Time of unprecedented change as Hildale mayor, city council members take oath of office

In this file photo, a crowd of nearly 200 gather as newly elected Hildale officials are sworn in during a ceremony held at Water Canyon School, Hildale, Utah, Jan. 4, 2018 | Photo by Ron Chaffin, St. George News

HILDALE — The swearing-in ceremony in Hildale Thursday evening was standing room only, as Donia Jessop was formally sworn in to begin her term as mayor of Hildale – along with three newly elected city council members: Maha Layton, Jerod Nicol and Jvar Dutson – in front of hundreds of onlookers after prevailing in the first open election in the town’s history.

Donia Jessop is sworn in to serve as Mayor of Hildale at ceremony held at Water Canyon School Thursday evening, Hildale, Utah, Jan. 4, 2018 | Photo by Cody Blowers,, St. George News

It was a sweeping victory for the challengers that took an oath of office during a ceremony held in the auditorium of Water Canyon School in Hildale.

The ceremony is generally held at the Hildale City Government Offices, but a change of venue was ordered just before the event was scheduled to begin. The school provided a larger venue for nearly 200 individuals who gathered in the auditorium while an officer with the Cedar City Marshal’s Office stood watch at the door.

The historical implications of unseating municipal positions previously held by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints are far reaching.

Hildale’s municipal government has been made up of members of the FLDS church for decades, with Hildale and Colorado City, Arizona, serving as the church’s headquarters.

Read more: Hildale elections represent history in the making for the predominantly FLDS community. 

This was the first time in the town’s history that non-FLDS candidates, two of whom were not only ex-FLDS but also female, were elected into office.

Officer with the Colorado City Marshal’s Office stands at the door during swearing in ceremony held at Water Canyon School Thursday evening, Hildale, Utah, Jan. 4, 2018 | Photo by Cody Blowers,, St. George News

The demographics of Hildale have changed over the last few decades, ultimately leading to a majority of non-FLDS citizens who have moved – or in some cases, returned – to the community.

With these changing demographics, people questioned the reputation of the city government as a closed system made up exclusively of male members of the FLDS church and raised the need to hold open elections, as well as provide more transparency in local government.

The ceremony held Thursday came in the wake of those changes.

“However, it’s just the beginning,” Jessop said. “There’s much work to do.”

Read more: Newly-elected Hildale officials reveal challenges, hopes for town during Dixie State forum

Jessop said Thursday that her first order of business concerns relationships.

“I would like to start rebuilding, creating and renewing relationships with the state of Utah, with the Washington County School District and our neighboring communities,” Jessop said, “because it’s that networking that is so important in running a city.”

Jessop went on to say that the rebuilding process will take time, but the planning has already begun. She also said rebuilding the community’s infrastructure and strengthening municipal services were priorities, with water, roads and internet being at the top of the to-do list.

Maha Layton is sworn in Thursday to serve a four-year term on the Hildale City Council at a ceremony held at Water Canyon School, Hildale, Utah, Jan. 4, 2018 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

Layton was sworn in to serve a four-year term in the City Council. She was born and raised in Hildale, which she said gives her an inside perspective on the many changes that have taken place over the last several years.

“We are here in a full house, and it’s remarkable to see this many people active in what’s going on here,” she said. “Today is a milestone for Hildale.”

Layton reiterated the need to restore a sense of community and said she is excited to see the changes taking place now, as well as the changes to come.

“It’s about looking at the future, and we see the future here tonight,” Layton said.

Jared Nicol is sworn in Thursday to serve a four-year term on the Hildale City Council at a ceremony held at Water Canyon School, Hildale, Utah, Jan. 4, 2018 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

Nicol, another newly elected council member serving a four-year term, moved to Hildale from West Valley with his wife and children after they fell in love with the area, but he said felt a desire to serve the struggling community much earlier.

“I knew before I moved here that there needed to be change, and I wanted to be a part of that change,” Nicol said.

Nicol and his wife volunteered with an organization out of northern Utah delivering clothes, shoes and other items in the area before purchasing a home and relocating just over two years ago and said he is familiar with the issues facing the community.

He reiterated the importance of a more united town. Re-establishing a sense of belonging and unity is important to him both personally and as a council member, he said.

Thursday’s ceremony was the culmination of more than three years of work, he said, for himself and the group.

“So many people came to the swearing in and reception and to enjoy this moment,” Nicole said.

Jvar Dutson is sworn in to serve a two-year term on the Hildale City Council at a ceremony held at Water Canyon School Thursday evening, Hildale, Utah, Jan. 4, 2018 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

Dutson was elected to a two-year term, replacing a council member who resigned.

“This is really wonderful,” Dutson said, “and we are working toward a great change in our community that will represent all of our people, so that everyone has a voice in this community.”

Washington County Commissioners Dean Cox and Zachary Renstrom also attended the ceremony in a show of support for the new municipal leaders, and Cox commented on the importance of this “watershed event.”

“It is democracy at work,” he said, “and what a remarkable evening and an amazing story here in Hildale, Utah. … I am excited to extend our support on behalf of Washington County for the fledgling community and any help the candidates may need.”

Issues the newly elected officials expressed as being important to the community range from an acute loss of business-related revenue and an underdeveloped tourism industry to a major shift in population that has led to undefined demographics. But the top of the list for all officials refers to the Hildale sense of community.

“This is about rebuilding our community by rebuilding relationships – that’s what this is all about,” Jessop said.

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Email: cblowers@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

 

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1 Comment

  • utahdiablo January 7, 2018 at 11:24 am

    Yeah….we shall see what “changes” come….more Welfare Fraud? More 14 year old brides? More Plural Wives?….yeah, we’ll see

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