HILDALE, Utah — Mayor Donia Jessop says she's not the same person she was when she was first elected.
"What’s the difference between the woman who was sworn in four years ago and the woman who was sworn in tonight? Everything," she told people who gathered in Hildale's City Hall to see the swearing in of her and new council members Terrill Musser and Brigham Holm.
"I am not the same person. But the core, my love for this community, my love for the people, the determination to continue to build, to grow, to create a community that we’re proud of and that we can raise our families in. That is still my goal, my heart."
Mayor Jessop took the oath of office for her second term on Wednesday night. Lt. Governor Deidre Henderson drove down to personally administer to the oath to Hildale city officials.
"She’s a role model. She’s a glass ceiling breaker. She’s someone with an incredible amount of courage and compassion," Lt. Gov. Henderson told FOX 13 of Mayor Jessop.
Mayor Jessop is the first woman and ex-member of the Fundamentalist LDS Church to lead the community. She was elected in 2017 with a narrow majority. Her last election, she won by a large margin.
Mayor Jessop's first term was marked by political and social upheaval. The community has faced a lot of scrutiny over its ties to the Fundamentalist LDS Church. The U.S. Department of Justice had sued the community, alleging government officials and police officers were more loyal to imprisoned polygamist leader Warren Jeffs than to the Constitution. Staffers and city council members quit rather than work with the new mayor.
"The first four years I worked really hard on creating community, bringing people together and creating a solid foundation for our families," Mayor Jessop said in an interview with FOX 13.
Now, she says: "I feel like we’re ready to move forward."
The police department has been completely overhauled. A court-appointed monitor gives the community good reviews in reports to a federal judge overseeing the case for its transparency and openness now. Property in Hildale and neighboring Colorado City, Ariz., once held under a communal church-run trust, has been subdivided after years of court battles.
"Being in the office has been healing for me, for every one of my staff members for everyone in the community as they’ve been able to own their own property, fix that up, get loans on those homes," Mayor Jessop said. "Everything is now theirs — ours — we have ownership in that. So our community has really grown."
Lt. Gov. Henderson said she has been impressed with the changes in Hildale. She came to know the community while serving in the legislature (as a state senator, she ran a bill that effectively "decriminalized" polygamy in Utah).
"The changes are incredibly important down here," Lt. Gov. Henderson said. "It’s exciting to see the growth in this community. Not just economic growth or population growth, but opening up. The spiritual and mental and social growth that’s occurred down here? It’s healthy."
Hildale and Colorado City have undergone some dramatic changes. More people are moving in to the community close to Zion National Park and nestled under stunning redrock cliffs. They're courting economic development and tourism.
Mayor Jessop said in her second term, she'd like to tackle a big water infrastructure project. Hildale has also undergone a rebranding campaign, using the catchphrase "Welcome home."
"We wanted everyone that had been exiled, who left on their own, or if you’re new to the community to feel that warm embrace of 'welcome home,'" she said.
Mayor Jessop is among a record number of women in Utah who have been elected to public office, according to Lt. Gov. Henderson.
"It’s really exciting to see that not just in big cities like Salt Lake City, West Valley City and Provo — but in small communities throughout the state," the lieutenant governor said. "That people are recognizing that women have a lot to contribute. Their voices are important and their leadership is important."