Hildale mayoral candidates clash, but agree town needs to prepare for growth and tourism
Hildale Mayor Donia Jessop won a historic election four years ago, becoming the first woman and non-member of The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to lead the city. Now she faces re-election against longtime resident Jim Barlow.
Candidates were asked dozens of questions at a welcome meeting on Thursday, from how they would deal with stray dogs to how land is managed in the city.
Under former leader Warren Jeffs, the FLDS Church controlled virtually all of Hildale’s properties. It was called the United Effort Plan Trust or UEP. The state of Utah took over in 2006 when the polygamist leader was sentenced to life imprisonment. It is now managed by a council of local residents.
Barlow’s campaign centers on what he says is a lack of transparency in Hildale. Its website says the UEP and the city are run by traitors. He said his history in the region qualifies him to be the mayor.
“I’ve spent many years here, I’ve lived here my whole life, and watched the water supply system and things like that build and participated in building the community.” said Barlow.
Jessop said she was focused on moving the city forward and if residents were concerned about transparency, they should attend council meetings. She said she had to rebuild the city and wanted the chance to continue this work.
“It’s faltering, with the bad leadership right now, this community might go backwards, and that scares me,” she said. “We just need this strong and evolving leadership. … I am strong. I know what I’m doing.”
Surrounded by national parks and places of recreation, Hildale’s tourism industry is growing. Barlow said he doesn’t think people realize how many people are coming.
“[To prepare for that I’ll] try to get our residents to build businesses and things that can benefit and not over-market the middle of town, ”he said. “And have [tourists] enjoy the canyons and all that stuff.
Jessop said that by becoming mayor, she had “opened the doors” and welcomed tourists to the area. Now she wants to get ahead of the expected boom.
“Let’s write history. Let’s lead the way, ”she said. “Don’t get crushed because growth is coming, tourists are coming. Let’s guide him. … Let’s do it the way we want to and don’t just get run over. “
The two candidates agreed that accessibility to water is the biggest problem facing the city.