For the first time in 21 years, DeLand has a new mayor, but Chris Cloudman isn’t a new face. Between his community involvement and his tenure on the DeLand City Commission, chances are you’ve seen him around town. But, who is Chris Cloudman?
Cloudman was born in Boynton Beach and lived in an apartment in Fort Lauderdale with his family for several years. After a year in Ocala, the Cloudman family — Chris, his parents and his sister, Melissa Tilton — moved to Ormond Beach, where they lived throughout his childhood. Cloudman started to get a taste of DeLand when his dad, Dennis Cloudman, started volunteering at YMCA Camp Winona north of DeLand.
“We started spending a lot of time out there, and every time we’d come through DeLand, we’d make them get us Belly Busters,” Cloudman said.
Around the same time, under the tutelage of a family friend, Cloudman took up the saxophone. He played the sax through high school and into college. During his early years of sax-playing, Cloudman accompanied Christmas carolers to retirement facilities in DeLand, further falling in love with the city.
They weren’t poor growing up, Cloudman said, but there were times when money was tight in his family. Even still, they found ways to give back. The Cloudmans would often take in people who were down on their luck.
“Even if we didn’t have a lot, there were very few times I can remember growing up when we didn’t have someone living in our house,” Cloudman said.
When he graduated from Spruce Creek High School, Cloudman’s future was uncertain. As a longtime YMCA volunteer and counselor as well as a burgeoning musician, Cloudman wasn’t sure what college held for him.
“I wanted to be a music major,” he said. “My parents told me I had to pick something else.”
He settled on entering the University of Central Florida as a forensic-science major, but that lasted only about a year.
“I think X-Files had something to do with it,” Cloudman laughed. “I was intrigued by the science of investigating crimes.”
He stuck with music and performed in the university’s marching band. At 19, before completing his bachelor’s degree, Cloudman and a group of his friends from Camp Winona moved to Boulder, Colorado, to pursue a job with the YMCA of the Rockies.
“On a whim, we all decided to do it,” he said. “We jumped in a ’69 Beetle and drove across the country. I worked in conference services out there, setting up meeting rooms and bringing rollaway beds in the middle of the night to rental cabins.”
It was a great experience, he said, but distance from home and the costs of living on their own eventually drove the group back to Florida.
Back in Volusia County, Cloudman returned to school at Daytona Beach Community College — the forerunner to Daytona State College. He kept working at the YMCA and working with kids. He also worked as a counselor at the now-shuttered Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranch in Barberville, teaching conflict resolution, cultural diversity and more.
To this day, Cloudman still enjoys working with young people. He can often be found volunteering his time with Millennium Musicians, a DeLand-based music program for kids, and gives time, as well, to organizations like the Downtown DeLand Rotary Club, which Cloudman has served as president.
“Even to this day, I still enjoy working with the middle-school age,” he said. “They’re really forming lifelong opinions at that time. It’s really hard to convince them otherwise when they’re a junior or senior in high school.”
Eventually, Cloudman was drawn out of DeLand once again and up to Gainesville, where he completed a bachelor’s degree in leisure service management at the University of Florida. Just before graduating, Cloudman went back to volunteer for one last summer at Camp Winona, and that’s where he met his future wife, Megan Renninger, now Megan Cloudman.
The two were married in 2004, just two months before Cloudman packed his bags and moved to Tucson, Arizona, for a job with the YMCA.
“My wife and I were two months’ married. She was still in college at UCF, so she waited until she finished that semester and flew out,” Cloudman said. “I moved out there — towing a car behind the moving truck — with a dog, a cat and two turtles.”
Two years into his job in Tucson, the Cloudmans — now with a young daughter — were trying to determine their next step. Cloudman was interviewing for high-level positions at YMCAs across the country, but home was calling.
“Every city I would fly in to look at, I would start comparing it to DeLand,” Cloudman said. “Like, ‘This is a little like DeLand; this could work.’”
Eventually, the young family’s plans to move to DeLand fell into place. Chris Cloudman secured a job at Stetson University as the associate director of continuing education. They moved to their home-for-good in 2008.
Cloudman went back to school to get a master’s degree in business administration from Stetson University, and became involved in the community through Rotary, and he and his wife had a second daughter.
Around that time, in 2010, a slot opened up on the DeLand Planning Board, and Cloudman went for it. He thought his experience helping camps become accredited through the American Camp Association would lend well to the Planning Board work, he said, and he wanted to give back.
While on the board, he forged a friendship with longtime Planning Board member and Downtown DeLand fixture Gus Gibbs.
While Cloudman never saw his role on the Planning Board as a stepping stone to the City Commission, Gibbs did.
“That was going to be my giving back to the city,” Cloudman said. “I enjoyed it, but funny enough, from day one, Gus Gibbs used to take me around and introduce me as, ‘I want you to meet DeLand’s next mayor.’”
Cloudman said he used to roll his eyes, but when Gibbs died in 2020, he missed him.
“I wish he could be here,” Cloudman said.
His time on the Planning Board, he recalled, was instructive about how local government operates.
“When we had a development, I would actually go to the commission meeting where they were talking about it and sit and listen,” Cloudman said. “I was always curious what they were going to do with it. I’d sit in the back of the commission meetings, so I really started getting an appreciation for what they were doing.”
