Wright City holds open hearing for mayoral/alderman candidates

Adam Rollins, Staff Writer
Posted 10/11/21

Following the resignation of Mayor Dan Rowden, Wright City aldermen last week called on citizens to come forward, announce their interest in public office, and explain their vision and qualifications …

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Wright City holds open hearing for mayoral/alderman candidates

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Following the resignation of Mayor Dan Rowden, Wright City aldermen called on citizens to come forward, announce their interest in public office, and explain their vision and qualifications during an open forum at city hall on Sept. 30.

Aldermen are considering whether to appoint one of their own members as mayor to fulfill Rowden’s term of office, or whether to give that office to another citizen of Wright City. If an alderman is appointed, a citizen would be needed to fill the newly opened alderman position.

“Our intention is to have (all) positions filled at our next public board of aldermen meeting, which is Oct. 14,” said board of aldermen President Ramiz Hakim. He added that the procedure of using a public forum to seek candidates for an open office is a little unusual in the realm of municipal government, but that aldermen felt it was important to have a transparent process.

Alderman Michelle Heiliger, who announced that she is seeking appointment as mayor (more on that below), said she appreciates that an open invitation for candidates could allow new people to get involved in their community.

“When you give that opportunity to people, sometimes it’s a real blessing. It’s not always about ‘who do we know,’ sometimes it’s ‘holy cow, we didn’t realize we had these great people in the community who want to be involved,’ ” Heiliger commented.

Seven candidates were each given five minutes to speak about what their vision is for Wright City and what qualities they would bring to the city’s leadership. Aldermen did not ask any followup questions, but Hakim said board members are free to individually reach out and ask candidates for more information.

Here’s some of what each candidate had to say:

Karey Owens, a business consultant, said her mission in her career is to help small business owners improve their operations by analyzing the root cause of any problems and finding solutions that meet a variety of constraints. She said that mindset would serve well in helping manage the business of the city.

Owens said her goal in office would be to manage the “blessing of growth” while staying true to Wright City’s values.

“I believe in our little town. ... We focus on really taking care of each other,” Owens said. “I believe citizen participation is key to a thriving community.”

Mark Brandt, a truck dealership manager, said he wants to help encourage citizens to be excited for the future of Wright City. Brandt offered to bring his 25 years of management experience to be a good steward of the public’s trust and encourage new economic growth.

Brandt said he also is an active community volunteer and will encourage good relations between the government and local churches, schools and community organizations that serve the citizens.

“In cities that have strong and impactful churches, there is more community health and happiness. It’s mutually beneficial. And the same goes with schools,” Brandt said.

Nicci Fears, a real estate agency manager and Phobius haunted house co-owner, said she wants to continue a history of community involvement and believes her real estate industry knowledge will be useful as Wright City tangles with the challenges of new housing development. She is a former board member for the Wright City Chamber of Commerce.

“I know the importance of having a level-headed and calm demeanor when faced with difficult obstacles,” Fears commented. “I try to look at things from all perspectives, not just my perspective.”

Randall Woods, a business associate working for Boeing, said he hopes to help Wright City explore its potential to be like other cities that have created attractive areas such as downtown St. Charles.

“The future and opportunities of the city are endless with proper planning and execution,” Woods said. “We have a chance to branch out and create sustainable programs that will bring more revenue to small businesses and increase city revenue overall, create networking opportunities, encourage people to start business, attract more tourists, and establish safe places for young people to hang out.”

Joseph Holiway, an employee at Mittler Brothers, described a history in car sales as providing him a “PHD in people skills” that he believes would be beneficial. He was motivated to get more involved when his son was born earlier this year.

“We want our son to grow up in a great neighborhood, just like it was for us,” Holiway said. “I just love this little town. ... I would like to be part of the growth of this town, but also keep its small town feel.”

Michael Baryo is an Edward Jones financial advisor, and is a member and frequent event organizer for the Wright City Chamber of Commerce. He also is a former teacher and a men’s ministry volunteer. He offered to bring his experience in financial management and data-driven decision making to city office.

“I want to make sure we listen to people, hear what they have to say, make sure they have a voice and offer transparency to everything that’s done,” Baryo commented.

Michelle Heiliger is the only alderman seeking appointment as mayor. She’s served as an alderman since June 2020, and said she’s proud of the board’s effort to foster critical discussions and welcome multiple viewpoints in that time.

As mayor, Heiliger said she would continue forging strong community partnerships to help guide and inform the city government’s decision making.

“We’re talking about decisions that will affect our kids and our grandkids,” Heiliger said. “We have come a long way. We have a long way to go. There are still things we can do better, and it’s up to us to hold ourselves accountable to get where we need to go.”

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