Washington City Council Chambers

Two political newcomers are vying for a seat on the Washington City Council in Ward 2 on the Tuesday, April 2, municipal election ballot.

Tracy Comely, 50, 2338 English Crest Drive, and Robert “Mark” Wessels, 72, 3420 Springcrest Court, are seeking to replace Jeff Mohesky, who initially had filed for re-election but then withdrew his bid. Neither has held political office.

In addition to a new Ward 2 councilman, there also will be a new council member in Ward 1. Nick Obermark is running unopposed for that seat. Councilwoman Susan Watermann withdrew her bid for re-election after Obermark filed.

Incumbents Jeff Patke, Ward 3, and Joe Holtmeier, Ward 4, also are unopposed in Tuesday’s election. 

The Missourian met with Comely and Wessels to discuss why they are seeking a seat on the council, what challenges the city faces, and why voters should select them.

Comely

Comely and his wife have four children. He is employed by First Student.

“We live in an amazing community,” he told The Missourian. “I want to see it continue to succeed and hand it off to the next generation.”

Comely is a graduate of Salem High School and later attended classes at Southwest Missouri State University, now called Missouri State University.

He is involved in the Washington Lions Club and Knights of Columbus. He and his family attend St. Francis Borgia Parish.

In 2018, Comely unsuccessfully ran for the Franklin County collector of revenue.

Comely noted that his experience in executive management has prepared him for the council.

“My experience running a company is similar to the experience necessary to running a city,” he stated.

Comely formerly was employed by Warco, Inc., Marthasville. He was a vice president for the manufacturing business, as well as a trustee in health care administration and on the board of directors.

“The major difference between running a business and city, is at a business you can increase sales and the return will offset costs,” he said. “The city has a budget you have to stick to very closely and hope there are no emergencies — you can’t just go out and get more sales.

“You have to be very budget conscious in government,” he noted.

Comely also is a member of the St. Francis Borgia Regional High School Athletic Association, a prior Borgia Grade School Fall Festival co-chairman and a former member of the grade school athletic association. He also was on the board of trustees for Incline Village.

According to Comely, a goal would be to continue to improve the aesthetics of Washington, and be fiscally responsible at the same time.

“I think outside the box. I believe I can bring a fresh perspective,” he said. “Taxpayers want to see positive changes, but they don’t want to be charged more.”

Comely noted that the city must prepare for unexpected challenges, including changes in the economy.

“All cities have to face challenges, such as if the economy slows,” he said. “The operating expenses won’t change, and if history repeats itself, there will be a correction in the market — not if, but when. We have to plan for that correction.”

A challenge that Comely says the community faces is how to sustain growth.

When asked about a push by the city to create entry-level housing, he said he has “mixed emotions.”

“Wages in this area don’t support the housing market,” he said. 

But while increasing housing for young families, or professionals beginning their careers, city leaders must keep in mind the property values of neighbors, he said.

When asked about homelessness in Washington, Comely said resources should be available for those in need.

“I am a big proponent of helping those who have fallen on hard times,” he said. “But we also have to be careful that we don’t enable those who are not looking to better themselves.”

He suggested training for those looking for new skills to find employment.

“I feel like we need to have a plan,” Comely stated. “We need to find out their needs and get them in a better place.”

He said if elected he will make measured decisions, taking into account all of the information available.

Wessels

The retired teacher, principal and Washington Area Chamber of Commerce executive director has never sought political office. 

Wessels is married with two children and three grandchildren.

He is a graduate of University of Missouri-Columbia where he earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. 

Wessels then received two master’s degrees from the University of Missouri St. Louis in special education and school administration.

Prior to attending college, Wessels served two years in the U.S. Army.

He retired from the Washington School District in 2000 after 30 years in education. He served as principal of Washington Middle School for many years.

After he left the school district, he worked three years for Lindenwood University at the Daniel Boone Home.

Wessels was hired as the Washington tourism director in April 2005, a position he held until being named Chamber president/CEO in March of 2008. He retired from the Chamber in 2012

He has served on numerous boards and committees, including the Washington Area Highway Transportation Committee, the Washington Historical Society, Industrial Development Authority (IDA) and others.

“With the school and Chamber I was very involved in the community and I really enjoyed that,” Wessels said.

That is why he wants to serve on the council, to have a bigger role in the community.

“I don’t have a specific ax to grind,” Wessels added, “but I would like to get back involved.”

Wessels added he may not have run if Mohesky would have stayed in the race.

“I am pleased with everyone on the council,” he said.

According to Wessels, the staff change during the past two years has brought several new, younger faces to city hall.

“I am really impressed with a lot of the new young department heads,” he added.

Wessels noted that there are new approaches to how the city and the 353 Washington Redevelopment Corporation market the city to new industries.

“It is very exciting the different ways they have been going about it,” he stated.

A revised fee schedule for the use of parks department fields also is being implemented, he said, and more changes are coming.

“There are a lot of things coming along,” Wessels said, “The future looks bright and there are exciting times coming up.”

Wessels commended the city staff, including Police Chief Ed Menefee, who are addressing homelessness in Washington.

“I like that they are being proactive and looking for solutions,” he said. “Chief Menefee has taken a humane approach. We need to develop a plan that is sustainable.”

When asked about affordable housing, Wessels said new college graduates and young families have a difficult time affording a home in Washington.

“We need to figure out a way to keep people around and in our community,” he said. “We have enough higher income homes — balance would be good if they are built well.”

Wessels said much of his career at the school district and Chamber has been with the goal of making Washington a better place to live.

“Based on my career and volunteer work I think people recognize that I will do my best to better the community,” he said.

Wessels also delivers meals to homebound seniors through the Meals on Wheels program and he tutors math for those seeking a GED.