So much so that, in 2014, when City Commissioner Phil Martin stepped down from his seat leaving a vacancy on the dais, Cloudman threw his hat in the ring.
With no prior political aspirations, why go for the City Commission?
In part, Cloudman said, he felt he should step up after a divisive 2014 election season.
“That was the year when the local election scene was just ugly,” Cloudman remembered. “I’ve never seen that, and hopefully I’ll never see it again. The kind of national-level smear campaign stuff.”
DeLand mayoral candidate Pat Johnson ran a divisive campaign against incumbent Bob Apgar, and a number of other candidates in Volusia County ran campaigns rife with personal attacks.
“At that point, my wife and I already decided this was our permanent place,” Cloudman said. “This is where our girls were growing up and just kind of a glimpse of what could have happened to DeLand. That was a big driving factor for why I stepped up.”
After a grueling series of interviews he described as far more stressful than any he had endured for YMCA jobs, Cloudman was unanimously appointed to join the City Commission in 2014.
He was elected to the seat in 2016, and when it became apparent that Apgar, then in his fourth term as mayor, might not run again in 2018, Cloudman weighed the possibility of running for mayor.
Ultimately, Apgar did seek re-election. Cloudman said the additional four years he spent on the City Commission were instructive, especially since he took on additional opportunities to represent DeLand and West Volusia on regional and state boards.
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Fast-forward to 2022: The longtime mayor is retiring, and while Cloudman is in the middle of a term and risks losing a seat on the City Commission if he runs for mayor and loses, he decides to throw his hat in the ring.
“I really felt like, with Bob retiring, that we really needed someone who had those relationships, had the experiences working with our peers and our partners to step up and continue what we’ve started,” Cloudman said. “I think it’s important for DeLand, at our size, to be at the table.”
Cloudman’s victory over his opponent, Reggie Williams, a pastor and retired Volusia County administrator, was decisive, with Cloudman winning 58.13 percent of the vote.
While he was criticized in the run-up to the elections for permitting DeLand to grow at the pace it has, Cloudman maintains that the city will continue to grow, it just has to be done in a smart way.
“I find that, nine times out of 10, when someone’s going on a diatribe of how awful the city is now and how it’s not what it was,” he said, “they’re typically not someone who’s involved and giving back in any way.”
Cloudman continued, “I maintain that there are changes we need to continue to make to make it better. I personally want to see growth that is more unique to DeLand, or fits our culture versus the standard cookie-cutter. We often miss that when, at meeting — Bob used to call it the loud minority — you may have 20 people who are very passionate about it. I respect where they’re coming from, especially when it’s happening in your backyard, but then I also have to think what is best for all 38,000 people.”
In his current role at Stetson University, Cloudman works for the company Cenergistic to implement sustainability initiatives on campus. Sustainability, he said, will be a priority of his during his time as mayor.
Another focus of Cloudman’s is making sure everyone’s voice is heard, he said, including young people, whom he wants to see stay in DeLand instead of moving away.
“I definitely have a soft spot for the youth in our community,” he said. “I love talking to them about their take on DeLand and the overall DeLand area.”
He also wants to make sure the city’s growth is smart, and not sprawling, and that affordable housing is added to the city’s residential supply.
“Like most cities, we’re very conscious of the fact of the shrinking availability of affordable housing, and not just low-income affordable, but affordable,” Cloudman emphasized. “Even those options are shrinking, so it’s kind of a double-edged sword. We want to slow down growth, but if there’s no inventory, then the people selling or renting can drive the price up, so we really need to look at how we can accomplish one with the other.”
With that in mind, Cloudman said he wants to ensure he plays a role in creating a city his now-teenage daughters, Emily and Isobel, want to continue to live in.
Asked whether he intends to serve as mayor as long as his five-term predecessor, Cloudman said he wants to take things one step at a time.
“I wouldn’t rule it out, but when people kept saying that at campaign events, I would say, ‘How about after eight years we evaluate whether I’m even doing a good job of being effective.’ If not, I should get out of the way,” he said.
Cloudman also maintains that he has no political aspirations beyond DeLand. A Republican, Cloudman enjoys using his relationships with local Republican representatives to lobby for DeLand and West Volusia. Tallahassee can be romantic, he said, but DeLand is where he wants to be.
“If for no other reason, the political atmosphere up there is so much more party politics,
and I have no interest in that,” Cloudman said.
Working on local issues, Cloudman said, it doesn’t matter what party elected officials are registered with, other than “some of us might be a little more conservative on the budget.”
He also appreciates that there is no infighting on the DeLand City Commission.
But, he said, what he really loves about DeLand is its people, and you can’t get them anywhere else.
“We pride ourselves on that small-town feel, which I still maintain comes from the people and the organizations,” he said. “No matter how large we get, it never ceases to amaze me how much people give back.”
He encourages all of his constituents to come to meetings, get involved, and let their feelings be heard so he can help make DeLand, as he put it, “the greatest city in the multiverse.”
“I’m doing this to serve the community, to represent everyone in this community. I’m here to listen. Grab me in the grocery store, grab me Downtown on a Friday night,” Cloudman said. “This isn’t about me at all, this is about our community, and that’s how I want to approach this: make sure that I’m visible and make sure that I’m accessible, move forward together and continue to make this the greatest city, as Bob likes to say, to live, work and play.”