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OVERSON APOLOGIZES BUT MAKES NO PROMISES

SHARE OVERSON APOLOGIZES BUT MAKES NO PROMISES

It's wasn't quite beauty and the beast, but the four women serving as Salt Lake County Fair royalty finally met face to face with one of their most prominent critics.

Salt Lake County Commission Chairman Brent Overson apologized to the young women for some comments made in the past week, but he made no promises about which direction the commission will take on the swimsuit flap.Overson did say he will not penalize the rest of the fair because of the swimsuit controversy.

"I'm not voting to cut the fair budget," Overson told the Deseret News. "The fair provides too many opportunities to a broad range of people in our community. I don't want to penalize the 4-H kids because we don't want to see girls in their swimsuits."

Overson met privately Monday with Miss Salt Lake County Fair Michele Mobley and her three attendants - Jennifer Farrel, Maren Tenney and Veronica Rouska. The young women asked to meet with Overson to try to dispel what they believe are myths and misperceptions about the swimsuit competition.

The competition came under fire last week when Commissioner Mary Callaghan called it a "barbaric and manipulative" practice that should not be funded with tax dollars.

Overson told the fair royalty he "regrets that some things (Callaghan) said put you in a bad light."

"I want to convey to you we appreciate what you've done for us, and I regret personally the hell you've gone through because of this brouhaha," Overson said.

Overson admitted he hadn't paid much attention to the pageant in the past, saying he was unaware it has always had a swimsuit segment. For at least the past 10 years, the swimsuit competition was held privately.

But this year, the 16 contestants voted to do that portion of the competition in public. Overson also said he was unaware that Utah is the only state in the a nation with permission from the Miss America organization not to hold the swimsuit competition in local pageants.

Norm Nielsen and his wife, Roseanne, won the right to make the swimsuit segment optional about 20 years ago when they took over the Miss Utah pageant.

"Over the last 20 years we have not had more than a dozen pageants not choose to do it," Nielsen said. There are about 63 pageants in Utah each year.

The young women made that point with Overson, saying that most pageants opt to hold the swimsuit competition publicly.

"I've been in nine pageants and every single one of them has been on stage," said third attendant Rouska.

But Overson said he and fellow Commissioner Randy Horiuchi back Callaghan's position on the swimsuit competition.

"For the first time in the history of the County Commission we have a woman commissioner," Overson told the royalty. "Our position is, she being a woman, we're not going to second guess her."

Overson said he thinks the reason that local pageants hold swimsuit competition is because it's tied to the Miss America pageant.

"It's very disturbing that the Miss America pageant is driving all of these pageants," he said.

"I personally don't like it, and it's not because I'm a prude," he said. "The message it sends to young girls is that if you want to compete for scholarships, you have to display yourself in a swimsuit."

First attendant Jennifer Farrel told Overson that women who enter pageants know what they're getting into when they decide to compete. The women said the competition is needed to demonstrate physical fitness and confidence, and is done tastefully.

"It (the swimsuit competition) is a small portion of the pageant," Mobley said. "It's really sad it's going to be a deciding factor."