Wright City candidates their make case to voters

Adam Rollins, Staff Writer
Posted 3/30/23

Candidates for the Wright City R-II School Board and the Wright City Board of Aldermen presented themselves to voters in a public forum at Wright City Middle School last Wednesday. The forum was …

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Wright City candidates their make case to voters


Candidates for the Wright City R-II School Board and the Wright City Board of Aldermen presented themselves to voters in a public forum at Wright City Middle School last Wednesday. The forum was hosted by the Wright City Area Chamber of Commerce.

Following basic introductions, the hosts led the event with questions for Don Andrews and Susan Traylor, the two people competing to represent Wright City Ward 1 on the board of aldermen. Most of the short question-and-answer session focused on what the city has been doing well and what it could be doing better.

Andrews, the incumbent alderman, answered versions of both those questions related to his performance in office. He said he is proud of the transparency and public outreach that he and other newer aldermen have brought to the city government. For what he could have done better since being elected in 2021, Andrews said he wishes he had been more active volunteering at community events.

When asked what he would like to accomplish if re-elected, Andrews said he wants to resolve the issue of Indian Head Lodge Road, a deteriorating public road that isn’t owned or maintained by any government.

“It’s the only access to about 167 (Wright City) homes ... that road is their only way in and out, and it’s literally crumbling beneath them,” Andrews explained.

Susan Traylor, who is challenging Andrews, said she’d like the city government to do more to get citizens involved and feel like their feedback is welcome. She commented that Wright City’s substantial population of minority residents, in particular, don’t make their voices heard because they’re afraid of drawing negative attention to themselves.

Traylor said that as an alderman, she would push for more engagement with nonprofit organizations to provide youth recreation and social services that many residents don’t have access to. She also highlighted a strategy for addressing increasing homelessness in the community.

“We need to look to neighboring counties to see what they’re doing, (such as) transitional housing that helps those who are currently homeless,” Traylor said. “We can use buildings that are sitting empty here, we can get government funding ... to revamp them.”

School board candidates

A longer portion of the candidate night was devoted to the five people running for three available seats on the Wright City R-II School Board.

Several questions for candidates were aimed at controversial topics that have been lingering in the political discourse around schools. Candidates gave relatively generic responses to these topics, avoiding argumentative statements that characterized the 2022 elections. 

All five candidates gave statements generally agreeing that parents should be engaged and informed in their child’s education, but that district leaders also need to make teachers feel supported in doing their jobs. They all said the district needs to do a better job of retaining high quality teachers by listening to educator feedback and improving compensation. All the candidates oppose book bans, but support an administrative review process for age appropriateness.

There was more differentiation between candidates when they were asked to relate their professional expertise to the work of the school board, to discuss how involved board members should be in oversight duties, and what their top priority as board members would be.

Professional experience

Candidates were asked what prior experience they would bring to the task of managing school district finances, particularly in the midst of major construction projects. Here’s a summary of their responses:

• Beth Dean — Does not have professional financial/budget management experience, but is eager to learn.

• Heidi Halleman — Works for a successful company as an accounting manager and helps run a family business.

• Monica Heppermann — Helps manage the finances of a family-owned small business.

• Frank Zykan — Owns and operates his own business, has a construction background, and has kept himself thoroughly informed about the planning and progress of current school construction projects.

• Kyle Lewis — Is a project manager for Boeing and has significant experience with logistics and financial planning.

On oversight

Related to the above question, four of the candidates also made statements about how involved they would be in managing district decisions related to finances, as well as policies related to human resources:

• Heidi Halleman — “Our administrators are there for a reason. We hired them for the specific purpose of handling finances and human resources. Yes, we are an oversight board ... but our volunteer board shouldn’t be in the weeds of every day unless we need to be.”

• Monica Heppermann — “We would be the oversight board. We wouldn’t be down in the nitty-gritty.”

• Frank Zykan — “I spend a lot of time in the weeds. Just as an example, when the board was discussing (high school construction) ... that high school was originally budgeted at $30 million, and it ended up costing us $50 million. We need people on the board who can spot those situations.”

• Kyle Lewis — “I will get down into the weeds when necessary. When (a contractor) brings us change requests that are going to cost us more money, you better bet ... I’m asking critical questions of our architects and our (contractor).”

Top priority

And here’s what each candidate said is their top priority for improvements in the district:

• Zykan — Test scores
• Heppermann — Parent involvement
• Halleman — Test scores
• Dean — Academic achievement/teacher retention
• Lewis — Staff retention

Wright City Board of Aldermen, Wright City School District, Elections