New business, relaxed rules take hold amid board wrangling
COLORADO CITY – The change is coming slowly, like the tiny twigs of sand sagebrush breaking through the bright-red, high-desert soil.
Laura Timpson recently opened a beauty salon and tanning parlor in this frontier, polygamist town, where women traditionally have not cut their hair, and both men and women are clothed from wrist to ankle.
Colorado City’s insular high school put a basketball team on the court for the first time last season, and it played nearby communities Fredonia and Littlefield, and Hurricane, Utah.
The next business planned for Colorado City’s frontage along Arizona 389 is a bakery with pastries and fancy coffee. One local resident is even pondering opening a bed-and-breakfast with a polygamy theme.
But beyond these signs, there is a more long-lasting move toward changing the culture in Colorado City and neighboring Hildale, Utah, the largest polygamist community in the country: A hearing is scheduled today in Salt Lake City before Utah District Judge Denise Lindberg to pick a new board to be in charge of virtually all the financial decisions regarding the land, homes and businesses of the two towns.
About 25 people have been nominated for the communal United Effort Plan board, which controls most assets in the two towns. But more than 200 pages of objections in court records have been filed against virtually all the nominees, and officials in both states will seek to delay appointment of the new board.
While change to the towns’ way of life is pursued in court, the search continues for the fugitive leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Warren Jeffs, 49, has been on the run since June from state and federal officers after being indicted on sexual-misconduct charges for marrying an underage girl to a polygamist patriarch. Eight local men surrendered to authorities last month after being indicted on sexual-misconduct charges involving underage girls.
Authorities want to keep Jeffs away and out of contact with residents of the two towns, where an estimated three-quarters of the FLDS members remain loyal to him. The FLDS is not affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Joseph Allred, Colorado City’s town clerk and a member of the FLDS, declined to be interviewed about the town’s future, saying he could talk only about town-management issues.
Rod Parker, a Salt Lake City attorney who formerly represented the sect, did not return telephone calls. No other current FLDS members would agree to be interviewed about the sect’s future.
Hope and concern
A new board, new businesses, relaxed rules and the hunt for Jeffs are encouraging, according to law enforcement officers and some residents and former residents.
But they say they still are concerned about what will happen to the 6,000 people remaining in the two towns as they make a hoped-for leap from frontier multiple-marriage dogma into the modern world.
Even with the moves in court, there are some indications that a large-scale exodus from the two towns could be happening, primarily to nearly 3 square miles of land the sect bought near Eldorado, Texas, and where a four-story temple has been built.
Mohave County School Superintendent Mike File said he believes at least half of the children have been taken out of Colorado City.
“There’s been a major shakedown with a lot of people sacking up and running,” said Deloy Bateman, a Colorado City schoolteacher.
Adding to the evidence of wholesale departures, Mohave County investigator Gary Engels said, a barn where potatoes were processed had its equipment disassembled and moved out in May. He does not know where it was taken.
A dairy on adjoining property has only one-third to one-half of the cattle it had a year ago, he said. But again, he does not know where the cattle went.
South of Arizona 389, on the way to the Colorado City airport, is the site of a former longtime chicken plant, which Engels said he believes was moved to Texas last year.
Services shut down
There are other signs that there is less interest on the part of the sect in keeping the towns vital, at least as they have been in the past.
For example, the Twin City power plant in Colorado City, citing the cost of fuel and reportedly $20 million in debt, closed on July 1.
“A main line between Hurricane and St. George (both in Utah) went down last winter for three or four days, and our plant was the backup,” Allred said. “Now, we don’t have that anymore.”
Only about half of a nearby 200-acre hay field is in production because of irrigation equipment that broke down, Engels said.
In neighboring Hildale, the Town Hall had open doors on three business days in late June but no one manning work stations, an indication that the town is not operating at full speed.
Meanwhile, Jeffs, who has not been seen publicly for more than two years, is believed by authorities to have quickly left the FLDS’ Texas land after getting word of the indictment. He was identified as having been in Canada in mid-June.
If Jeffs is gone for good, there is no certainty whether someone could or would take his place or who that would be.
Names mentioned as possible successors include Sam Barlow, a former town marshal; Winston Blackmore, leader of the FLDS sect in Bountiful, British Columbia; and William Timpson, who was selected as the local bishop by Jeffs after the death of longtime bishop Fred Jessop earlier this year.
Many worry that a new polygamy prophet will take charge and the public clamor will be to retain the UEP. Jeffs and four of his most devout followers were stripped from the UEP board of trustees in June.
Another potential issue is that if the trust is eventually broken up and the assets divided among sect members, how will the new stakeholders be determined?
And there is concern about how a new board that includes escaped polygamist wives, current polygamists, men forced out of town by those polygamists and outsiders with a vested interest in the towns, will be able to agree on the towns’ futures.
Lori Chatwin, a longtime Colorado City resident, said a new board needs to act slowly.
“If (board members) give them deeds to their homes too quickly, they will sell, take the money and go running right back to Warren,” she said. “I mean, this is the third or fourth generation of people who haven’t owned anything, and they need to be educated.
“(Board members) also need to put stipulations on what they (residents) can and can’t do with the property, at least for now. This is a process that might take 10 to 15 years.”
Andrea Esquer, a spokeswoman for Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, said Wednesday that both Goddard and the office of Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff agree that composition of the board is important.
“We think it would behoove the court to take its time and to look more into the background of each nominee so we can understand better who the applicants are and reach some kind of consensus,” Esquer said.
Young peoples’ future
But the biggest problem of all may be the future of the towns’ young people.
Law enforcement officers wonder how parents of more than 1,000 students who were ordered into sect religious indoctrination home-schooling by Jeffs five years ago can be persuaded to return their children to public schools or legitimate alternatives.
Bateman, the Colorado City teacher, said that all the children who have been home-schooled have learned only to read and write and memorize Scripture.
“There has to be a requirement that those kids go back to school. If the kids come home with information, the parents will change, also,” Bateman said
Ross Chatwin, Lori Chatwin’s husband who had a falling out with Jeffs and was ordered to leave his home, said the school is the key to normalizing the society, and the basketball team was a good start.
“They are going to have to put in social activities, things like dances, at school where boys and girls can have normal relations,” Chatwin said. “Most of the young people don’t even know why they are alive now. Warren has impressed on the boys and girls that they can’t even look at each other because the girls were getting ready for celestial marriage.”