Utah polygamous sect members in line to hold on to town council

A polygamous sect that has been running a community on the Utah-Arizona border for more than a century has retained control of a town council after one incumbent kept his seat in Tuesday’s primary and two others qualified for the November election.

The sect known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or FLDS, has been hampered in recent years by government crackdowns and the imprisonment of its leader, Warren Jeffs, in Texas for sexually assaulting underage girls he considered brides.

The sister cities of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, were also found guilty of civil rights violations and are being closely watched by court-appointed monitors.

Still, members of the sect held control Tuesday of the seven-member town council in Colorado City for at least two more years.

Councilman Donald Richter secured one of the four open seats and will skip the November election because he received more than 50 percent of the votes, said Vance Barlow, town clerk and town manager.

He will join three other FLDS members on the council who weren’t up for re-election.

Two other incumbents, Joanne Shapley and Jeffery Jessop, received the second- and third-most votes Tuesday and move on to face four non-FLDS candidates as they vie for the remaining three spots in November.

The results were surprising after non-FLDS candidates took control of town offices in last year’s election in Hildale.

“The results really speak to where Colorado City still is with their thinking and their mentality,” said Terrill Musser, a 33-year-old former FLDS member who lives in the community and is working to get non-FLDS candidates elected.

Musser noted that the effort by non-sect members to take control of the Hildale council initially failed in 2015 before breaking through in 2017.

“If we don’t take back our cities and take control of this narrative, it will just go from generation to generation of unaccountable people to our state, our counties,” Musser said

Amid heightened scrutiny of the sect by the state and federal governments, a Utah state judge several years ago ordered widespread evictions of sect families who lived in church properties that had been taken over by the state.

A number of those homes on the Utah side have been sold to former FLDS members such as Musser. Such sales have not yet begun in the Arizona town.

While many people are happy with the changes in Colorado City, sect members believe the town they built and love is being ripped from them.

Richter, an FLDS member, declined an interview request from The Associated Press but sent a video statement through a nonprofit group.

“I’m anxious to see the rights of everybody upheld,” Richter said. “I don’t feel there should be discrimination against anyone here.”