Sunday, March 26, 2023

In Videos: Port City Daily’s Surf City candidate forum [Free read]

Watch full videos of each candidate who attended Port City Daily's Surf City candidate forum in Holly Ridge this week, or read quick quotes that summarize their positions on key issues facing the town.

The Surf City Candidate Forum, moderated by Port City managing editor Ben Schachtman, held at the Holly Ridge Community Center. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
The Surf City Candidate Forum, moderated by Port City managing editor Ben Schachtman, was held at the Holly Ridge Community Center. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)

HOLLY RIDGE — Compliments of the Town of Holly Ridge, Port City Daily hosted its inaugural Surf City candidate forum Wednesday.

Incumbent Surf City Councilman Jeremy Shugarts and candidates Richard Vessov, David Gilbride, and Kathleen Sumner participated in the forum, sponsored by Salty Turtle Beer Company, Surf City BBQ, Santino’s Pizza, and Quartermaster’s.

Mayor Douglas Medlin, Councilman Donald Helms, Mayor-pro-tem William Fowler, and candidate Dwight Torres did not attend, citing prior commitments.

Author’s note: Port City Daily has selected quotes that generally represent the candidates’ viewpoint and responses to the questions. View each of the candidates’ full answers in the videos below. Questions asked to candidates have been condensed for brevity and clarity.

Beach nourishment

PCD: What can Surf City do to make sure the beaches are the way that residents want them to be? 

David Gilbride: “I think we have to define the problem, accept the fact that it has to be done, and get it done. We have more plans to do things that we never implement; it’s time.”

Jeremy Shugarts: “I believe you don’t wait — fix, then collect.”

Kathleen Sumner: “If we don’t have our beaches safe for our visitors and residents, then we’re going to not have visitors come to us. So we’ll lose the money that we need to fund our beach renourishment.”

Richard Vessov: “We can’t just count on getting money from some other part of the country, some other pocket that we’re going to take it out of. We’re going to need to find a way to get creative.”

PCD: And how do you feel about the beach push last spring, an operation some experts called expensive and ineffective in the long-term?

David Gilbride: “I guess I would defer to the experts in making those kind of decisions and not necessarily do what makes people feel good.”

Jeremy Shugarts: “I’m not for a push, but at the time there were no berms. Some people were left defenseless.”

Kathleen Sumner: “Sometimes all you can do is a temporary measure. It may help some people, not all people. But we plan to make sure that we don’t skip a deadline to get our beach renourished. That was missed by our particular administration.”

Richard Vessov: “I do believe the push was fairly successful and I’m glad we did it.”

Development is spreading

PCD: Development is spreading along the coast — apartment complexes, mixed-use developments, etc. How has the town handled such development? Would you change anything?

Kathleen Sumner: “We need to make sure our growth is controlled.”

Richard Vessov: “We need to look at the full picture and say, even though this is something that is allowed, we really shouldn’t do it. Sometimes you have to say no.”

David Gilbride: “We learned a very bad lesson a couple weeks ago with Atkinson Road, and that was the lesson of connectivity.”

Jeremy Shugarts: “Just because someone wants to put in 80 homes, doesn’t mean they get to put in 80 homes in Surf City. They get to be put in when the council, mayor, and planning board says it’s right for Surf City.”

Lessons from Hurricane Florence

PCD: Hurricane Florence brought up issues with emergency planning, particularly communication with residents. What would you do differently?

David Gilbride: “As we know from Florence, if there was in fact an emergency management plan, it was stuffed in a drawer, probably next to the bicycle and pedestrian plan … I believe they’re making a concerted effort to improve that.”

Jeremy Shugarts: “To rely only on the staff that we have is short-sighted.”

Vessov: “With Dorian, I do believe the communication was way better than it was with Florence.”

Kathleen Sumner: “Don’t just order them, explain to them.”

Communication and transparency

PCD: As Florence highlighted, communication between a town and its citizens is important. What are some things the town does well in this area, and what areas should it improve?

Jeremy Shugarts: “We should do whatever it takes to communicate with the citizens … When it comes to you and your life, and what’s at stake, it is our responsibility to tell you everything.”

Kathleen Sumner: “I think it’s improving. Do I think it’s okay? No.”

Richard Vessov: “The worst part about [Hurricane Florence] was not knowing; not having any communications whatsoever about what was happening here.”

David Gilbride: “Where do you go to get the information that the town is communicating to you, if they are? That’s a serious problem; somebody has to be designated to do that communicating.”

Is infrastructure keeping up with growth?

PCD: When you’ve got a growing town, you’ve got to plan for it. What would be your plans for keeping infrastructure on pace with a growing population?

