Archived Story

2009 queen makes case to council

Published 8:23am Tuesday, March 23, 2010

By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News

Former Miss Dowagiac Shelby Willis addressed City Council Monday night.

What is she trying to accomplish in going public with friction with the Chamber of Commerce program director, pageant director and pageant committee?

“I guess that there would be somebody higher than the Chamber who watches over them,” the 2009 queen told the Daily News. “We had a problem with the director and with the Chamber, but there’s nobody to go to, nowhere to turn.

“I don’t want Miss Dowagiac to end or for anyone to be punished, but if this happened again, they’re going to be in the same boat. You can’t come here (referring to City Council), even though it’s called Miss Dowagiac.”

“We were warned by the city manager and the mayor that there was no need to come,” added Shelby’s mother, Julie Willis, who published a letter critical of the pageant March 8.

“The biggest problem was they thought my appearances were excessive, that I was doing too much,” Shelby said. “That’s the last thing you should ever say to a queen representing the city. I don’t understand that, ‘doing too much.’ I can see if I was going to concerts with my crown on, but to read to elementary schools and to volunteer in the community, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t do that” because it promotes the pageant to generate interest and support through scholarship donations.

“Just because my reign is over doesn’t mean that I should let it go,” Shelby said. “It still happened. Nobody should be fired, but they need to take responsibility for the disrespectful things they did. I never treated them that way, and I don’t think that’s the way they should treat their queen. It can just keep happening unless there’s somebody like this council. There were good people on the committee who helped me. Without them, I don’t know what I would have done.”

Building a float “is a huge financial burden for the Chamber and the families to meet requirements for the Blossomtime (Grand Floral Parade),” Julie said, “and we’re not allowed to compete.”

Shelby said in her six-minute statement she read to the council, “Despite the city manager’s e-mail stating that this matter is outside the jurisdiction of the City Council and the mayor’s letter stating it is inappropriate for the city to involve itself in this private organization, Miss Dowagiac is an ambassador for this city – both within the city and in outside communities.

“How representation of the city is handled should be a concern of this council, as well as this city’s manager and mayor. I will always hold the Miss Dowagiac experience very close to my heart. I would never take back any of my community involvement. It has brought me closer to my community and helped me grow as a person. I would never want to see the Miss Dowagiac pageant end. It is looked at as a dream for many little girls,” Shelby said.

“Being Miss Dowagiac has given me some of my most valued memories,” she continued, “but if this pageant is to continue, changes need to be made. Oversight needs to be implemented and people should be held accountable for their actions. It is a privilege to represent this city, and the behavior of those who do should reflect that.”

“My reign made me realize that things are not as they seemed,” she said. “My court appeared with me only three times during my reign – at the Blossomtime parade, the fashion show and the ice festival, where we were replaced in the activities with the 2010 contestants. I have no personal issues with my two court members. We are friends. However, as I attended events and parades throughout the year by myself, and with empty seats on our float, it represented a poor reflection on our city when it appeared as though we didn’t have a court interested enough in the honor they had been given to attend.”

“I believe it is my obligation to bring these issues to the council’s attention,” Shelby said, “and will share specifics if you are truly interested in improving the situation for future queens and their families. Many of the burdens placed on the queen and her family could be easily remedied,” though “we were ignored and ridiculed for our suggestions. Families have no ability to prepare for what they will encounter until it is too late. The sponsorship of the Miss Dowagiac pageant by the Chamber prevents any accountability. The decision to come forward was difficult, when it would have been easier to just let it go, but I was taught to do the right thing, not always the easy thing. That’s why I’m here. While all this madness went on behind the scenes, I still chose to attend every event I could, and it showed me how beautiful the community of Dowagiac really is. The Miss Dowagiac pageant should reflect this beauty.  I’m proud to call Dowagiac my hometown and so honored to have been Miss Dowagiac and Miss Congeniality 2009. I am not unappreciative. Being Miss Dowagiac has given me so many opportunities to grow and I am extremely grateful. I hope bringing this to your attention brings about change and improvement and that this isn’t simply forgotten or treated as though it is not a city concern.”

Second Ward Councilman Bob Schuur apologized to Shelby “for any inconvenience she received. I know she represented the city well.”

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