Because of one death and one resignation, all five seats on the West Volusia Hospital Authority Board of Commissioners were up for election this year, either in the August primary or the November general election.
As it turned out, three commissioners were elected automatically this summer when they were the only ones to file to run for their seats. Now voters must decide the final two in the Nov. 3 election.
With disagreements among the four candidates surrounding how much taxpayer money to spend on West Volusia’s most vulnerable populations, the upcoming election could decide the direction of health care for the poor in our community.
All five Hospital Authority seats are profiled below. Only Group A, Seat 3 and Group B, Seat 1 will be on the ballot.
Group A, Seat 1
Group A, Seat 1, previously held by Dr. John Hill, was won by Brian Soukup, whose relationship with the Hospital Authority has been rocky.
Soukup served previously on the Hospital Authority Citizens Advisory Committee, but was removed after allegedly violating Florida’s Sunshine Law by using “reply all” to send an email to all of the Hospital Authority commissioners. Hill defended Soukup, whom he had appointed to the CAC, but Soukup was ultimately voted off.
Soukup told The Beacon his focus as a commissioner on the Hospital Authority will be accountability, and investigating whether funds are being spent responsibly.
“I believe there are multiple organizations that are receiving money that shouldn’t be,” he said. “That are either duplicate services or are already being funded by the state, local or federal government and are already supposed to be providing those services.”
Recently, Soukup made a post on Facebook containing images of WVHA Commissioner Judy Craig’s property-tax information, showing she does not pay any ad valorem property tax because of many exemptions applicable to her home.
Many commenters on Soukup’s post were angry that their property tax had gone up in past years in part due to decisions made by the WVHA, while Craig paid none.
Craig addressed this, telling The Beacon, “I have exemptions, I’m disabled, I’m a widow, and I’m also a senior. So the ad valorem taxes I do not pay, but I pay the non-ad valorem taxes.”
She called Soukup’s post “slanderous” and offensive to all West Volusians who have disabilities or are elderly.
Soukup said the post had nothing to do with Craig’s disability, and more to do with questioning whether she had a “vested interest” in holding the Hospital Authority accountable.
Ultimately, Soukup said, his focus is on the taxpayer.
“We’re here to protect the taxpayers, not the nonprofit hospital systems that are making billions of dollars, or the other nonprofit organizations. We’re here for the taxpayers and to make sure the money is being spent accordingly,” he said.
Group A, Seat 2
Group A, Seat 2, currently held by Andy Ferrari, was won by Dr. J. Roger Accardi, a newcomer to the Hospital Authority board, after Ferrari decided not to run for re-election.
Accardi said he decided to run after several close friends — including Hospital Authority Commissioner Dr. John Hill — told him he would be a good fit. As it turned out, Accardi was the only one to file for the seat, so he was elected automatically.
As a medical professional, Accardi said, ensuring that everyone gets optimal medical care is important to him.
“That feels good to me, that feels kind of fuzzy,” he said. “I don’t want anybody to be without. I don’t think anybody that goes into health care can comfortably say, ‘No, let’s just go 50-percent, let’s just go 75-percent.’”
Group A, Seat 3
Group A, Seat 3 is held by Judy Craig, who is being challenged for the post by Dr. John Hill. Hill chose not to run for his seat against Soukup — the two have endorsed one another in the past and tend to agree on Hospital Authority issues. Instead, Hill filed to run against Craig for her seat.
Craig said she supports bringing new projects and organizations under the purview of the Hospital Authority, and hopes that her perspective as a woman with a disability will continue to enhance the Authority going forward.
“Forward-thinking; sometimes it costs a little bit to save a lot in the long run,” she said.
On the other hand, Hill has said he wants to reduce the cost of the Hospital Authority to taxpayers. Like Soukup, Hill has been critical of what he refers to as “duplication of services,” services that are offered by the Hospital Authority, but are also offered by other organizations.
He said his focus is on “Caring for the most vulnerable of our community, while offering affordable taxpayer-funded care.”
And while Hill has, in the past, vocally supported dissolving the Hospital Authority, he said he believes positive change is happening, and that the decision to dissolve the Hospital Authority would not be up to him, anyway.
Craig, however, said she believes Hill would still ultimately like to see the Hospital Authority disbanded.
Group B, Seat 1
Group B, Seat 1 was previously held by Dolores Guzman, who is giving it up to run for state representative in District 27.
The candidates to fill Guzman’s seat are Jennifer Coen, who has campaigned as an ally of Craig, and Michael Ray, who has been endorsed by Soukup.
Ray could not be reached for this story. In response to The Beacon Voter’s Guide questionnaire, he submitted a statement saying he has lost trust in the news media.
Ray has, in past interviews, supported policies similar to those of Hill’s: Trimming services seen as duplicative, and lowering property taxes for West Volusia residents.
Coen said she is hoping to bring her accounting experience to the table to make the WVHA the best it can be at serving the area’s indigent population.
“It’s one of the things in our community that makes me proud. I’m running to make sure it’s supported in a way that fulfills that mission,” Coen said. “I’m running on accountability and transparency as a business owner, and the longevity of the WVHA; making it better, not tearing it down.”
Group B, Seat 2
Last is Group B, Seat 2, which was won by Voloria Manning, after she was the only candidate to file to run for the seat.
Manning has been serving in the seat since 2019, when she was appointed for a two-year term after the death of Hospital Authority Commissioner Kathie Shepard, who died shortly after her re-election in 2018.
The Beacon was unable to reach Manning for this story.
In the past, Manning has defended the need for the Hospital Authority, and embraced policies that would expand its services. She has also butted heads with Hill, whom she ran against and lost to in 2018.
At a recent WVHA meeting, Manning suggested passing a censure rule following what she felt were disrespectful comments directed toward her from Commissioner Andy Ferrari. Several commissioners, including Hill and Ferrari, felt the move was unnecessary, but WVHA attorney Ted Small said he would look into the possibility of such a rule.
While the commissioners and candidates may differ on their vision for the future of the Hospital Authority, one constant among all the candidates was the notion that the Hospital Authority needed to be good stewards of taxpayer money.
Ensuring West Volusia’s most vulnerable people receive the care they need, and formalizing agreements with area hospitals will be top of mind for the future WVHA board as it takes shape after Election Day.