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February 13, 2013
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Fair royalty limited to GarCo events

The Garfield County Fair Royalty will not take part in any related activities beyond the county, until a new royalty coordinator can be found and travel liability issues are resolved.

The county fair board voted Tuesday night to temporarily suspend such appearances. Lindsay Jo Smith, the longtime royalty coordinator, recently submitted her resignation, the board learned. Also stepping down as the assistant to the royalty coordinator was fair board member Joyce Gornick, who remains on the board.

The fair royalty - queen Annie McNeel, queen attendant Alli Sexton, and co-princesses Katie and Karly Manuppella - recently became involved in an issue surrounding whether they should be allowed to wear jewelry with religious designs.

"All we were trying to say was we wanted to tone down the amount of bling," board president Levy Burris said. "It wasn't anything to do with your religious beliefs."

The young ladies were asked to "refrain from wearing jewelry with religious connotations" while attending the Colorado Cattlemen's Association's annual dinner in Denver last month in an email from Smith that was read at the fair board meeting.

Burris said he did not believe Smith's resignation was due to the religious jewelry issue.

"She had been badgered and bullied by other parents for other things over the years," he said. "I'm sure it was many things."

Three members of the royalty each read brief statements to the board. Karly Manuppella said she felt her civil liberties were being violated.

"Wearing religious symbols is protected under the First Amendment's right of free expression," she said. "We're not promoting any one religion."

Katy Manuppella said the royalty members "strive to be good role models. But as royalty and as Americans, it's unfortunate we have been put in this position by those we stand before tonight."

Burris said the amount and design of popular jewelry is all about "glitter, which can be offensive to some. We just want you to be respectful of yourselves and the community without showing off. That's what this is all about."

"You go into western clothing stores and all you see are crosses," Burris added. "As royalty, you are subject to the rules, and we just want you to tone it down."

The county has a dress code for fair royalty, who are chosen each year by the fair board. It calls for the girls to wear shirts provided by the county, royalty must provide their own jeans, belts and hats, said Kaycee Manuppella, the mother of the co-princesses. One ear can be pierced, but otherwise, the dress code does not address jewelry or accessories, Manuppella said.

"None of these girls have ever gone out to represent the county at any event that would not meet the standards of the 4-H program," Kaycee Manuppella said.

County Manager Andrew Gorgey denied he told Kaycee Manuppella the issue surrounded separation of church and state, as she claimed.

Gorgey also said Smith's email to the girls about what to wear and not wear at the Colorado Cattlemen's Association function did not represent the position of the fair board or county commissioners.

"Governments get in trouble when they take official positions or actions that favor a specific religion over any others," Gorgey, an attorney, added. "So when you talk about jewelry or bling being free of religious connotation, it's different."

Mike Manuppella, the father of Karly and Katy Manuppella, said the board should "look at any photo of a Colorado rodeo queen and tell me what they're wearing. They wear crosses. So these girls, when they are royalty, they want to be blingy and dress like them."

Several board members, interim county 4-H director Kim Schriver, Gorgey and Kaycee Manuppella agreed there were several cases of miscommunication that contributed to the dispute.

Gorgey said the county did not intend to limit the expression of religious beliefs by the girls, but Kaycee Manuppella said "if the girls wear a cross, it will be displayed."

While the board temporarily prohibited the girls in the royalty from appearing at official functions outside the county, they can attend events in the county. A board member will serve as a liaison until a new coordinator is found.

Gorgey will also research how dress codes from other county fairs and royalty programs address jewelry issues, and try to resolve travel liability concerns he has with royalty appearances outside the county.

"We will work together to fix this as fast as we can in a reasonable and lawful manner," he said.

And Burris praised the young ladies for standing up in public and defending their rights.

"When it comes to things like that, we're very supportive," he said.

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The Post Independent Updated Feb 13, 2013 05:27PM Published Feb 13, 2013 05:26PM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.