If you live outside of Hildale, Utah, or Colorado City, Ariz., you may be wondering what the big deal is with the requirements of living in a home owned by the United Effort Plan.
The terms sound pretty simple: $100 a month plus pay the property taxes. Just about all of us have rent or mortgage payments that amount to more. Further, I’ve been told when the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints ran the trust, monthly charges could be as much as $1,500.
People still loyal to Warren Jeffs are said to be forbidden from paying the fee. Then there’s people like L. James "Jim" Barlow.
He stopped following Jeffs years ago. But on July 14, Barlow wrote a letter that explains the frustration of many in Hildale and Colorado City, known collectively as Short Creek. The letter was Barlow’s resignation from the UEP advisory board.
Barlow, 66, starts with a compliment for UEP fiduciary Bruce Wisan and the other board members, calling them "thoughtful and intelligent friends with an impossible task."
Barlow then recounts his personal history.
"I served a two year work mission as did many others. We gave our entire income to help build the community.
"In 1970, 44 years ago, I and my young family of 4, (we had 2 daughters at the time), were assigned a building lot. It was a dry piece of ground, with no utilities, only sand, juniper trees and rattle snakes. I was grateful for the building lot, and while attending the Univ. of Utah, to obtain my Bachelor’s degree in Business Management, I also started construction on my home where it now sits" in Hildale.
Then Barlow lodges some complaints. He writes:
"Judge [Denise] Lindberg gave her friend Bruce Wisan, broad powers to do as he pleased with virtually no oversight. He hired staffs of attorneys’ (sic), and created millions of dollars of attorney’s fees. Most of these attorneys’ (sic) charging $250 to $300 dollars per hour...
"In one incident, under Bruce’s guidance, seven attorneys were on a conference call regarding matters as ridiculous as a $75 dollar a month rental of a sign located on UEP property. It will likely take ten years of sign rental revenue, just to pay the attorney’s fees created from this incident.
There are dozens and possibly hundreds of evident and similar incidents of mismanagement by Mr. Wisan’s so called ‘management of the trust assets’. This trust is made up mostly of the homes built by people who were ‘dirt poor’, and provided all of the work themselves, and donated labor and dollars to build the infrastructure….water and sewer, power hookups, telephone etc."
Barlow spends a couple paragraphs recounting Warren Jeffs’ negative impact on the community. Then he comes back to Wisan and the UEP.
"Mr. Wisan has made it painfully clear, that the advisory board has zero power, as he only uses us to show a pretense of ‘democracy’ in action. He recently stated that he agreed on one of our unanimous decisions, but he did not think he could ‘sell’ the idea to Mr. [Jeff] Shields, our attorney."
Barlow raises the question of whether former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff did something illegal when in 2005 the Utah courts took control of the trust but recognized amendments Jeffs made to the trust’s operations in 1998.
Barlow’s letter conlcudes: "I HEREBY RESIGN FROM THE ADVISORY BOARD OF THE UEP TRUST ... of course that is assuming that I was ever really on it? All I want for myself and my friends is fair treatment under the law!"
In other words, to paraphrase Barlow and what I have heard from other people unhappy with how the UEP is being managed, the UEP was a charitable trust consisting of the assets constructed from the time, talents and donations of its beneficiaries who gave out of a sense of community and faith.
And for the last nine years, it has been managed by the state of Utah, who is charging them a fee (however miniscule) and requiring them to pay the property taxes. Barlow and others don’t like how that money has gone to pay Wisan and the attorneys and how the money has not bought them a say in the decisions.
Hence, about 80 percent of the people who are supposed to pay $100 a month are not doing so.
Here is the other side to this.
Wisan was never appointed as a charity to the trust. He is an accountant with a firm and it was always assumed he be paid. The lawyers, too, are suppose to get paid, and their rates are expensive.
Wisan has said the lawyers have been needed to defend lawsuits and other represent other trust interest, and without them people could lose their homes.
As for Shurtleff, Judge Denise Lindberg signed off on and has been approving management of the UEP since 2005. She has listened to complaints and concerns from residents, but the UEP is under her purview and she has designated Wisan as the trust’s chief executive.
Lindberg wants to appoint a board, similar to the one from which Barlow just resigned, who can replace Wisan and take control of the trust. But she’s facing two obstacles.
Foremost, Wisan and Lindberg can’t find anyone to insure the board against any lawsuits it would face for decisions it makes. Without insurance, the assets of individual board members would be at risk.
The lesser problem: Some of the candidates for the board have not been paying their $100 a month occupancy fee.
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