Polygamists: They are increasingly at odds with state, county, federal authorities
HILDALE – For months, Councilman William Timpson Jessop has been a no-show at City Council meetings in this polygamous community – and that’s understandable, the rest of the council says.
A court-appointed fiduciary overseeing the community’s property trust wants to talk to Jessop, a bishop in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. And so, possibly, does the FBI, which attempted to serve numerous subpoenas on FLDS members last month.
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“Under the circumstances that we are under, that we are facing, I don’t feel [we should] require this situation, that we force him to be here,” said Councilman Harold Peine. “I suggest we continue carrying on the best we can.”
Jessop’s prolonged absence from the council is one example of how the community, state and federal authorities are at odds in Hildale and its twin, Colorado City, Ariz.
The FBI is seeking FLDS church president Warren Jeffs on an Arizona charge of arranging an underage marriage. The church’s United Effort Plan Trust (UEP), which holds virtually all property in the two towns, has been placed under the supervision of fiduciary Bruce Wisan and trustees appointed by 3rd District Judge Denise Lindberg.
On Tuesday, council members agreed to excuse Jessop from meetings for however long is necessary, getting around a state requirement that council seats be considered vacant if the office holder misses more than three meetings. They also agreed to contact Jessop to see if he wants to voluntarily give up his seat.
“He is a highly respected member of this City Council and I don’t want to give him the boot,” said Hildale Mayor David Zitting.
Wisan, the court-appointed fiduciary, is currently investigating the disappearance of buildings and machinery from UEP property. He also is having the community surveyed so individual tax bills can be sent to residents. In the past, the community paid property taxes collectively.
Those efforts have led Wisan and the town’s police force to butt heads repeatedly over access to property and tracking missing items – triggering Wisan to ask state authorities to look at decertifying the officers.
Also Tuesday, Washington County Sheriff Kirk Smith and Rich Townsend, director of Utah’s Peace Officers Standards and Training, met with Zitting, Town Marshall Fred Barlow and deputies Helaman Barlow and Sam Johnson to clarify what is expected of the deputies.
“We had a cordial meeting,” Zitting said. “I’m hopeful everybody will be able to work with everybody and things will go in a positive way.”
Smith said the deputies mistakenly believed Wisan needed a court order for each specific piece of property he wanted to visit, most recently a cavern said to hold weapons. The sheriff blamed himself for not making it clear that Wisan had blanket authority from the court to visit and manage UEP property.
“A lot of this is my fault,” Smith said. “I didn’t understand how complicated this was going to be . . .. We handle civil things all of the time, but we have never dealt with a civil issue this large.”
That said, Smith and Townsend also warned Barlow and his deputies that while they may not agree with what is happening to the community, putting up obstacles for Wisan and his appointees could result in sanctions.
“They need to get on the same page,” Smith said. “If they’re not, there are going to be ramifications.”
The Salt Lake Tribune was unable to reach Townsend for comment.
The twin towns also have a new justice court judge: Richard Carr of Hurricane. Council members agreed this week to let Carr temporarily take over from Walter Steed, who was removed from the post last month by the Utah Supreme Court because he is a polygamist.
Carr, 75, retired last July after 16 years as a justice court judge for Hurricane, La Verkin and Springdale.
He had filled in for Steed periodically in the past, Zitting said.
Tribune reporter Elizabeth Neff contributed to this story.