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Two Hudson ambassadors removed from court

After being crowned in July 2018, Hudson Ambassadors Maddie Zabel and Rachel McKenzie, center, have been removed from the court. The Hudson Ambassador Program cites a bad fit as the reasoning, while the girls’ parents still have questions. File photo

Two Hudson Ambassadors have been removed from their roles representing the city.

Maddie Zabel and Rachel McKenzie were removed at the end of January after being crowned two of four ambassadors at the end of June 2018.

Hudson Ambassador President April Simmons said the beginning of the program year did not go well and showed it was not a good fit.

"They just were not a fit for the program," she said of McKenzie and Zabel.

Parents of McKenzie and Zabel said they are upset and confused about the removal, and the process that led to it.

"We've got daughters here who, they were in tears and have been since, and they're looking to us for questions, and I've got no answers," Matt Zabel said.

McKenzie's and Zabel's parents said they were contacted by board member Susan Baierl on Jan. 28 to set up a meeting. At the meeting with the board that day, the two girls and their parents were informed by board members that they were being removed from the court due to a disconnect within the court.

Simmons said the board had already made a decision by the time of the meeting.

The parents were told the last straw was the girls' actions at St. Paul's Winter Carnival Jan. 24-27, Melissa Zabel said.

"When we asked for specific details as to what happened at Winter Carnival they refused to give any and specifically stated they were not required to give any," she said.

Melissa Zabel said she reached out to an organizer of Winter Carnival and was told they did not have any complaints about the girls.

The families said they were not given any specific reasons for the removal, and were told the board was not required to provide that information.

"If the girls had blatantly done something, we hold our girls accountable and would have said you know what, you did that, this is the consequence," Melissa Zabel said. "But the fact that we've not been given anything that they've done, we have no way to work through this with our girls or with ourselves."

Melissa Zabel said no issues had been brought up at the reaffirmation meeting with all the ambassadors Jan. 12. Without the reasons explained in full, Matt Zabel said they can't help but think there is an underlying reason for the removal.

"That's an issue in and of itself," Tammy McKenzie said. "We can speculate 'til we're blue in the face, but without any answers."

The removal decision was made by the six-person ambassador board, Simmons said, and was unanimous.

"It had nothing to do with popularity," Simmons said. "It was a board decision, it's not one person that makes the decision."

If it were a popularity contest that led to certain girls being favored, Simmons said that would have happened a long time ago.

Simmons said there were things that led up to the board's decision.

"Situations that happened that came to our attention," she said.

Beyond the reason that the girls were not a good fit, Simmons said there was no further reasoning that anybody else needs to know.

Simmons said other steps were considered before removal. The board met with the girls themselves and their parents a few different times throughout the year to address the issue a few different ways, Simmons said. She did not give particulars as to how.

"We had addressed a few things and just didn't feel the changes being made, that it just wasn't a good fit," Simmons said.

McKenzie and Zabel's parents said neither of the girls were notified of any wrongdoing before the removal. They said they met with board in September at the families' request, and the board had two meetings with the ambassadors prior to the reaffirmation meeting for introductions and team building.

Tammy McKenzie said removal from the court was one of three options for disciplinary action, including removing the girls from an event or removing their scholarship.

Jerry McKenzie said one of the most upsetting parts is their daughters were not asked for their side of the story while the board was considering whether or not to remove the girls.

"We're looking at a youth organization that's supposed to be empowering our children and helping them develop problem-solving skills, helping them become leaders in the community and they've given the girls absolutely no reason for the dismissal and they made the decision prior to talking to either of our girls," Tammy McKenzie said.

Removal of ambassadors is rare. Simmons said it has not happened in the eight years she's been involved with the program.

During that time Simmons said she has dealt with a hundred girls.

"We know high school girls," Simmons said, "and there are some things that just don't work."

Melissa Zabel said the girls presented a united image at events.

"Did they all want to hang out outside of court? No, but that's not a requirement," she said.

They were told it was fine if the girls developed closer relationships with some than others, Tammy McKenzie said.

"From what I've heard from past courts that's pretty typical," Melissa Zabel said.

Simmons said she wants the community to know that the ambassador program is an opportunity for leadership and lifelong friendships.

"It's upsetting to me that they seem to have the mentality that if their girls can't be on, then they want to take the whole program down," Simmons said.

The program has been around for years, when it first started as Miss Hudson.

"It's a longstanding tradition that I would hate to see go away because of two bitter parents," Simmons said.

Matt Zabel said their concern is not only for the impact on their daughters, but for future ambassadors.

"This is a board who then you start to have concerns and questions about what's it going to be like for the next group of young ladies," he said.

Melissa Zabel said she doesn't want to see this happen to anyone else.

"In working with youth you're supposed to help guide youth, help them develop. If they're having issues, help them work through it," she said.

The group wants to see accountability, Jerry McKenzie said.

Melissa Zabel said she would like to see the girls reinstated, a change in the board and a public apology for the way the girls were treated.

And still, the parents would like to hear a clearer reason for the removal.

"If we had a reason, we'd be able to handle it," Melissa Zabel said.

New ambassadors

Gabby Myers and Katie Davidson have now joined the program as the new ambassadors.

Each year at coronation the judges not only select the four ambassadors, they also rank the rest of the candidates. Last year's coronation the judges wrote down the next four girls, and Myers and Davidson were the next two on the list.

"It's all up to the judges," Simmons said.

The 2018 ambassador year runs through the next coronation in July, so there is still a full schedule for the new ambassadors.

"They'll have a good time," Simmons said.

Rebecca Mariscal

Rebecca Mariscal joined the Hudson Star Observer as a reporter in 2016. She graduated from the University of St. Thomas with a degree in communication and journalism. 

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