By Dan Harkins
DELTONA - Since 1985, Michael Wycuff has devoted his life to the mission in whatever church he was helping to establish.
In the Aug. 14 primary, he wants to win the job of serving Deltona's District 6 by upsetting incumbent Commissioner Michael Carmolingo and two other challengers - marketing consultant George "Ron" Watral and retired deputy fire chief Christopher Nabicht.
"To me," the 58-year-old said, "the transition from serving the people of a congregation and serving in the political realm seems logical. One is religious and faith-based and the other is secular in nature, but the bottom line is, it's still serving."
After growing up in Canton, Ohio, Mr. Wycuff attended Kent State University and worked in the hospital industry until 1982, when he and new wife Lisa moved to live near friends in Sarasota. After three years, his church offered him a job.
"It's been no turning back since," he said.
In 1997, Mr. Wycuff and Lisa moved their three sons to Deltona so he could help open the Pine Ridge Fellowship as its director of music and arts. Today, he's director of pastoral care.
"I feel like I can help bring some civility to our city government," he said, "and improve the image of the city as compared to the neighboring towns."
To counter the image problems, Mr. Wycuff recommends gathering focus groups of community entrepreneurs and residents to start a dialogue and foster ideas to improve the city's flagging image.
"All of us are smarter than any one of us," he said. "The city has a wealth of amenities and the housing is affordable. But when people ask where we live, instead of saying, 'I live in Deltona,' a lot of us are saying, 'I live near Orlando or DeLand or Lake Mary. That disgusts me."
Before city planners can woo legions of new commercial investors, he said, the city will have to look for ways to lift this malaise.
"We have to have people in the city taking pride in where they live," he said. "Then, as the image improves, now you have something to sell for economic development. And the companies will come."
Though the race is non-partisan, Mr. Wycuff isn't shy to state he's fiscally conservative. That's not to say he'd lower taxes, though.
"On the liberal side or the conservative side," he said, "I don't think the community at large thinks that everybody is paying an exorbitant amount of taxes."
To keep property taxes from being raised in the future, he said, city leaders will have to maintain a tight budget and keep seeking new commercial investment - something that currently only trickles in.
That leads back to the issue of image, he said.
"People who own a company are concerned about image, too," Mr. Wycuff said. "I feel that's a continued problem. Citizens should never be reluctant to say where they live or feel they're second-class compared to people in another community. Regardless of whether our incomes are less than in some other cities, we still have a wonderful place to live."
Though the incumbent Carmolingo has left his seat vacant for three recent months due to illness, prompting some to question his vitality, Mr. Wycuff said he would rather keep his conscience clear.
"It could be me," he said. "I could be elected and next year I have a heart attack and I'd be out six or eight weeks," he said. "And then, if the shoe was on the other foot, I'd probably be awful glad there were people there supporting me, rather than trying to use some sort of tragedy for their own gain."
That's the sort of civility that the current commission should start showing, he said.
"If people are going to be proud of their city," he said, "they're going to have to be proud of their leaders."