2022 ANNUAL MEETING SPEAKERS

Meredith Richards

Board Chair, Railroad Passengers Association

Meredith has a long history in rail advocacy and community involvement, including serving on the Charlottesville City Council and numerous public boards and commissions. She was the driving force in the creation of the Lynchburg Northeast Regional train. The founder and chair of the Piedmont Rail Coalition, she mobilized political jurisdictions, stakeholders, and citizens throughout the US29 corridor in a successful campaign to bring Virginia’s first state-supported intercity passenger train to the corridor.

 

As a member of the Virginia Governor’s Commission on Rail Enhancement for the 21st Century and president of the Virginia Transit Association, Meredith began over twenty years of advocacy for dedicated state funding for passenger rail, culminating in Virginia’s launch of a $4 billion program of rail initiatives in 2019. She is president of the Virginia Rail Policy Institute and a former president and current co-chair of Virginians for High-Speed Rail. She joined the Board of Directors of the Rail Passengers Association in 2020 and was elected Chair in 2022.

Thea Walsh
Transportation and Infrastructure Director, 
Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission

 

Thea Walsh leads the transportation planning efforts for both the agency’s Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Rural Planning Organization.

 

Walsh is a 17-year public servant focused on transportation, economic development, and community planning. She has worked at county, regional, and state levels of government. Thea has a BA in Public Administration and Urban and Regional Planning from Miami University and a Masters of Public Administration from Wright State University.

 

In 2017, Thea was selected by Columbus Business First as one of the Forty Under 40 Honorees for being a “mover and shaker” in the Central Ohio community –most notably for her role in Smart Columbus, the Hyperloop Midwest Connect proposal, and a Downtown Employee Bus “C-Pass” Program. She is in the American Institute of Certified Planners, in the Ohio Association of Commodores, and is the current chair for Clean Fuels Ohio. 

Haraz N. Ghanbari

State of Ohio, House of Representatives, 3rd District

 

State Representative Haraz N. Ghanbari (R-Perrysburg) was appointed in March 2019 and is serving his first full term in the Ohio House of Representatives after being elected in November 2020. He represents the 3rd House District, which encompasses all of Wood County.

Haraz has dedicated his life to serving others and has more than two decades of military service. He is a Navy veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Inherent Resolve, and an Army veteran of Operation Joint Forge in Bosnia. Promoted to Lieutenant Commander on Sept. 1, 2018, he currently continues his service in the United States Navy Reserve.

As the son of an immigrant from Iran, Haraz said his parent's courage and desire to have their children born here inspired him from a young age. Haraz earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Visual Journalism from Kent State, graduating Cum Laude, and went on to graduate with distinction from the United States Naval War College’s Command and Staff Program. In 2019, Haraz earned his master’s degree from the University of Toledo.

Previously, Haraz served as the Director of Military and Veteran Affairs for The University of Toledo. His commitment to service members, veterans and their families was underscored in November 2018 when he was inducted into the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame as their youngest inductee ever. 

Prior to joining UT, Haraz was a staff photojournalist for The Associated Press based in Washington where his assignments included traveling nationally and internationally as a member of the White House and Pentagon press corps. During his time in Washington, he traveled on assignment with Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Secretaries of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Robert M. Gates, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. 

Haraz is an Eagle Scout, a member of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the American Legion, and a lifetime member of the VFW and the Military Officer Association of America. He and his family are members of CedarCreek Church.

Haraz and his wife Kim have two children.
 

Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur

U.S. House of Representatives, State of Ohio, 9th Congressional District

 

Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur proudly represents the working people of Ohio's Ninth Congressional District. She is currently the longest serving woman in the history of the U.S. House of Representatives and ranks among the most senior Members of the 117th Congress.

Congresswoman Kaptur, a native Toledoan, lives in the same modest house where she grew up.

She is a Polish-American with humble, working class roots. Her family operated a small grocery store and her mother later served on the original organizing committee of a trade union at the Champion Spark Plug factory in Toledo.

After graduating from St. Ursula Academy, she became the first member of her family to attend college, earning a bachelor's degree in history from the University of Wisconsin (1968) and later a master's degree in urban planning from the University of Michigan.

After working for 15 years as a city and regional planner, primarily in Toledo and Chicago, she accepted an appointment as a domestic policy advisor to President Jimmy Carter. During his Administration, she helped maneuver 17 housing and neighborhood revitalization bills through Congress.

In 1981, while pursuing a doctorate in urban planning and development finance at MIT, she was recruited by the Lucas County Democratic Party to run for Congress against a first-term Republican. Although she was outspent by a 3-to-1 margin, Kaptur parlayed a strong economic message during the 1982 recession to stage a nationally-recognized upset.

In Washington, Kaptur fought vigorously to win a seat on the House Appropriations Committee. Today she serves as the first woman to Chair the influential House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, which she considers an honor given the Ninth District stretches much of the southern Lake Erie coastline.

Kaptur also serves as a senior member of the powerful House Veterans Affairs Committee. She uses this assignment to advocate for veterans who have served our nation faithfully. In 2021, she was named to the House Select Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness in Growth, which she is focused on highlighting the plight of the hardworking men and women of the Industrial Heartland who have too often been left behind.