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Miss North Dakota program backs Mund in Miss America controversy

Miss America Cara Mund signs autographs for Girl Scouts June 19, 2018, at the Fargo Air Museum. Forum file photo1 / 2
Miss America 2018 Cara Mund waves to the fans before throwing out the first pitch April 25, 2018, prior to the game between the Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Angels at Minute Maid Park. Erik Williams / USA TODAY Sports2 / 2

FARGO — The Miss North Dakota program is standing behind Cara Mund, the first North Dakotan crowned Miss America who recently called out the national organization's leadership in a scathing letter.

On Sunday, Aug. 19, officials with the Williston-based Miss North Dakota Scholarship Organization posted to Facebook an open letter signed by the group's board of directors that backs Mund and calls on the Miss America Organization to take drastic steps to address the treatment she says she's faced this past year.

Like Mund's letter, which was widely shared online Friday, Aug. 17, the Miss North Dakota letter says key leaders of Miss America should be removed immediately, including Gretchen Carlson, the head of the organization, as well as CEO Regina Hopper and Vice President of Development Brent Adams.

The North Dakota group has signed a vote of no confidence petition, also signed by 25 other state licensees, that calls for the resignation of the entire board of trustees, not just the top Miss America officials.

Executive Director Kathy Jones said the issue quickly arose after Mund's letter accusing Miss America's leaders of bullying and silencing her came out.

Jones said that was the first time Miss North Dakota officials saw a detailed accounting of these leadership problems. At first, she said the state group had hoped to just get through the upcoming 2019 Miss America pageant on Sept. 9 in Atlantic City, N.J.

But Jones said the group decided to weigh into the issue Sunday to make it clear that it supports Mund, even if it's unclear what would happen if the current leaders were removed just weeks before the national competition.

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"Without those details laid out, we really feel like we don't know what's going to happen and who's going to be taking over because somebody has to," she said.

Mund didn't respond Friday to The Forum's requests for comment. A spokesperson for the Miss America Organization told The Forum that the group is not granting interviews or providing additional statements on the matter.

Weighing in

The new letter says the Miss North Dakota organization originally held off on signing the petition in the hopes that other national leaders would investigate the complaints and come up with a transition plan.

But that quickly changed after Mund's own whistleblowing letter brought the issue to the forefront on Friday, prompting the release of the North Dakota letter two days later.

"However, after the events of the past 48 hours, our above concerns have been overshadowed by the immediate need to put a stop to the disgraceful treatment of Miss America Cara Lund," the letter read. "As we have stated before, we stand behind and support Cara, and are incredibly proud of the bravery she has displayed."

Mund's letter said the national chair and CEO "have systematically silenced me, reduced me, marginalized me, and essentially erased me in my role as Miss America in subtle and not-so-subtle ways on a daily basis."

She also said Carlson, the 1989 Miss America, had become the sole figure for major press interviews. In addition, Mund said she was told she needed to mention three things at every interview: Carlson started the #MeToo movement; Carlson went to Stanford University; and Miss America remains relevant.

Carlson responded to Mund's claims Sunday with a Twitter statement, saying she took the post of chair with "some trepidation" last year as the Miss America Organization dealt with the fallout of an email scandal.

She said it seemed the group was heading in the right direction for this year's pageant, including the elimination of the swimsuit competition, which is why she was "surprised and saddened beyond words" by Mund's letter.

Carlson said the organization is "very proud" of Mund and her accomplishments, but she also denied accusations of bullying or silencing. The statement said blowback from Mund's letter cost the organization $75,000 in scholarships and will likely have other consequences.

"My goal for the last eight months has been to keep Miss America vital and remain laser focused on the candidates who have chosen to participate," Carlson wrote. "We are three weeks away from what should be a historic moment of celebrating the amazing 51 candidates who have chosen to compete for the job of Miss America. We should be celebrating them. Cara, please join us in doing so."

Jones said North Dakota officials, too, hope the upcoming pageant can still be a good experience for state competitors, including Miss North Dakota Katie Olson.

She said state licensees like Miss North Dakota could be crucial as Miss America responds to its leadership woes.

"That's our hope is that the states can help take the lead and get new leadership in place to make it strong going forward," she said.

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Ryan Johnson

Ryan Johnson is the Features Editor for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He previously wrote for The Forum and the Grand Forks Herald.

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