Hildale mayoral race pits incumbent Donia Jessop against challenger Jim Barlow

Composite image: Hildale Mayor Donia Jessop speaks alongside Mayoral candidate Jim Barlow at a public forum, Hildale, Utah, Sept. 23, 2021 | Photo by Ammon Teare, St. George News

HILDALEAnother four-years has come and gone since the last mayoral race in Hildale, and this year’s election sees just two candidates vying for the highest city office.

Incumbent Donia Jessop is seeking reelection, while her challenger, Jim Barlow, is hoping to unseat the first-term mayor. At a candidates’ forum held in late September, Jessop and Barlow were questioned about their relationship with the UEP Trust, their commitment to disclosing conflicts of interest and their plans for community development.

Hildale residents and interested community members will have another opportunity to interact with the mayoral candidates and ask questions of them in another candidates’ forum. Coordinated by the UZONA Chamber of Commerce, the forum will be held on Oct. 21 at 7 p.m. in the Water Canyon High School gymnasium. 

St. George News asked both candidates about their background, concerns, policy objectives and their view of government transparency. The following responses are in the candidates’ own words, lightly edited for clarity and conciseness.

Jim Barlow

Hildale mayoral candidate Jim Barlow, location and date unspecified | Photo courtesy of Jim Barlow, St. George News

Why do you think you’re the right candidate for the job?

I’m a contractor with about 35 years of experience in six different states. I’ve been fairly successful at that, and I have a degree in business management. I also taught school for a year and a half, way back.

One of the main reasons I qualify is because I don’t owe the UEP (United Effort Plan) Trust anything. The UEP Trust is the elephant in the room, and people don’t like talking about it. I’ve talked to a lot of our citizens, and they are very upset with the way they’ve been treated on their land issues. They’re afraid they’re gonna lose their house, or if they’re renting or trying to get the deed for a house they built, they won’t be able to close or they’ll get kicked out. 

It always involves the UEP. I’ve even heard a City Council candidate say he wouldn’t even be running if he didn’t already have their deed to the house from the trust, because it’d be too risky for him. 

What are the most pressing issues you hope to address?

We have a water issue. We need the water in the hands of the community. They’re the old water rights that our grandparents established and bought, so it’s not like it’s new water rights. Our water department has been in the red – up to $300,000 per year – and the $1 million rainy day fund has been recklessly used up in just three years. I think we’re gonna have to learn how to live within budgets, because there are some real budget issues going on. 

There’s a real inflationary spiral that’s taking place. Somebody decided that $6,500 an acre was the price of our land – land that we already thought we owned. Now some of it has gone up to $50,000 an acre or more, and they’re splitting up some of these lots into quarter-acres and maybe even eighth-acres. We need to make sure that we won’t drive the prices up to where our kids can’t buy a lot and build a house. We’re supposed to be, in my mind, a family community and not a tourist town.

If elected, how would you direct Hildale’s economic and community development?

I think we need to keep our taxes way down and not be jacking those up very much at all. We need to make it so new businesses and little businesses can survive and have a friendly business environment for them. We have to have jobs. Nowadays there are some decent jobs in the valley here, but before we had to go at least as far as Hurricane or St. George to even get a job in contracting or cleaning rooms or all kinds of things. We need to build on our friendliness to small businesses and create opportunities for people to start a business.

What are your thoughts on transparency and privacy when it comes to city government and possible conflicts of interest?

I don’t know how many conflicts of interest the city government has, but they must have several because they go into executive session every month. They spend a lot of time that way, and I don’t like that. Wherever possible, the public needs to know everything that’s going on. They need to be able to look and see what’s happening and not have it be anything secret. That’s not the American way. It’s starting to become that way, even for our nation, but I don’t like that. It needs to be transparent. There should be an opportunity for everybody to be heard and to have things transparent.

Donia Jessop – Incumbent since January 2018

Aug. 2020 file photo of Hildale mayoral candidate Donia Jessop, Hurricane, Utah | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News

Why do you think you’re the right candidate for the job?

I have a deep love and devotion for my community and the citizens of Hildale. Over the last four years our community has grown and developed in a very healthy and positive way. Starting with the rebranding of Hildale with the motto “Welcome Home,” I worked diligently with citizens, “Building Community Together!” I have created and facilitated relationships with county and state leaders paving the way for advanced services such as grants, health care and Safe Routes to School, among others. I am committed to continue moving in a forward direction with economic growth, creating jobs and building relationships. 

What are the most pressing issues you hope to address?

The most pressing issues are water quality and quantity, housing for our growing workforce, accessible education and economic development. These are the stepping stones that are essential for a community to not only survive but thrive!

If elected, how would you direct Hildale’s economic and community development?

I would continue to be engaged and open to the community and open market. As mayor, I have been a strong advocate and supporter of the UZONA Chamber of Commerce, which serves the greater area. I am an active participant representing our city with the Governor’s Rural Utah Economic Initiative. 

I have been working closely with Dixie State University and the Atwood Innovation Plaza in facilitating small businesses and startups. By normalizing our land-use ordinances and establishing a planning and zoning process, larger companies are choosing to relocate to Hildale and build new here.

What are your thoughts on transparency and privacy when it comes to city government and possible conflicts of interest?

Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their government is doing. I have always maintained myself open and accessible to the public. Our city website is a major step forward in this effort.

As to conflicts of interest, there are requirements set forth by law and are followed faithfully in my administration. I believe it is important to recognize lines between seeking transparency when integrity and the public interests are at stake, and invading upon officials’ right to privacy. 

The best years for Hildale are still ahead! 

For all of St. George News’ coverage of 2021 municipal elections, click here.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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