The city, Hildale, Utah has historically been governed by individuals who are active members of the FLDS religion. Before incorporation as a city, the church was the primary arbiter of public goods and services and its influence in the government of the city has been considerable, for better or for worse. Donia Jessop will be the first non-FLDS candidate to run for mayor in the city’s history, as well as the first woman to run for the position, in the city’s history. Donia says that her primary focus and reason for running is to bring equal representation to all who live in the community.
Donia was born and raised in Colorado City. She lived, worked, and raised a family here for most of her life. Four years ago, she made the decision, along with her husband Joe L., to relocate their family to the St George area. The move was motivated by the changing dynamics of the community, which caused many people to relocate. “Leaving the community just really gave me a lot of perspective. It really gave me an appreciation for the small town that we have,” says Donia. She has worked in a variety of different capacities including in-home care for the elderly, as a victim’s rights advocate, and has lobbied government on the state and national level for a variety of issues over the years. She also has experience as an entrepreneur, starting a company, JTech, with her husband 17 years ago. Their latest business venture is The Hub, where they are reopening the old convenience store, gas station, and fast food drive through, in the middle of town.
While she appreciated the new perspective and experiences gained from leaving her hometown, it wasn’t long before she and her family felt the urge to come back. She says, “The mountains and our red dirt were calling us back home.” This is a familiar experience for many who have left under similar circumstances, and wanted to return to the place where they were born, and the community they grew to love so much. But upon returning, it was evident that some of the things that motivated them to leave were still in place, and as more people moved back, the greater the need and opportunity to make changes to the local government became.
“Our goal is to help rebuild this community and turn it into a place where people want to live and grow,” she said. For this to happen, she says there must be equal representation. According to Donia, Hildale’s population is currently 20% FLDS and 80% non-FLDS, while nearly every city office is held by someone within the FLDS. This has created distrust among citizens who claim it is nearly impossible to work with city officials or have their needs addressed. A recent court ruling found that the city had engaged in discrimination against citizens and prescribed a set of actions that the city government has seemed willing to comply with. For many citizens, this is not enough. They feel there must be a certain level of trust that their government is working for them.
This is where Donia found the motivation to run. “I know how to stand up for what’s right,” she said. “There have been some wrongs that need to be righted. I don’t want to live in a community where the people who live here don’t have a say in how the town is run.” She continues, “I feel like I know the people here. I know where we’ve been and what we’ve been through.” It is important to note that her motivation is not to push the FLDS out but to bring the community together as a whole. “I don’t want the FLDS to move away. I would like them to stay and be a part of the community. I love them where they’re at,” she says. Donia believes that equal representation is the very first step to building a thriving community and once that challenge has been met, she plans to foster integrity and community within the city government.
Currently, according to Donia, there have been issues in the working relationship between the city and the UEP trust, among other organizations, which has led to higher taxes and utility fees that many citizens feel are unjustifiable. Many people believe there could be a better working relationship between the city and the UEP trust to help bring those fees down. “Impact fees are outrageous. Nowhere in the state of Utah do people have higher water rates, impact fees, or taxes, than Hildale,” she states. She believes that these issues are made more difficult to solve because of the current government’s unwillingness to work with the UEP, based on their religious convictions. This led for her to push for the court to require that an overseer from outside the city government be consulted to ensure transparency. “We have an overseer now, which I really pushed for. I want what they’re doing to be watched. But also, when I get there, I want to make sure that I’m living up to and beyond what the expectation is. I’m going to need some help when I get there.”
Other issues that she wants to address are budget and spending concerns which many feel are unproductive or suspect. She sees the need to repair our relationships with the state, school board, and county governments, claiming they have suffered over the past two decades. “I want the city government to be open, so there’s an open-door policy. If you have something to talk about, call me, email me. I’m open to suggestions and ideas. What do you need?” She has also launched an official Facebook page and website where you can voice your concerns and let her know what is important for you.
Fostering community is a big item on her agenda. She wants to find ways to bring more economic growth into the city to provide job opportunities and prosperity. Many citizens would like to see the city get a much-needed facelift, incentivizing citizens to build up and beautify the city is important for the overall sense of community. Donia believes that our city works projects should be geared toward building a positive environment that will draw tourism and promote a sense of pride. During our interview, we discussed her vision of community building. We spoke about creating opportunities for young people. She expressed a desire to create recreational infrastructure for young people so that they don’t feel like they should sneak out and go into the wilderness for fun. To show the need for that infrastructure, she cited examples of accidents out on the Arizona Strip, that claimed the lives of young people. She has many ideas on that front including park improvements, a water park, and ATV trails, and would like to hear yours.
She realizes that taking on these issues will be a big job, but maintains that somebody has to do it. She said, “I know I can do this job. I know I am the best person for this job. I have great people skills, leadership skills, and organizational skills.” She continues, “I understand the inner workings and outer workings of this community. Stepping out for 4 years was probably the best thing I’ve ever done. It gave me a different perspective. When it came time to run, few people stood up, but I did, because it needs to be done.”
If you would like more information on Donia Jessop’s campaign for the Mayor’s office, you can contact her on Facebook, email, or on her website.