Faith Government & Politics Politics

Most municipal workers quit in Utah polygamous sect town

In this Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017 photo, Donia Jessop holds her mayoral campaign sign outside her store in Colorado City, Ariz. Campaign signs are unusual in a town where elections have long been quietly decided behind the scenes, with hand-picked men from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints running unopposed. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The new mayor of a mostly polygamous town on the Utah-Arizona border is finishing off a complete overhaul of municipal staff and boards after mass resignations when she took office in January to become the first woman and first non-member of the polygamous sect to hold the seat.

Six of the seven Hildale, Utah, town workers quit after Mayor Donia Jessop was elected and took charge of the local government run by the sect for more than a century. They were joined by nine members of various town boards, including utility board chairman Jacob N. Jessop. All were members of the sect, the mayor said.

Jacob Jessop said his religious beliefs prevented him from working for a woman and with people who are not sect members, according to resignation letters obtained Thursday by The Associated Press through a public records request. The mayor’s husband is distantly related to Jessop in the town of about 3,000 people where many have that last name.

“It has come to a point where I have to choose between my religion and participation in city government, and I choose my religion,” he wrote in his letter dated Jan. 25. “My religion teaches me that I should not follow a woman for a leader in a public or family capacity.”

He cited sermons from the 1860s from Brigham Young, the second president of the mainstream Mormon church who led pioneers west to settle in Utah. Polygamy was part of early Mormonism, but The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has disavowed polygamy for more than a century.

He added in the letter that his religion teaches him “to leave apostates alone severely and not have anything to do with them.” Apostates refer to people who renounce their religion’s teachings. Most of the others who resigned said in their letters they were taking other jobs.

But Mayor Jessop said all of them are members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, of FLDS, an offshoot of mainstream Mormonism that practices polygamy. The group has run the sister cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona, for more than a century and had total control of town governments until November’s elections.

The victory by Donia Jessop and wins by three other non-sect members for city council seats marked the latest sign of the polygamous group’s waning control of the community surrounded by striking red cliffs near Zion National Park.

The new town leadership is the latest sign that the community’s demographics are shifting as it begins to resemble a typical town in the U.S. West, not a cloistered religious community.

Government-ordered evictions of sect families from about 150 homes forced many to seek refuge in trailers around town or in different cities. The town government and police are being watched closely by court-appointed monitors after a jury found them guilty of civil rights violations. Also, a food-stamp fraud case led 10 people to plead guilty and exacerbated a leadership void.

Donia Jessop and other former sect members who have returned to the town consider the changes progress that will help the community break free from the reign of Warren Jeffs, who is serving life in prison in Texas for sexually assaulting underage girls he considered brides.

But sect members believe the town they built and love is being ripped away from them, that Jeffs is their prophet and was wrongly convicted.

More changes could be coming — two city council members who weren’t up for re-election in November did not attend first two regular meetings of the year. If they miss the next meeting in April, their absences will be considered resignations per a new city resolution passed in January, Donia Jessop said.

Later this year, elections in the sister city of Colorado City, Arizona, could bring in outsiders, including to the mayor’s seat.

Donia Jessop is a former member of the religious group but left four years ago over unrest about Jeffs was running the group. She returned to Hildale to buy an evicted member’s home and start a business. She is in a plural marriage but no longer follows the tenets of the FLDS religion.

She said she laughed when she read the letter from Jacob N. Jessop’s on her desk.

“I knew that that was out there, but for it to be so blatant, spelled out so perfectly, it was quite a shock,” Donia Jessop said in a phone interview. “If you cannot work with me, then it’s good that you are moving on because this is the future of Hildale and I’m not going anywhere.”

The resignations were first reported by the St. George News, but the copy of Jacob N. Jessop’s resignation letter was not made public until this week in response to the records request by The Associated Press and another media outlet.

The mayor said the resignations haven’t been disruptive, with the employees leaving incrementally to avoid leaving the town completely unstaffed. She said she asked each to reconsider, but only one of those who resigned decided to stay.

Donia Jessop said she has filled the positions that include town recorder, clerk and treasurer with former members of the FLDS and other people with no ties to the sect.

New hires should help the community, said Jared Nicol, a new town council member and mainstream Mormon.

“It’s going to ensure that everybody in the city is being considered and represented,” he said.

About the author

Brady McCombs

21 Comments

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  • Hmmm, So how exactly did Donna win this election if much of the city is populated by a FLDS sect that thinks women are inferior people not suited to lead?

    And how nice of the workers…”The mayor said the resignations haven’t been disruptive, with the employees leaving incrementally to avoid leaving the town completely unstaffed.”

    The whole thing sounds bizarre — like we are missing a piece of the story? Although I think it is great that Donna got elected and hope the FLDS gets run out of the territory !!

  • Good perspective – made me look further – Salt lake Trib and the Guardian raised some other pieces. In a nutshell, demographic shift raised concern as to voter rolls in terms of control but also broader patriarchy outside of the sect per se.

  • The ONLY reason this religion even exists is so leaders can practice polygamy, which is a crime is the USA.

  • And look at the jobs opened up for non-members who have no difficulty working for a woman! win/win

  • What do supporters of the LGBTQ think of Polygamist’s desire to be Civilly married in this Country? Just curious your thoughts.

  • Why did the Mormon church then ban polygamy? I’m not a Mormon btw. Just curious why you take that stance?

  • I think such a polygamist should do exactly what we did: come out to his family, friends, and community, form polygamist organizations, raise money, write letters to his local papers, contact his legislators, start political campaigns, lobby, place initiatives on the ballot…

    And then explain how, in an egalitarian society, where the entirety of the laws relating to contracts, marriage, welfare, children, labor, family are based on a two-person model, he/she will handle all of the difficulties associated with it. 99% of what was required to allow marriage equality for gay people was to change, or deem it changed, the words “man and woman” to “two people.”

    Polygamous marriage as it is practiced right now is in fact serial marriage without divorce. A man marries several women. They are not married to each other, nor are they free to marry other people. The more or less works in the societies where it is practiced, like Christian Africa. Of course, women cannot have more than one husband.

    If Bob marries sue, can sue marry john? Are bob and John married? What if they aren’t gay what if they don’t like each other? Is John responsible for Bob and sue’s children?

  • Jacob Jessop basically did what so many people felt Kim Davis should have done. Maybe that’s what happens when you’re a member of a minority religion and don’t have a sense of privilege.

  • Why is only LGBTQ supporters opinions important here? Polygamy was illegal before SSM and it should stay that way…No same-sex polygamy either.

    The whole SSM slippery-slope to Polygamy was always a dodge and an insult…and still is !!

  • Personally, I have nothing against polyandry or polygamy…as long as everyone is a consenting ADULT.

  • You mean above?

    Yep well stated.

    I think most issues of poly marriages could be handled simply with incorporation for assets and powers of attorney.

  • So socially — we don’t end up like Afghanistan. Men can have multiple spouses , women can’t. Unattached men go nuts…It leads to violent conflict.

  • There is not reason we would need end up like Afghanistan. All parties would have equal rights under the law (since we’re not a theocracy bowing to Allah’s will).

    We already have a system whereby you can have a corporation with equal partners/shareholders. I envision a system that is basically like that.

    In our nation, we have enough unattached men for that not to be a problem.

    Plus, 90% of people would not even try it.

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