David Gilbride: “Water is fine — we have more water than we know what to do with. But the sewer system is now at capacity, and in my own opinion, we ought to stop handing out building permits for developments until we’ve solved that problem.”

Jeremy Shugarts: “As a mayor I will guide and direct this council to help them be effective in getting this infrastructure fixed.”

Kathleen Sumner: “With these contractors building in Surf City, make them contribute to help us purchase additional land for [sewer] affluence.”

Richard Vessov: “We need to be proactive. We need to look ahead and we need to plan better.”

Not allowed to talk with department heads?

Audience question: This is for Jeremy [Shugarts]: At the last candidate forum a few weeks ago, you were telling a story about how you were going to department heads to see things for yourself. You became alerted to what was going on with the waste management system. And you said the mayor told you, “Don’t do that anymore.” That’s the way I took it. And then your time was cut off and it was never addressed again. Can you expand on that? What were you going to say?

Before the video above begins, Shugarts said that as a new councilman he made a point to meet with department heads to get a better understanding of water, fire, police, and other areas of the town’s operations. When he met with Steve Smith of the sewage department, he said Smith told him, “Look, we’re maxed. We’re at capacity. We can’t really put another development in. We need to build another one of these facilities.”

“So I made a mistake, I talked with Mark Darrough of Port City Daily News,” Shugarts said. “That was probably one of the downfalls early on for me as a councilman, because the mayor did contact me and said, ‘Look, you are not permitted to speak to department heads anymore.’ He said, ‘You make us a look bad as a council.'”

According to Shugarts, the mayor informed him the council came to a consensus to not allow Shugarts to speak with department heads.

“I believe that every council person should meet with department heads and ask questions and learn,” Shugarts said.

Shugarts’ election violations

Audience Question: To me there’s an elephant in the room and there’s an election in three weeks. And I just want to ask [Jeremy Shugarts] about some charges, some allegations of irregularities that you have not addressed. You have not addressed [them] on social media; they have been made very public. And I’d love to hear you address the issues about these charges.

Jeremy Shugarts: “Five of the charges are as a result of my failure to update my driver’s license, from moving to one Surf City residence to another. That’s factual … I’ve never voted in an election that I was not entitled to legally, ever.”

Beach nourishment, round two

Audience Question: We’re doing the long-term beach nourishment project in 2020. It was said tonight that we are not being proactive with it. But we are doing a beach nourishment project to get it engineered status in order to get federal funding. If we’re not being proactive but we’re doing that, what more would you guys do?

David Gilbride: “Beach renourishment and beach engineering has been promised for a very long time, and it just doesn’t seem to happen. So the first that we would do is actually make sure it gets done.”

Jeremy Shugarts: “Right now we are in a reactive stage — we are reacting to our situation. We’ve got to get ourselves to a proactive stage.”

Richard Vessov: “The main thing that’s always said at [town council] meetings is, ‘We’re waiting on this money and we’re not going to spend it or do anything because we want to make sure we get paid back.’ Well if there’s a hurricane and a tree falls on your house, you’re going to go out there with a chainsaw, you’re going to to do what you need to do to protect and save your property versus just sitting around waiting for more damage to happen.”

Kathleen Sumner: “I believe that we do have access and have power to have state regulations addressed by our legislators.

Paid parking?

Audience Question: Parking is becoming limited in Surf City. Would you consider a form of paid parking to help fund things like beach nourishment?

Kathleen Sumner: “Residents who live here and own a home here should be able to get a stick so that they don’t pay for parking. But that the visitors pay for parking.”

Richard Vessov: “A lot of times, [tourists] are day-trippers and they’re really not spending any money or buying anything at any of the stores or shops, yet they’re coming in and using our resources. So I think it’d only be fair to set up a system [for paid parking].”

David Gilbride: “I also wonder if having paid parking lots will force more people in front of your driveway or blocking entrances into buildings or blocking streets … So I think it’s something that deserves some study and if there’s a way to generate revenue without pain and suffering for the residents, we should look at it.”

Closing statements

David Gilbride: “[The secrecy of a 25-year economic plan] fundamentally is the problem with your municipal government right now. There is no transparency, and it really has to stop. And we will make an effort to make a stop to it.”

Richard Vessov: “So many times in government, even at the city level, people forget who they’re working for. And we’re working for each and every one of you.”

Kathleen Sumner: “[M]y vision is one of controlled growth with fiscal responsibility and citizen input.”

Jeremy Shugarts: “For the new citizen — those I consider here two years or less — you understand, because you come from a place where there’s representation. It’s normal that there’s fresh blood and openness. That’s okay for you.”

Mark Darrough can be reached at or (970) 413-3815

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