In the shadow of a national scandal — and with the September pageant fast approaching — strife has hit the Miss America Organization once again.
Last week, the Miss America Organization announced the election of three new members to the board of trustees, after two former state titleholders enacted letters of resignation and two former Miss Americas stepped away from the board. Since the announcement, some within the Miss America sphere have objected to the direction taken by the organization’s new leadership.
Dr. Shelley Robertson, author Mary Jane Clark and Dr. Debbye Turner Bell were announced as the newly elected members of the Miss America Organization’s board of trustees, while members Miss North Carolina 1991 Jennifer Vaden Barth and Miss Maine 1980 Valerie Crooker Clemens relinquished their seats, according to a statement from chair of the board of trustees Gretchen Carlson.
Carlson sent a letter June 22 addressed to the executive directors of the state competitions, thanking them for continued support and addressing the first of the resignations.
“By virtue of the election you held to name your two interim representatives to the Miss America Board of Trustees, interim members submitted signed resignation letters, when they were seated, agreeing to leave the board once the revisioning process was complete and stakeholder group’s input was received,” the statement said.
Miss America CEO and President Regina Hopper told the Press similar information, that the positions held by Barth and Crooker were meant to represent the Miss America State Titleholders Association and were “interim in nature.”
Following the resignations, dissent against the leadership arose on online Miss America message boards and forums.
While many fans and volunteers with the organization expressed disappointment and dissatisfaction with the “Miss America 2.0” changes, including the elimination of the swimsuit competition, the discussion then turned to the leadership under Carlson and Hopper.
On Wednesday, Barth posted to a Miss America closed Facebook group, “Although we have tried to take the high road and avoid causing any further damage to the program we all love, it is our understanding the remaining Trustees held a call yesterday in which some inaccurate accounts of those departures were provided to many of Miss America’s most valued stakeholders.”
Barth could not be reached for comment.
The post said Clemens and Barth both did not resign voluntarily. While a resignation letter was signed when both joined the board in January, it was their understanding that a revision to the Miss America bylaws in March, along with their election to the board, rendered the letters moot. Barth also mentioned a condition of the first seated board was to conduct a search for a CEO, which the statement claims was never made.
Hopper was officially announced as CEO in May, but was working with MAO prior to the announcement.
The post closed with a joint statement from four former board members saying, “we did not leave because we didn’t care, were too busy with families or careers, or lack of passion for the organization ... All of us would love to return to the board, utilize our talents and connections, and position MAO to succeed to the centennial and beyond, if circumstances change. We hope that sets the record straight.”
Carlson posted later to the same group, saying, “It is time to set the record straight.”
Carlson reiterated Clemens and Barth were interim trustees with the knowledge that their resignations letters were unconditional and irrevocable pursuant to a board-approved process. “The change in the bylaws in no way affects the status and validity of those resignation letters,” the statement said. “Once their resignations were effective, consistent with standard practice for any organization, their MAO email accounts were shut down and communication with them as trustees ceased.”
Carlson’s post continued to address the resignations of Miss America 1998 Kate Shindle and Miss America 2012 Laura Kaeppler Fleiss, saying they both initally voted against Carlson’s appointment to lead the organization in January and continued to advance their own personal interests “to unseat the duly-elected Chair and take over the organization.”
Shindle and Fleiss were removed from the Board of Directors page on the Miss America Organization website Wednesday.
The Miss America bylaws are not publicly available, but the organization’s leadership has said changes were made to the bylaws since the beginning of the year.
“Frankly, what was inherited was an organization that, while loved by those of us who are close to it, has extensive internal operational, structural and contractual issues to address,” Carlson said in her letter to state executive directors.
The two board positions held by former state Executive Directors Ashley Bird and Jessie Ward Bennett are also interim positions, but they will retain their positions until changes to the state competitions under the new organization guidelines are finalized.
Hopper also said the MAO Board of Trustees is functioning as a member organization and can review the terms for the trustees at the end of their fiscal year in March.
The Miss America Organization hopes to introduce the new competition guidelines at the Miss America 2019 contestant orientation in July. Miss America 2019 will be held in Atlantic City and broadcast on ABC networks on Sept 9, 2018.