding progress toward becoming a tax exempt nonprofit. Our paperwork goes off to the Arkansas Secretary of State this coming week. After the Secretary does their research and grants us corporate status, we have to raise $500 to file for tax exempt status with the IRS. This status means if you donate money to ORBTS you get a tax deduction at the end of the year. And ORBTS doesn’t have to pay taxes as well. ORBTS will have dues paying members, although one doesn’t have to be a dues paying member to join in on meetings or participate online. And we can raise money in other ways, think grants. Another advantage of becoming a nonprofit corporation is that it gives us some weight when we go meet elected officials or meet with likely allies. 

As the meeting progressed we discussed how some of our money may be spent. Ideas we kicked around were bill boards on the highway, public meetings in various locates in NWA, maybe a podcast. I might do that on my own though. We could pay for TV and radio spots. If we need to license apps we could reimburse members for that. 

I also informed the Board about a Zoom meeting I had with Dane Eifling, who works for the City of Fayetteville. He is the Bicycle Programs Director. 

I talked about ORBTS and what we want to do: Electric vehicles, work to fulfill the Ozark Regional Transit Authority.  

He said that Ozark Regional Transit Authority is not a done deal yet. Not his words but that is what he meant. We still need to push for ORTA. 

Mr. Eifling informed me who to talk to at UArk about EV’s  at the Office of Sustainability. 

He wants to work with us on transit issues. We also discussed elections and how ORBTS might operate in this area. Many local initiatives generate low voter turnout. If ORBTS can engage voters we can swing elections. 

City of Fayetteville applied for VW DieselGate $ to standardize EV recharging stations. 

The City also gave Razorback Transit $ to install more enclosed bus shelters.  

Thomas Brown talked about the importance of having a Regional Transit Authority. Especially in terms of setting goals and funding projects. The RTA, or Ozark Regional Transit Authority in our case, needs to be fully staffed with professional full time personnel. So far we have a RTA on paper. As the meeting progressed we named staff such as Executive Director, a Lobbyist, a Transit Planner (this is now being done by the Regional Planning Committee), and an Information Technologist. I’m sure there are other positions that need to be filled. 

We discussed some allies we can reach out to coordinate  or partner with. These are the major stakeholders in a transit system in our area or outside of our area too. The Rail Passengers Association is a national organization we can work with. The Climate Change Lobby, NorthWest Council (corporate and business interests), the disability community, the Arkansas & Missouri Railroad, and the Housing Authority. 

This led to discussing how transit shapes a community for real estate development. Historically NWA was shaped by our 140 year old railroad. Now there is a goal to center development along I-49 and 71b. If we add the A&M Railroad we can build affordable housing with easy access to transportation. Thomas Brown informed the Board about Tier Centers. I’ll let Thomas explain that if he wants, I’m sure I’ll mangle it if I try. But it is about concentric circles of real estate development and it’s quite interesting. 

We discussed how to shape conversations in the community. We can use phases like “put capital to work in our community” instead of “government spending”. We will continue this conversation as we progress. But answering objections and challenges is also very important in educating the voting public. 

Board member Alex Marino related that in the 1960’s NASA was going to create a research triangle made up of Fayetteville, Tulsa, and Kansas City. Then decided it would be too far north for their purposes. 

This was part of a discussion about how NWA is described as a MegaRegion in the RPC’s 2040 Plan. I’ll put a link to that down below. MegaRegion doesn’t have a locked down definition. But a MegaRegion can be thought of as an area with certain cultural or economic ties across boundaries such international borders or state lines. NWA has A&M Railroad that links Arkansas to Missouri. We also have the twin towns of  Siloam Springs AR and West Siloam Springs OK. So the NWA MegaRegion covers northwest Arkansas with Southwest Missouri and a small part of northeast Oklahoma. Any transit development may easily include these areas across state lines. 

My take is that NWA may cease to mean Northwest Arkansas and becomes a proper word on its own. Much like FBI and IBM are now proper words (or IRS). NWA will include those areas across state lines that are linked to economic development. So instead of the Four Towns it will be NWA including other towns such as Joplin MO or Monet MO. The Board discussed how this will help us get Federal transit development money. As NWA will meet the criteria for population whereas Springdale or Fayetteville by themselves may not. 

This funding will help us build out what we call BBTT’s- bikes and buses, trails and trains. 

As you can see this was a long meeting, and at 3 hours we agreed that the time flew by. We will meet again in about a month to discuss how to raise money for ORBTS’ IRS filing. 

If anyone remembers anything else we said please comment below. This meeting was a good start. We need to know where we are coming from and what lies ahead. From now on I hope we will be more focused. For easier report and meeting minutes writing for one thing. 

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