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Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

Hildale mayoral candidates butt heads, but agree city needs to prepare for growth and tourism

A photo of the Hildale city hall building.
Lexi Peery
Hildale is situated near national parks and recreation hotspots. The two mayoral candidates for the city say residents need to prepare for a boom in tourism.

Hildale Mayor Donia Jessop won a historic election four years ago — becoming the first woman and the person who’s not a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to lead the city. Now she’s facing re-election against long-time resident Jim Barlow.

Candidates were asked dozens of questions at a meet and greet Thursday, from how they’d handle stray dogs to how land is managed in the city.

Under former leader Warren Jeffs, the FLDS Church controlled virtually all the property in Hildale. It was called the United Effort Plan Trust or UEP. The state of Utah took it over in 2006 when the polygamist leader was sentenced to life in prison. It’s now managed by a board of local residents.

Barlow’s campaign is centered on what he says is a lack of transparency in Hildale. His website says the UEP and the city are being run by traitors. He said his history in the area qualifies him to be the mayor.

“I've had a lot of years here, lived here all my life, and I've watched the water system and things like that get built and was a party to building the community,” Barlow said.

Jessop said she’s focused on moving forward as a city and if residents are concerned about transparency they should attend council meetings. She said she’s had to rebuild the city, and she wants the chance to continue that work.

“It's teetering, with the wrong leadership right now, this community could go backwards a long ways, and it scares me,” she said. “We just need that solid, moving forward leadership. … I'm solid. I know what I'm doing.”

Surrounded by national parks and recreation hotspots, Hildale’s tourism industry is growing. Barlow said he doesn’t think people realize how many people are going to come.

“[To prepare for that I’ll] try to have our residents build businesses and things that can benefit and not commercialize the middle of the town too much,” he said. “And have [tourists] enjoy the canyons and all these things.”

Jessop said when she became mayor she “threw the doors open” and welcomed tourists to the area. Now she wants to get ahead of the anticipated boom.

“Let's write the story. Let's lead the way,” she said. “Let's not be ran over because growth happens, tourists happen. Let's guide it. ... Let's do it the way we want it done and not just be ran over.”

Both candidates agreed water accessibility is the biggest issue the city is facing.

Lexi is KUER's Southwest Bureau reporter
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