Chatwins: The border town backs off after calls from news media and a bit of legal advice
A feud over a house in the polygamous community at the Utah/Arizona border heated up Saturday after the Hildale City Council, meeting in a special session, labeled Ross Chatwin and his family “squatters” and approved shutting off the family’s utility service.
Within hours of the meeting, representatives of the Hildale City Utility Department, which also handles services for Colorado City, arrived at the home where Chatwin, his wife, Lori, and their six children live and shut off the power and water.
The shutdown lasted just an hour.
At 3 p.m. service was restored – a move apparently prompted by media calls and advice from the city’s attorney, who did not attend the morning meeting.
Saturday’s events were the latest in an ongoing fight between the Chatwins and the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints over the home.
The church, led by Warren Jeffs, owns most of the property in the twin border towns. The church considers followers who build and occupy homes to be tenants at-will.
Chatwin is among dozens of excommunicated members who have waged successful legal battles to remain in their homes, receiving lifetime claims to their dwellings unless bought out by the church.
However, Chatwin’s case was more complicated than most.
Before being kicked out of the church, Chatwin had agreed to share his home with his brother Steven. Steven Chatwin, his wife, Elizabeth, and their four children lived upstairs while Chatwin’s family occupied the basement.
For the past 14 months, the two families maintained an uneasy co-existence. During that time, the church tried unsuccessfully to evict Chatwin. It also made no move to relocate Steven Chatwin after an Arizona judge ruled last May that Ross Chatwin had a right to the home, which he has occupied since 2001.
But three weeks ago, Steven Chatwin and his family quietly vacated the top floor; Steven asked the city to shut off the utilities, which were listed in his name.
Ross and Lori Chatwin took over the entire house and attempted to get the utilities placed in their name – only to be told that the acting property owner needed to sign off on their application.
That would be William Timpson Jessop, the presiding bishop for the FLDS Church, who apparently refused to sign the document. The Chatwins managed, with the help of an attorney and Hildale Mayor David Zitting, to get service extended several times while they attempted to get Jessop’s signature. The last extension expired Friday.
At Saturday’s meeting, Zitting told the Chatwins, as Jessop silently listened, that the property owner considered them “squatters.” Council members also decided it was up to the utility board, not them, to resolve the problem – possibly at an emergency meeting Monday.
Then the City Council voted to back the department manager’s decision to cut off service “until we decide what we’re doing,” Zitting later told The Salt Lake Tribune.
But Zitting changed his position after hearing from the media and the Hildale city attorney, who advised him that given the ruling in Chatwin’s favor, he could legitimately sign the application as the property owner.
And just like that, the power was back on.
Zitting said the Chatwins “might consider this resolved.”
But Lori Chatwin is still steamed.
“They can throw their weight around, but we’re going to fight back,” she said. “If they do it to us, they will do it to other people.”