Hildale mayor speaks of change, reunions and hope

Hiladale Mayor Donia Jessop speaks at the Washington County Republican Women’s luncheon, St. George, Utah, June 7, 2018 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Hildale Mayor Donia Jessop spoke of challenges and triumphs in a town that has gone through monumental change during a luncheon hosted by the Washington County Republican Women Thursday.

Attendees gather for the Washington County Republican Women’s luncheon held at the Best Western Abbey Inn, St. George, Utah, June 7, 2018 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

Jessop took office in January along with three newly elected city council members: Jared Nicol, Maha Layton and Jvar Dutson. It was a watershed election for the city, which had long been controlled by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, because none the four is affiliated with the church.

When considering a run for the mayor’s office, Jessop said that despite the self-doubt she was experiencing, she knew in her heart that her love of Short Creek – the sister cities of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona – would fuel her dedication to making a difference.

Once the decision was made to run, she realized that she did have what it would take to change things, to work hard and to make the community a wonderful place to raise a family.

Jessop grew up in Hildale and left the FLDS church five years ago when families were being split apart based on directives handed down from the church’s leader, Warren Jeffs.

Despite the break with the church, Jessop said she has numerous family members still active in the FLDS, and she still has a love for her family and for the people.

“They are still my people; I call them my people, and we all came from the red dirt.”

She said many FLDS families have gone through tremendous struggles and suggested to those in the audience that “if you see an FLDS member in Walmart or in town, smile at them and be kind … their struggles are such that few can imagine.”

For months prior to the election, Jessop worked with the Short Creek Community Alliance to clean up the voter registry and update voter information. She then focused on inspiring the citizens to “get out there and vote,” she said.

She addressed the importance of voting with many over the course of several months, she said.

Reigning Miss Washington County 2018, Celeste Francis addresses the audience at the Washington County Republican Women’s luncheon held at the Best Western Abbey Inn, St. George, Utah, June 7, 2018 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

“You have a voice and if that ever counted, it counts right now – during a municipal election,” she said.

Through the efforts of Hildale’s municipal government, the towns’ landscape is changing.

Since taking office, she has envisioned implementing a transparent municipal government that served the people, “all of the people,” she said, and with the city council’s dedication, the town government is achieving that goal.

Jessop credits the support and assistance from Washington County for playing a critical role in the restructuring process.

Even when confronted with those who believe that a woman should not hold a public office, she said she allows anyone to believe what they choose but at the end of the day, “I’m still the mayor.”

Jessop’s focus has been to increase commercial and business development, which would reduce the economic disparity plaguing the area, and to reestablish a sense of community and belonging.

One recent project involves removing the tall fences surrounding many of the homes in Hildale, Jessop said, in addition to completing, repairing and repainting the residential structures, as well as planting grass and landscaping yards.

The transformation taking place is creating a wonderful place to live, she said.

“We are creating that community for those who moved to the area and also for those who left and are now returning to their homes and their families.”

Despite the changes on the Utah side, Colorado City’s government is still run by members of the FLDS church, Jessop said. Even so, the sister cities have “a good relationship.”

Nine of newest members of the Washington County Republican Women at the organization’s luncheon held at the Best Western Abbey Inn, St. George, Utah, June 7, 2018 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

The demographics have undergone a dramatic shift as well, with 90 percent of the population comprised of non-FLDS persons.

Many FLDS members are moving to communities throughout Utah and beyond, as their beliefs prohibit them from entering into any agreements with non-FLDS individuals, which includes the United Effort Plan Trust, a special fiduciary appointed by the court to control $110 million of the church’s assets, which includes a majority of the homes and property in both cities.

A change in the trust made it possible for those who placed assets or work into the trust to be considered beneficiaries of the trust, regardless of their standing in the church, under the premise that anyone remaining on the property would sign an occupancy agreement and pay $100 per month, or buy the property outright and keep the property taxes current.

Being that FLDS members are taught not to trust those who had left the church, entering into a contract or agreement with former members or non-members is prohibited, even at the cost of being evicted from their home, and many of them were.

That also affected the makeup of Hildale’s municipal government and presented a challenge for the newly elected mayor when all of Hildale’s city employees resigned shortly after she took office.

Jessop acknowledges she has her work cut out for her, but said she was raised with a strong work ethic, one of the tenants of the FLDS faith, illustrated by the saying, “we work from dawn until done.”

The luncheon’s opening speaker, Celeste Francis, reigning Miss Washington County, spoke of the challenge and introspection many women face and the power of developing confidence, which can move an individual from being “awkward” to “awesome” she said.

Francis is the creator of the “Just Me” magazine and showcased the first edition of the recently launched publication during the event.

Referring to a philosophy that applies to many areas in life, Francis said that getting to know oneself is the path to attaining goals.

“We are a powerful organization of women and confidently standing up for we believe in can change the world,” Francis said.

The Washington County Republican Women organization has been active in local politics and community service for more than 50 years. Its purpose is to promote an informed public through political education and activities, including a monthly meeting with guest speakers. Thursday’s luncheon also included a check presentation in the amount of $1,000 by organization president Lesa Spendlove Sandberg to Dixie State University for the “Embracing our Heroes Scholarship.”

The organization is active in campaigns for Republican candidates and works to promote the Republican Party’s principles. Any Republican woman 18 years or older may join. Men are welcome to join as associate members. More information is available here.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.


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