The Olympia City Council approved its Lodging Tax Advisory Committee's (LTAC) recommendation to fund 24 programs, except for Capital Lakefair, which was accused of discriminating against a teenage girl with a disability by excluding her in the application process for 2023 Royalty Court scholarship program.
The city council canceled a planned $25,000 award to the organization at its meeting yesterday.
Capital Lakefair received backlash from community members using Facebook after the organization allegedly discriminated against a teenager, Abigail, who was nominated by her high school to be considered for Lakefair’s Royalty Court.
Mayor Pro Tem Clark Gilman updated the public on what took place in Capital Lakefair's selection process, and what put the organization in a hot spot.
According to Gilman, each regional high school forward a student to be considered for the Lakefair Royalty Court.
He said Black Hills High School selected a student with a disability. "She and her mother worked for several days on an essay, which I found beautiful. Then they received a phone call [from the organization] that said 'we are going to screen you out ahead of the interview'," Gilman said, adding that led to a lot of discussions on social media over the weekend.
Resident Whitney Bowerman, who described herself to The JOLT as “just a mom,” attended the city council meeting because she was concerned about Lakefair’s alleged action, and spoke during the public comment section of the meeting.
Bowerman criticized the organization for not apologizing to the child, her family, and the community. She noted that the organization made no commitment to amend its policies to ensure that exclusion never happens again.
"This incident is emblematic of a systemic problem within the Capital Lakefair organization. The organization has failed to grow with the times. Capital Lakefair receives considerable public funding and support from public entities. These entities should discontinue their support until the Capital Lakefair makes drastic changes," Bowerman said.
She asked the city council not to award the lodging tax monies to the organization "because they employ discriminatory practices and do not appear to commit to working towards amending those practices."
Capital Lakefair addressed the issue on its Facebook page and stated that it now allowed Abigail back into the process.
"The Capital Lakefair board and officers met this evening. We are pleased to announce the decision has been made to move forward with all submitted Royalty Scholarship applications," the organization posted on January 17.
Ken Ringering, Capital Lakefair's past president, read some parts of the organization's letter submitted to the city council. The letter explained that schools nominate those who participated in the Royalty scholarship program, meet rigorous criteria, and are working to further their academic education.
"The scholarship program has a long history of supporting young women. It has never been a beauty or popularity contest," Ringering said, adding that the application requirements and criteria are not intended to exclude.
In its December 18, 2022 Facebook post, Capital Lakefair stated some criteria for eligible applicants – a young lady with a 3.3 GPA and in the 11th grade who wants to represent her community.
Ringering narrated that on January 5, the Capital Lakefair board of directors reviewed the applications for the scholarship program. He said there was a concern with one candidate's application, which did not meet the necessary criteria to proceed.
"They did not want to single out the student in a public setting when she was not chosen to proceed. It was not a decision they wanted to make. The board felt they were making the right decision at the time,” he said, adding “in their effort to be equal and fair to all candidates, they were inadvertently creating inequitable guidelines for some who wish to apply.”
He added that the applicant was reinstated into the process.
"We are currently reviewing ways to incorporate inclusion for students that might otherwise not be included in the process, which will promote awareness and celebrate inclusion. It is our goal for the future,” Ringering said.
Olympia Mayor Cheryl Selby, who also sits as LTAC member, said the committee is not allocating the $25,000 this year.
"It became apparent to us that we needed to have a very serious conversation about city values in regards to how we disperse grant funds, specifically LTAC funds," she said.
Selby commented the organization "has drifted away from the city's values regarding equity and belonging."
"I understand there's a lot we don't know. There are always two sides," Selby said of the selection process fiasco. "We've been talking with former board members, current board members, people that were on the board - to try to get to the bottom of this, and that we're not there yet."
Selby proposed to request Social Justice and Equity Commission to provide recommendations on how to incorporate equity on future allocations from the lodging tax.
The mayor also asked the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion manager, Tobi Hill-Meyer, and staff liaison for Olympia’s Social Justice & Equity Commission, to meet with the Capital Lakefair board to have a conversation, gauge their willingness and commitment to create an event that reflects the values of community, which is inclusivity.
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