NewsThe West

Out West Roundup: Most municipal workers quit in Utah polygamous sect town

Author: Associated Press - March 16, 2018 - Updated: March 28, 2018

AP-Utah-Donia-Jessop.jpg
In this Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017 photo, Donia Jessop holds her mayoral campaign sign outside her store in Colorado City, Ariz. Campaign signs are unusual in a town where elections have long been quietly decided behind the scenes, with hand-picked men from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints running unopposed. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)In this Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017 photo, Donia Jessop holds her mayoral campaign sign outside her store in Colorado City, Ariz. Campaign signs are unusual in a town where elections have long been quietly decided behind the scenes, with hand-picked men from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints running unopposed. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Utah

Most municipal workers quit in Utah polygamous sect town

SALT LAKE CITY — The new mayor of a mostly polygamous town on the Utah-Arizona border is finishing off a complete overhaul of municipal staff and boards after mass resignations when she took office in January to become the first woman and first non-member of the polygamous sect to hold the seat.

Six of the seven Hildale, Utah, town workers quit after Mayor Donia Jessop was elected and took charge of the local government run by the sect for more than a century. They were joined by nine members of various town boards, including utility board chairman Jacob N. Jessop. All were members of the sect, the mayor said.

Jacob Jessop said his religious beliefs prevented him from working for a woman and with people who are not sect members, according to resignation letters obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request. The mayor’s husband is distantly related to Jessop in the town of about 3,000 people where many have that last name.

“It has come to a point where I have to choose between my religion and participation in city government, and I choose my religion,” he wrote in his letter dated Jan. 25. “My religion teaches me that I should not follow a woman for a leader in a public or family capacity.”

The victory by Donia Jessop and wins by three other non-sect members for city council seats marked the latest sign of the polygamous group’s waning control of the community surrounded by striking red cliffs near Zion National Park.

Donia Jessop and other former sect members who have returned to the town consider the changes progress that will help the community break free from the reign of Warren Jeffs, who is serving life in prison in Texas for sexually assaulting underage girls he considered brides.

But sect members believe the town they built and love is being ripped away from them, that Jeffs is their prophet and was wrongly convicted.

Idaho

Judge: Idaho must allow gender changes on birth certificates

BOISE — A federal judge says Idaho can’t bar transgender people from changing the sex listed on their birth certificates.

In a ruling issued last week, U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale said the rules by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, served no rational government purpose and put transgender people at risk by forcing them to disclose their status when they present identification documents.

“A rule providing an avenue to obtain a birth certificate with a listed sex that aligns with an individual’s gender identity promotes the health, well-being, and safety of transgender people without impacting the rights of others,” Dale wrote.

The ruling was a response to a lawsuit brought by two transgender women last year who said they faced hostility and harassment at places like grocery stores and government offices because they had to present identification that did not reflect their gender identity.

One of the women, identified only as F.V. in the lawsuit, said looks forward to being one of the first people to update her birth certificate in Idaho.

“I am thrilled and proud that my own state will be updating their policies, even though it required a court order to do so,” said F.V. in a prepared statement issued by Lambda Legal, the law firm that represented her in the case.

As the lawsuit began moving through the court system, Idaho’s attorneys admitted the state policy was unconstitutional, but said the only way to change the policy would be through a court ruling.

There is no conceivable, rational government interest in “a prohibition against changing the sex designation on the birth certificate of a transgender individual who has undergone clinically appropriate treatment to permanently change his or her sex,” the state’s attorneys noted in one court document.

Montana

Female firefighter to lead Forest Service amid scandal

BILLINGS, Montana — A female wildland firefighter has been tapped by the Trump administration to steady the U.S. Forest Service as it reels from allegations of sexual misconduct and struggles to change its male-dominated culture.

Vickie Christensen was appointed interim chief of the 35,000-employee agency last week. The move came roughly 24 hours after former Chief Tony Tooke abruptly retired following revelations of an investigation into alleged relationships with subordinates.

Christiansen has been with the Forest Service for seven years and became a deputy chief in 2016. Before joining the federal government she’d worked in forestry for 30 years at the state level, in Arizona and Washington.

Tooke’s departure came just days after PBS NewsHour reported he was under investigation following relationships with subordinates prior to his appointment last August.

Preliminary results of a sexual harassment audit released by the Agriculture Department’s inspector general said that almost half of employees interviewed expressed distrust in the process of reporting complaints.

In an email to Forest Service employees, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said more steps already were being taken to protect victims from retaliation. Those include using outside investigators for at least the next year to investigate sexual misconduct allegations, according to the agency’s response to the Inspector General’s audit.

Just over a third of the Forest Service’s permanent employees are women, a figure that drops during the summer with additional seasonal hires, according to agency statistics.

New Mexico

Santa Fe picks publishing entrepreneur as next mayor

SANTA FE — Entrepreneur and Santa Fe Mayor-elect Alan Webber said local government in the nation’s oldest state capital is at an important transition and must adapt to the pressures of being a “world-class” destination.

Santa Fe voters elected Webber, the founder of Fast Company Magazine, last week. He prevailed as a newcomer to political office in a five-way race against a local school board member and three men on the city council.

Webber will be the first to lead Santa Fe under a new strong-mayor system, with a nearly quadrupled salary of $110,000. He’ll have greater direct authority over the city manager, city attorney and clerk’s office.

“The idea of the strong mayor is we need to really adapt the structure of city government to the changing nature of the city’s growth and development,” Webber told the Associated Press. “The city is simultaneously a small community, very intimate, and also a world-class destination.”

While campaigning, Weber pointedly criticized the management of city finances.

Other challenges include finding tenants at an abandoned city-owned university campus and addressing cultural strife over an annual pageant of costumed Spanish conquistadors.

The municipal election marked Santa Fe’s first ranked choice election in which voters could rank each candidate from first to last on the ballot, in order of preference.

Webber gained a majority of votes after four elimination rounds.

In the first round, he led the field but fell short of a majority. So the last-place finisher was eliminated and voters’ second choices were applied to the remaining candidates. The process was repeated until Webber won a 66 percent majority.

Arizona

Native church’s lawsuit spurs training for airport screeners

FLAGSTAFF, Arizona — A wooden box carried an eagle feather and bone whistle, a gourd rattle and a feather fan — items that carry spiritual energy and are used in Native American religious ceremonies.

The man holding the box asked security agents at the San Antonio International Airport to allow him to display the items so their energy wouldn’t be polluted. The agents declined, roughly handling the items and shoving them back in the box, according to Sandor Iron Rope, former president of the Native American Church of North America.

His lawsuit against the Transportation Security Administration was settled last month, with neither side acknowledging fault and the agency agreeing to better educate its employees about Native American religious items at more than a dozen airports nationwide.

“There was a policy in place designed to provide some protection for us, but they don’t have training,” Iron Rope said. “Not everybody is familiar with the policies.”

The Native American Church has multiple chapters around the country and an estimated 250,000 members. The church that formed in 1918 blends Native American beliefs and Christianity but doesn’t have formal buildings. Instead, its members meet in teepees for lengthy ceremonies and use peyote as a sacrament.

Associated Press

Associated Press