Twenty-three former Miss Oregons want more answers after a settlement between the state Department of Justice and former pageant directors Steve and Dana Phillips.
The couple agreed to step down from any roles with the pageant and pay $150,000 through the Oregon Community Foundation to the Tiffany Phillips Memorial Scholarship Fund, named for their late daughter.
The former Miss Oregons want to make sure all pageant scholarships have been delivered.
“It has also come to our attention that various titleholders and scholarship winners have had difficulty receiving their awards in a timely fashion,” JuliAnn Berg Blam, Lynette Boggs-Perez, Jana Peterson DeCarli and Elizabeth Simmons McShane wrote in a letter approved by 19 other former titleholders.
“We do not know if this is because of financial difficulties due to the loss of funds, or for some other reason,” they wrote. “Additionally, we have heard that some sponsors and benefactors are quite anxious, and hope that their donations are being used in service of the Miss Oregon Scholarship Program’s stated aims and ideals.”
Blam, who won Miss Oregon in 1974, said, “Let’s look at the minutes of their meetings, financial reports. I’d like to get each executive director to submit us a list of scholarships that are outstanding to titleholders and runner-ups to district, to see if the scholarship foundation has the wherewithal to meet those commitments.”
The former pageant winners are asking for an opportunity to meet with the Miss Oregon Scholarship Program Executive Director Teri Leeper, along with the Miss Oregon Scholarship Foundation Executive Director Sue Pickell and the boards of directors of the Miss Oregon Scholarship Program and the Miss Oregon Scholarship Foundation, which holds money for Miss Oregon Scholarship Program contestants.
While the Phillips’ have stepped aside, questions remain, Blam said. “Where is that money, what was appropriate, what happened, whose watch was that on? Do those people still sit on the board or does the board consist of new people?”
Kristina Edmunson, a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice, said investigators identified $336,000 in questionable expenditures from the Miss Oregon Scholarship Foundation, but some of them were “likely appropriate and related to the organization’s operations.”
The Phillips’ voluntarily transferred $75,000 to the scholarship foundation shortly after the Department of Justice investigation began.
“Under the circumstances, we concluded that the payment of an additional $150,000 was an appropriate settlement, given the costs and uncertainty associated with litigation,” Edmunson said.
After the settlement was announced, Dana Phillips denied that the couple personally profited from the pageant.
The agreement with the state referred to unlawful trade practices, but does not allege fraud, Phillips said. “At no time did we ever use the Miss Oregon pageant for personal gain or wrongdoing,” she said.
Investigators also determined the organization’s records were incomplete and not maintained in a manner that allows for a complete accounting.
According to the Miss Oregon Scholarship Program, in a statement earlier this month, all requested documentation was submitted on time and as requested.
“Our organization participated fully with the Oregon Department of Justice in this investigation and audit,” the scholarship board of directors and leadership team wrote. “While we are more than troubled at the findings and outcome we look forward to receiving official notification that our portion of the audit has found the Miss Oregon Scholarship Program, under its current leadership, to be both organizationally and financially sound in scope and practice.”
James Moore, the president of the scholarship program’s board, said he has been in touch with the former pageant winners and wants to hear their concerns.
“Anybody who has questions that we can answer, we would happily do,” Moore said. “It appears that there are specific questions about the foundation, about monies that have either been held or are in a different account. It seems to me the former Miss Oregons are looking out for any previous winners that had received monies and not yet used them.
“I am confident that the funds that were held for every single one of our local winners and local boards, and any former Miss Oregons that need their funds, I believe that money to be all there for them,” Moore said.
Moore said he wants to put the former contestants at ease that their money is set aside, and all money will be available when requested.
A split between the Miss Oregon Scholarship Program and the Miss Oregon Scholarship Foundation may be ahead. The Miss Oregon Scholarship Program is looking to turn to a different foundation to hold their money “just for perception.”