For the first time ever, Hildale has a woman and ex-FLDS mayor

Posted at 1:37 PM, Jan 05, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-05 15:37:27-05

HILDALE, Utah -- In an historic ceremony before a crowd of hundreds, Donia Jessop took the oath of office, becoming this polygamous border town's first-ever woman mayor.

Hildale Mayor Donia Jessop (right) leads the crowd in a singalong during her swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 4, 2018. (FOX 13 News)

She's also the first mayor to not be a member of the Fundamentalist LDS Church, which has dominated local politics. Mayor Jessop, an ex-member of the faith, was elected by a narrow majority in November.

"I look forward to working with every single person and to create relationships that haven't been able to be created until now. I'm just excited to do this," she told FOX 13.

Relationship building will be big in her administration, Mayor Jessop said. Changing demographics in Hildale -- once the stronghold of the FLDS Church -- allowed for her and other ex-FLDS members to be elected to city government. Many FLDS faithful have moved out under orders from their leaders as court-ordered reforms to the communal land structure of the town have taken hold.

Still, the mayor said she wanted to work with everyone.

"Repairing relationships, creating relationships," Mayor Jessop said. "Right now, I believe we're really in the relationship stage."

When she was in the FLDS Church, the mayor said, she was told by church leaders who to vote for. Others also pointed that out.

Hildale Mayor Donia Jessop speaks at her swearing-in ceremony. (FOX 13 News)

"It's one of the greatest days in the history of this town. To have a real election for people who don't have to be inside the church to be able to serve the city and the community," said Gary Taylor, who lives in Hildale and attended Thursday night's swearing-in ceremony.

Hildale's government has been under a cloud of controversy for years. The U.S. Department of Justice sued it and neighboring Colorado City, Ariz., accusing the town governments of discriminating against non-FLDS members in services. The police department was accused of being loyal to polygamist leader Warren Jeffs. A jury sided with the feds and the towns have been implementing court-ordered changes.

FLDS faithful remain loyal to Jeffs, who is serving a life sentence for child sex assault stemming from underage "marriages."

Mayor Jessop said she wants to make some big changes in the community with the help of the city council, which also includes three new members: Maha Layton, Jvar Dutson and Jerod Nicol. She said the water system needs fixing, the roads need work and she wants fiber optic networks in town to attract new business.

At Thursday's ceremony, Mayor Jessop led the crowd in a singalong. Nodding to everyone in the audience -- FLDS and non-FLDS -- she urged them to stay and mingle.

"My friends, this is our community," she said.