New ruling: Court paves the way for citizens to take ownership of their houses from the church
A property trust first set up as the foundation of a polygamous community 64 years ago will be dissolved by an all-American ideal: private homeownership.
A Third District Court judge on Monday suggested only minor wording changes in a proposed reformation of the United Effort Plan Trust, signaling her intent to approve the plan.
Most significantly, the restructured trust provides two ways for residents to gain control over their properties: by receiving deeds outright or through spendthrift trusts.
It also allows residents to ignore those options and simply continue as tenants in their homes – the most likely reaction of faithful members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
FLDS members governed the trust – its holdings in Utah and Arizona are valued at $107 million – until May 2005, granting use of land and homes to faithful followers. The court took it over after trustees failed to defend several lawsuits that targeted the trust’s assets.
Since then, FLDS leaders have balked at cooperating with the court-sanctioned actions related to the trust’s management; they paid property taxes, for instance, only after being served demand notices.
Currently, the trust holds titles to virtually all the property in the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., home to approximately 6,000 FLDS members. There are fewer than 80 families who once belonged to the polygamous sect now living on trust land.
Under the circumstances, the UEP’s original purposes – creation of a community designed to shelter the religious practice of polygamy – no longer apply and have become “unlawful, impracticable and/or impossible to achieve,” requiring the trust to be re-written, court documents state.
Attorneys will incorporate suggestions made by Third District Court Judge Denise Lindberg and expect to return the document to her within a week. The judge may then schedule another hearing or simply enter an order approving the plan.
One continuing frustration for Lindberg: the unbroken silence of faithful, active FLDS members despite the drastic changes in their community. “That, for me, becomes the biggest concern,” the judge said, issuing a renewed plea to FLDS members to communicate with her.
Despite that, the reformation will go forward. The plan calls for a seven-member board to manage the trust’s assets. That task now is being carried out by special fiduciary Bruce R. Wisan, with the help of a six-member advisory board – five of whom once belonged to the community.
They are: John Nielsen, Carolyn Jessop, Margaret Cooke, Rayo Spencer and Don Timpson. The sixth member is Robert Huddleston, former president of Dixie State College.
All but Spencer have asked to continue on as trustees, a transition not likely to occur until early 2007.
That board eventually will be charged with deciding whether residents who want to control their properties get deeds or a spendthrift trust.
The spendthrift trust is a middle ground that allows a resident to use the property for his or her family but prevents it from being turned over again to the FLDS church or another “central authority,” as the judge put it.
Timpson predicted a “snowball effect” would occur as residents enter the realm of private homeownership.
The new board also will oversee public properties, such as parks and cemeteries, and work to encourage educational and economic opportunities in the community.
“When free enterprise comes to town, the creative genius of the people will come with it,” Jethro Barlow, a former FLDS member who is assisting Wisan, told the judge.