NORWALK — Young Norwalk women and teen-agers vying for a shot at the titles in two city-sponsored beauty contests will have to leave their fancy dresses on hangers a while longer.
The Norwalk Chamber of Commerce board of directors decided last week to postpone the Miss Norwalk and Miss Teen Norwalk pageants until next year after the City Council rejected the chamber's plan to drop the traditional beauty-contest format for one that honors both boys and girls for academic and community achievements.
The beauty pageants were criticized last year when mistakes were discovered in the scoring of the two contests. As a result, mothers of several contestants in the Miss Teen Norwalk contest filed suit last month against the city and chamber alleging fraud, favoritism by judges and misrepresentation.
Event for More Young People
A chamber spokesman, however, said their proposal to drop the pageant did not stem from the lawsuit or problems with last year's pageant. Instead, chamber manager Fred Sica said the chamber wanted to switch to "do something progressive" involving a greater number of young people.
The council immediately expressed its disapproval Monday, and the chamber dropped the proposal.
"If the chamber doesn't want to do it," then the city will take back its $4,000 subsidy and run the pageants, said Councilman Cecil N. Green at the council session.
"It's a 29-year-old program. It's a shame to see it lost to the city," Green said later. The contests promote the city, officials say, and winners represent it at civic functions, like the annual Heritage Fair and city birthday party. The winner of the Miss Norwalk pageant enters other contests, including the Miss California pageant.
As a result, the chamber Thursday decided to forge ahead with the 29-year-old tradition and the pageant will likely be held in February.
"The truth is, what happened is most likely my fault. I didn't realize how important the pageant was," Sica said in an interview.
The contests are usually held in October but the chamber will not have enough time to prepare, Sica added, noting that officials want to avoid conflicting with the holidays in November and December.
There are seven contests altogether held over two days: Miss Norwalk, for girls and women ages 16 to 23; Miss Teen Norwalk, for girls ages 12 to 15; Young Miss Norwalk, for girls 10 to 12; Little Miss Norwalk and Little Mister Norwalk, for girls and boys 6 to 9, and Wee Miss Norwalk and Wee Mister Norwalk, for youngsters 3 to 5. Winners get trophies and flowers.
Sica said the board will stage the Miss Norwalk and Miss Teen contests, which are for women and girls only. No decision has been made about the others. The city will most likely extend the reign of the current Miss Norwalk, Karen Oien, he said.
The chamber still has high hopes for the new program, which may be introduced in April, Sica said. The chamber had proposed a new activity in which both sexes could represent the city as "Ambassadors of Norwalk." The event would reward youngsters for doing well academically and being active in school and community programs. In exchange for their presence at civic functions, the chamber would give scholarships to the winners.
Coincidentally, the chamber's proposal was rejected by the council the same day that it learned of a suit by the mothers of three contestants in last year's Young Miss Norwalk Beauty Pageant. Lillian Sierra, Jonetta Jimenez and Pamela Duron filed suit in August in Superior Court seeking in excess of $100,000 from the city, the chamber, Eva Frederick, who directed the pageants, and the Miss Norwalk Beauty Pageant Assn.
Ties to Judges Alleged
The mothers allege fraud and say they suffered emotional distress as a result of "fraudulently tabulated" scoring that allowed "contestants who had ties and interests with various judges and the director to win."
Kenneth J. Kleinberg, lawyer for the mothers, said they are "outraged . . . and feel some injustice has been done."
"Nobody likes to be played for a chump," Kleinberg said.
City Atty. J. Kenneth Brown declined to comment. Frederick could not be reached for comment.
Problems with last year's pageant surfaced when results of the Miss Teen Norwalk contest were invalidated because of scoring errors. After a recount of the Nov. 2 contest, winner Yasmin Macias, who was awarded the crown, came in second place; Pamela Sommer, who took second, ended up in third place; and Amy Muller, who originally placed third, emerged the winner. Two first-place trophies were awarded to Muller and Macias.
Mistakes were also found in the Young Miss Norwalk contest, which eventually resulted in the lawsuit.
Employee's Daughter Won
Critics said that the winners in the Miss Teen Norwalk pageant were sponsored by Master Caterers and Eva Frederick Transportation, both owned by Frederick. In the Young Miss contest, the winner was the daughter of an employee of Master Caterers.
Richard Streng, city administrator, said the city will "work with the chamber to avoid future problems." He added that an accounting firm may be hired to count the ballots for this year's pageant.
Sica, who took over as manager in April, said the chamber will "incorporate very strong internal controls" to "make certain (the pageant) is a top-notch job."