Hildale, Colorado City: Cooperate – or else, he tells residents and police
A frustrated Bruce R. Wisan, appointed to oversee a southern Utah polygamous sect’s property trust, is ready to play hardball.
Faced with hostility from FLDS faithful in the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., Wisan is threatening to evict residents who don’t cooperate in paying taxes and other efforts to manage the community’s property. He wants police officers who refuse to answer his questions decertified.
Wisan also is flexing his court-sanctioned authority to oversee most of what goes on in the twin towns, from building projects to burials in Issac Carling Memorial Cemetery and whether residents move from one home to another, according to a newly filed 68-page report. He also is determining what claim the trust might make on water rights, on businesses that have moved out of the community and on property owned by FLDS members in British Columbia and Beryl, Utah.
About 8,000 people live in the towns, home of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The sect follows a 19th century version of Mormonism that includes polygamy. The group set up the United Effort Plan (UEP) trust in 1942 to hold property.
It has been under Wisan’s management since last May, when Utah authorities successfully argued the trust’s assets were in jeopardy because leaders were not responding to several lawsuits. FLDS president Warren Jeffs is wanted by the FBI on an Arizona charge of arranging an underage marriage.
The costs of managing the trust are mounting. Since November, expenses – Wisan’s fees, those of his attorneys, advisory board members and consultants – totaled some $373,000, leaving $1.2 million from a property sale.
Wisan blames FLDS leaders for a “wholesale lack of cooperation and hostility” he has received from followers and local police officers. He expects to seek legal action against former trustees for misconduct.
And he wants Utah and Arizona authorities to decertify police officers for not cooperating in an investigation of missing UEP property.
“It is simply incredible to think that a certified police officer would refuse to answer such basic questions regarding their duties as law enforcement officers,” Wisan states in his report, adding he expects to get little help from them in stopping thefts.
Lack of cooperation also has made collection of property taxes difficult, Wisan said.
The FLDS church paid only some taxes due in Utah and Arizona last November, leaving a deficit of just over $500,000. More are due in Arizona in April.
The tax shortfall is already causing financial difficulties for the two towns and the Colorado City Unified School District.
“They financially are hurting out there because of the political situation and taxes not being paid,” said Cal Robison, Washington County clerk.
In the past, the FLDS church collected donations from followers to cover property taxes. Wisan is in the process of having the community surveyed – a task that probably will be completed by June at a cost of $350,000 to $400,000.
Meantime, he has sent notices to residents urging them to pay their share of taxes either directly to him or to the counties.
“The fiduciary reserves the right to relocate and/or evict those who refuse to pay taxes,” the document states.
Evictions also may be necessary if people refuse to cooperate with his “reasonable requests” or if they engage in any illegal activity – that is, any activity not compatible with new UEP standards, he said.
Polygamy, however, “is not something that would cause one to be evicted from UEP assets,” Wisan told The Salt Lake Tribune. “The state is not prosecuting polygamy and certainly the new UEP under the special fiduciary is not prosecuting polygamy.”
As part of sorting out who lives where and is responsible for taxes, Wisan has subpoenaed records of the Twin City Power Company but has been told by an attorney for the utility that it will fight that request.
Wisan also said he now believes that house trading should not occur without his knowledge and consent. In fact, he plans to do a little shuffling of his own.
Vacant homes are popping up throughout the community, something that in Colorado City, at least, “is just unheard of,” said Don Timpson, a resident of the town. “It feels to me there are fewer people here.”
Wisan said he will rent vacant homes to those willing to sign occupancy agreements and pay taxes, though he disputes some ownership claims former residents are making.
Among them: Ezra Draper, who purchased a mobile home he placed on UEP property before becoming disillusioned with FLDS leader Warren Jeffs and moving to Idaho. Wisan said that home now belongs to the UEP, though he is willing to let Draper live there – particularly since the current resident has ignored Wisan’s requests for information. Wisan plans to relocate that family to free the home for Draper.
Timpson, who serves on the UEP’s new advisory board, said FLDS faithful continue to live in denial about what is happening to the community.
“They are hoping it will go away,” said Timpson, who belongs to Centennial Park, a separate Mormon fundamentalist group. “The reality is the courts have stepped in and taken control of this trust and if the people aren’t going to recognize the legitimacy of the court, what are we going to do?
“Much of our discussion has been how can we protect the rights of the FLDS people,” Timpson said, “even though they have not at this point stepped forward to represent themselves.”