‘Bitter-Sweet’: Former FLDS follower and Hildale mayor see more diversity

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HILDALE, Utah (ABC4) – Changes are coming fast in Hildale and Colorado City. It’s more diverse, an area that was once only Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints community members and followers of Warren Jeffs.

“There’s not many FLDS that live out there anymore. They think it’s Hildale/Colorado city, the polygamist community in all actuality, maybe about 10% are FLDS that still live there,” says Donia Jessop, the mayor of Hildale.

Jessop says most of the residents here are either ex-FLDS or from out-of-state, describing it as exciting.

“If you’re coming in with the attitude of rebuilding the community and making it better,” says Jessop.

But sometimes concerning.

“I have a problem with people who come in and try to fix us, like ‘You have a broken community and I’m here to fix you.’ No thank you, we need healed from the inside out and that’s what’s happening,” says Jessop.

These changes come after years of controversy since Jeffs’ arrest for sexual abuse of minors. The majority of FLDS residents in the area got served eviction notices after his arrest because of contracts with the UEP. Since February of 2019, about 90 evictions have been served, but only eight had to actually be evicted, according to Jeff Barlow, the executive director of the UEP Trust.

“There is a lot more than just residential houses that is in the U-E-P trust, there are commercial properties, there are community properties, like parks, cemeteries,” says Barlow.

Places like this church, which Barlow says the UEP is planning to repurpose into new centers for the community and is expected to be complete in the next five years.

“There’s more construction going on, even on the vacant lots. There’s new homes popping up all over the community, and so I think the privatization of the property is helping a lot of people move on and kind of make those changes in their lives,” says Barlow.

Jessop, who was born into the FLDS community and left the religion several years ago, says she still considers many of the residents to be her family.

“As long as no one is getting hurt, and you’re adults and can choose, do it. I support you in it, I don’t support Warren Jeffs and what he did, he abused a people,” says Jessop.

Both Barlow and Jessop say these changes are bitter sweet.

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