Update 12:30 p.m. — At this time it appears the website has been taken down.
SURF CITY — Surf City Mayor Doug Medlin denied any involvement in the creation of a website designed to defame political opponent Jeremy Shugarts, a town councilman who is challenging Medlin for the mayoral seat this November.
On Monday morning, the front page of electjeremyshugarts.com showed a photograph of Shugarts — the same used on Shugarts’ Facebook campaign page — with the town’s logo and large text inscribed, “How many meetings can I miss and still be mayor?” By Monday evening the photograph had been removed.
It then described his “platform,” written as if by Shugarts. The first section, entitled “Personal Responsibility,” wrote to “[p]lease ignore the fact that my councilman’s wages have to be garnished because I owe back child support.” By Monday evening that sentence had also been removed from the website.
Further down on the page, viewers were asked to ignore “that I have 2 businesses but for some reason none of it is in my name” and to “let everyone know I have missed 6 meetings in my short stint as councilman but still want to be mayor.”
At the bottom was written “Copyright 2019 Jeremy Shugarts,” along with a link to subscribe for “updates from the candidate on the trail.”
In response to the subscription link, a confirmation email sent to Port City Daily came from an email address associated with Medlin’s business, East Coast Sports — the same email address listed as the mayor’s on a document of elected officials found on the Pender County Board of Elections website (see below).
A signature at the bottom of the confirmation email included Shugarts’ name beside the address of a property owned by the mayor’s son, Chris Medlin, according to Pender County land records.
“My name is on [the confirmation email] with Chris Medlin’s address,” Shugarts said. “I’m not accusing them of this, I’m saying factually, when you confirm [the subscription] and put your email, it goes to East Coast Sports. I’m not accusing them, I’m just looking at the facts.”
Susan Williams, head of the Pender County Board of Elections, said she had submitted certain materials regarding the website to the Investigations Division of the State Board of Elections. According to the State Board’s website, the division “investigates reports of frauds and irregularities in elections and, if warranted by evidence, refers cases to district attorneys for possible prosecution.”
According to Williams, the email address listed on the elected officials document was pulled directly from the Town of Surf City’s website, as noted on the document itself.
“At some point that was the email address that was put up [on the town’s website],” Williams said.
Mayor and son respond
On Monday afternoon, Medlin denied any involvement with the website and any knowledge of who was behind it.
“I did not do it,” Medlin said. “I have no idea really who did it. I mean, if it’s got an EC Sports address or whatever on it, I don’t know.”
He said his business no longer uses the email account associated with the website, nor has he used it while filing any past elections paperwork.
“So, unless someone hacked them or created new ones they shouldn’t be active,” Medlin said. “I will call the Pender County Board of Elections [on Tuesday] about this … It is not on my actual paperwork and to my knowledge never has been. I have never used that email for myself.”
When asked if his son was involved with the website, he said he hadn’t spoken with him about the issue, but to his knowledge he was not.
Chris Medlin, reached by phone at East Coast Sports on Monday evening, said he had no response to the matter before adding, “I don’t know anything about [the website]. I’d have to look at it.”
“We’re not going to speculate on who this could be,” the mayor’s personal assistant Misty LaPointe said. “The mayor had no involvement in making that website. We had no knowledge of it until someone shared the link with us … I think the mayor has made it clear that he is an honest man and he would never partake in such activity. He doesn’t need to.”
In an email Monday evening Medlin wrote, “I would like to ask whoever created this website to take it down. They may have thought it was funny or that they were being helpful, but it is not helpful. I want to remain focused on the great things I can do for Surf City.”
Shugarts addresses the allegations
On Monday afternoon, Shugarts responded to the website’s allegations that he owed arrears in child support, failed to attend six council meetings during his term as councilman, and ran two businesses not registered in his name.
Although he acknowledged owing back child support in the past, he said this was no longer the case.
“I am not in arrears in my child support,” Shugarts said. “That allegation is completely incorrect. I have been in the past, but I haven’t been in the last couple years.”
[Editor’s Note: A public records request has been sent to the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services, a state where Shugarts lived before moving to the Surf City area and where he said he currently pays child support for two of his children.]
Second, Shugarts said he has missed only three council meetings in his tenure due to family obligations, including a son’s military graduation and a trip to Alaska planned with his father before he was elected to the council.
“Obviously my intention is to be at every meeting,” Shugarts said. “But if my son or my daughter — and I have six of them — have a life-changing event, I won’t miss that. Family’s more important to me.”
According to an attendance sheet sent by Surf City town clerk Stephanie Hobbs, Shugarts missed six meetings since taking a council seat in December 2017, as the website alleged. The only other councilmember marked for an absence during the same period was Nelva Albury, who missed one meeting last week.
Meeting notes show that Shugarts missed three regular council meetings — one of which he was granted remote audio access as a non-voting party — and three council workshop meetings.
Responding to the third allegation, Shugarts said the two Daily Grind coffee shops he runs in Surf City are, technically speaking, owned by his wife because of tax reasons.
“For whatever reasons — personal or taxes — it’s not illegal for my wife to own a business and not have my name on it,” Shugarts said.
According to the North Carolina Secretary of State, an entity called The Daily Dip LLC is owned by his wife, Tracey Shugarts, and has the same principal office address as The Daily Grind’s Topsail Island location.
Ultimately, Shugarts said he cared less about the allegations themselves than the use of his own identity in the creation of the website.
“I don’t care what lies they make,” Shugarts said. “It’s political. What I’m concerned about is using my information as they developed this website. That’s what’s upsetting to me.”
This is especially concerning to Shugarts if the website’s “donate now” link has been used to receive any funds, which as of Monday night resulted in the message: “We cannot process this transaction because there is a problem with the PayPal email address supplied by the seller.”
Mark Darrough can be reached at Mark@Localvoicemedia.com or (970) 413-3815