Public Officials In Town With Polygamous Sect Resign After Elections

22 hours ago

Political turmoil in the communities of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, have resulted in the resignations of nearly a dozen city and utility board employees.

The communities are the longtime home of a polygamous sect, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which has been the target of state and federal investigations and lawsuits. FLDS leader Warren Jeffs is serving a life sentence for sexual assault of children.

The resignations follow the historic election last year of non-FLDS followers to vacant Hildale city council seats and the mayor's office. One of the employees cited conflict of religion as the reason for his resignation. He said in his resignation letter that it is against his faith to follow a woman or to work with "apostates," which is the FLDS word for those who have left or been kicked out of the church. FLDS faithful typically do not associate with apostates. Those who leave the church, whether by their own choice or by the decree of church leaders, are shunned.

The adjacent communities are essentially one town and share services.

The newly elected Hildale mayor is Donia Jessop, who left the FLDS church about four years ago with her family. Jessop is the first woman, and also the first "apostate" to be mayor of Hildale and said she respects those who have resigned for following their beliefs.

Still, the resignations suddenly leave the town with empty municipal jobs. Jessop and others on the council were not caught completely off guard. There had been rumors in the communities of the mass resignations. Jessop said she is working on filling the positions with the guidance of a court-appointed monitor named Roger Carter, who is the city manager of Washington, Utah, which is about 45 minutes away from Hildale. The monitor was appointed as a result of a 2016 Justice Department lawsuit alleging institutionalized religious discrimination in the community. Non-members complained that they were denied access to city services because they were not part of the FLDS faith. In 2016, the towns were found guilty of religious discrimination by a federal court jury.

The towns and FLDS church leaders have been the subject of lawsuits and prosecutions ranging from food stamp fraud to sexual abuse for years. Officials in Arizona and Utah have also successfully challenged FLDS dominance of the school system, town marshal's office and a religious trust that once controlled nearly all the land and homes in the border towns.

Hildale and Colorado City have undergone significant changes in the last few years, particularly as population demographics continue to shift with people leaving the FLDS church, which has always been the dominant cultural and political force in the towns.

While the faithful still follow Jeffs' edicts from prison, there is work being done in the community to provide resources and services from those leaving the extremely strict and insular church, as well as efforts to open up the community and make it more welcoming to outsiders.

KJZZ chronicled a number of these changes in a series about the community, known collectively as Short Creek.

NPR's Howard Berkes contributed reporting for this story.

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