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Five go for one seat on Pasco Mosquito Control Board

The most crowded local race on the Nov. 2 ballot isn't the County Commission or the School Board or any of the judicial seats.

It's Mosquito Control.

Five people are vying for one seat on the three-member board. The commission is in charge of a $6 million budget and more than two dozen staffers. These people can raise or lower your taxes. They are in charge of fighting off mosquito-borne illnesses, which are a reality in Florida.

In July in Hillsborough, an infant and a woman died from Eastern equine encephalitis. And this month, two chickens in Hernando tested positive for West Nile virus.

"People don't realize how serious this is because we've had it good (in Pasco) for so long," said Matthew "Skeeter" Abbott, the incumbent who is looking to retain his seat.

Here are the candidates:

Matthew "Skeeter" Abbott

Age: 48

Abbott was elected in 2006 and sits on the Mosquito Control board with Commissioners Gary Joiner and Sandra Applefield.

Commissioners are paid $400 a month ($369 after taxes, Abbott says) to attend one board meeting a month, plus do payroll every week and attend special meetings when dealing with vendor reviews and other issues.

Abbott, who is married with four children, grew up in Pasco County and works in sales and technical support in the printing industry.

He said Pasco's Mosquito Control agency is top-notch and still offers one-on-one customer service.

If someone calls the department to report a mosquito problem and, he said, an investigator will go to the house within 24 hours to inspect the area and work with the residents on a treatment plan.

Abbott said other counties will wait until they've had dozens of complaints before targeting an area.

"We're very fortunate," he said.

Abbott is footing the bill for his own campaign, putting $900 toward the endeavor. When asked why he's running for re-election, Abbott smiled:

"I enjoy the hell out of it," he said. "It's just a great organization to be part of."

Lester Cypher

Age: 74

Cypher is well known in the community as the founder and chief executive officer of the Volunteer Way, a local food bank and charity that feeds 20,000 people a month. He's banking on his reputation to carry him to victory, because he's not going out and speaking at rallies and he's certainly not putting signs throughout the county.

"I wouldn't waste money on signs," said Cypher, arguing that money could be better spent feeding hungry people. His wife donated $50 to the campaign, enough to cover his qualifying fee and leave $25 in the account (Cypher has also received $130 in in-kind contributions of business cards and Internet use). "If God wants me to have this job, I'll have it."

Cypher, who has been married for 55 years and has two children, eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild, said he decided to run for office because he thinks he can help.

He said he's been in the pest-control business for 50 years, having started in New York because he wanted to own his own business.

"Those days, all you had to do was go and buy supply equipment and chemicals and start spraying," Cypher said. "You didn't have to know anything."

Even though he didn't have to, he took entomology courses at Farmingdale State College so he knew what he was doing, Cypher said. He said he prefers an organic approach when possible.

"I'm not against pesticides if they are used safely," he said. "But if you can do it organically, why not?"

Jessica Jordan Griffin

Age: 22

Mosquito Control is a nonpartisan board, but Griffin's Republican roots run deep. Her face has been in the newspaper, posing with Sen. John McCain, as the youngest member of the Pasco Republican Executive Committee.

Her father, James F. Griffin III, owns the 93-acre Hallelujahland Ranch near Shady Hills, where U.S. Senate hopeful Marco Rubio made a campaign stop in August.

"I don't publicize what my party affiliation is," said Griffin, who describes herself on her Facebook campaign page as a "member of the NRA, the Second Amendment Club, and Club Politico … the Marco Rubio campus coordinator at PHCC and a Sarah Palin volunteer."

"I'm not a politician," she said. "I'm an American who loves my country and my county."

Griffin, who graduated from Gulf High School and said she is in the process of transferring from Pasco-Hernando Community College to the University of Tampa to study marine biology, works as a waiter at the Crab Shack in Port Richey. She has spent $12,470 — nearly three times what she would make per year if she gets the job — on T-shirts, signs and a mystery dinner theater fundraiser.

Her campaign has raised $16,239 — twice as much as her four opponents combined. More than half of Griffin's campaign account came from loans she made to herself.

She said it was money she saved up for school, but then she "decided to run and put my whole heart into it."

Griffin said she's not running to begin her career in politics. She is looking to give back to her community.

"For me, this is not a political stepping-stone," she said.

Michael Moore

Age: 39

Moore, who owns two health care businesses, said he has spent time learning about the operation at Mosquito Control's Odessa headquarters. He found out about the different chemicals used, and discovered the agency saves money by painting its own trucks.

"They do have a great operation," Moore said.

Moore owns CareFirst Home Care, which places health care workers with those who need help, and JM Moore and Associates, a health care placement and consulting company. He was born in St. Petersburg and is married with three children.

He said he decided to run for the board after reading stories last year about Mosquito Control workers being eligible for raises, regardless of the economy. That got Moore "fired up," he said.

"We are dealing with taxpayer money," said Moore, who has raised $5,556 in cash and in-kind contributions — half from his own pocket — for this race. "I think in these trying economic times you have to have someone who is fiscally responsible and who has the experience to be in the position."

Nikolas "Niko" Tzoumas

Age: 18

Tzoumas, the youngest candidate in the field, has jumped into the campaign with both feet. He has a campaign manager and a website. He's all over Facebook and Twitter. He makes his pitch at debates and has spent time touring the agency and reviewing the budget. Tzoumas — who has owned his own website design business since he was 15 — is not messing around.

"The board of commissioners has eminent domain power, as well as the power to raise or lower property taxes," he told the Times in an e-mail. "This is a powerful organization that needs an accountable leader."

Tzoumas graduated this year from J.W. Mitchell High School, but is already a sophomore at Pasco-Hernando Community College because of college courses he took while a high school student. He plans to get a bachelor's degree in political science and then finish law school by the time he's 24. He said his interest in politics began when he served as a state officer for the Junior State of America Foundation and as a volunteer arbitrator for Teen Court.

"I think age does not really define ability and I want to prove that to people," he said in an interview with BayNews 9, the Times' coverage partner.

In fact he touts his youth on his Facebook page: "I am fresh, uncorrupted, and have no political debt."

His campaign has amassed $1,635 — three-quarters of it from in-kind contributions toward the development of his website. His goal, according to that website, is a life as "a successful public servant."

"For a long time my dream has been to work in public service," Tzoumas wrote on his website. "When I discovered the office of Mosquito Control commissioner, I knew that a bid for this office would be a great start to my career."

Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6229.

Learn more

To learn more about Pasco County Mosquito Control, visit www.pascomosquito.org or call (727) 376-4568. The offices are at 2308 n Road in Odessa.

Five go for one seat on Pasco Mosquito Control Board 10/21/10 [Last modified: Thursday, October 21, 2010 9:53pm]
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