SPRINGDALE — Ozark Regional Transit introduced a new executive director Thursday (Sept. 27). Joel Gardner is excited about his new job, which will give his family the chance to live under the same roof, he said. He is doing work in Sherman, Texas, while the family lives in Reno, Nev.
Gardner replaces Phil Pumphrey, who served as executive director during the recent tumultuous sales tax increase campaign that involved ORT seeking a sales tax that would have provided a dedicated revenue stream for the public transportation system’s ongoing operations and growth plans. The sales tax issue failed in May.
ORT Board Chairman Jerre Van Hoose said that Pumphrey did a “remarkable job building ORT from nothing to what it is now” but that there was so much dissension during the campaign and it was determined that Pumphrey was not able to continue being effective.
“We needed to have someone who wasn’t a part of that (dissension),” Van Hoose said.
ORT contracts with First Transit to provide the key leadership team, including the executive director. Pumphrey was relocated to California and Gardner was transferred into the position.
Van Hoose said there will be continued efforts to find a dedicated revenue stream but not immediate plans have been developed. The large bulk of the program’s funding comes from the cities and counties it serves and that amount could change each year, he said. Each area only receives the level of service that can be achieved with how much the governing body dedicates to ORT.
“Right now we have four systems that are operating independently based on what they can afford to spend,” Van Hoose said. “We need to develop a regional system.”
There is no time frame established for creating a new plan, he said.
“We will work with what we have for now,” he said.
Gardner said he looks forward to working with the board to accomplish their goals for the overall program.
According to the ORT website, Gardner comes to ORT after working in the public transit industry at locations including Jonesboro, Reno and Sherman. He also served many years in the U.S. Marine Corp. and was awarded Honorable Discharge Active Duty in 1992 and Honorable Discharge Active Reserve in 2005.