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Published: Thursday, March 08, 2018 @ 5:20 PM
Updated: Thursday, March 08, 2018 @ 5:20 PM
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 Thursday 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."
He cited sermons from the 1860s from Brigham Young, the second president of the mainstream Mormon church who led pioneers west to settle in Utah. Polygamy was part of early Mormonism, but The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has disavowed polygamy for more than a century.
He added in the letter that his religion teaches him "to leave apostates alone severely and not have anything to do with them." Apostates refer to people who renounce their religion's teachings. Most of the others who resigned said in their letters they were taking other jobs.
But Mayor Jessop said all of them are members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, of FLDS, an offshoot of mainstream Mormonism that practices polygamy. The group has run the sister cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona, for more than a century and had total control of town governments until November's elections.
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.
The new town leadership is the latest sign that the community's demographics are shifting as it begins to resemble a typical town in the U.S. West, not a cloistered religious community.
Government-ordered evictions of sect families from about 150 homes forced many to seek refuge in trailers around town or in different cities. The town government and police are being watched closely by court-appointed monitors after a jury found them guilty of civil rights violations. Also, a food-stamp fraud case led 10 people to plead guilty and exacerbated a leadership void.
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.
More changes could be coming — two city council members who weren't up for re-election in November did not attend first two regular meetings of the year. If they miss the next meeting in April, their absences will be considered resignations per a new city resolution passed in January, Donia Jessop said.
Later this year, elections in the sister city of Colorado City, Arizona, could bring in outsiders, including to the mayor's seat.
Donia Jessop is a former member of the religious group but left four years ago over unrest about Jeffs was running the group. She returned to Hildale to buy an evicted member's home and start a business. She is in a plural marriage but no longer follows the tenets of the FLDS religion.
She said she laughed when she read the letter from Jacob N. Jessop's on her desk.
"I knew that that was out there, but for it to be so blatant, spelled out so perfectly, it was quite a shock," Donia Jessop said in a phone interview. "If you cannot work with me, then it's good that you are moving on because this is the future of Hildale and I'm not going anywhere."
The resignations were first reported by the St. George News, but the copy of Jacob N. Jessop's resignation letter was not made public until this week in response to the records request by The Associated Press and another media outlet.
The mayor said the resignations haven't been disruptive, with the employees leaving incrementally to avoid leaving the town completely unstaffed. She said she asked each to reconsider, but only one of those who resigned decided to stay.
Donia Jessop said she has filled the positions that include town recorder, clerk and treasurer with former members of the FLDS and other people with no ties to the sect.
New hires should help the community, said Jared Nicol, a new town council member and mainstream Mormon.
Published: Sunday, March 18, 2018 @ 6:56 AM
— Do you live in Pennsylvania? You might be $457 million richer.
According to the Powerball lottery, a single ticket sold in Pennsylvania matched all five numbers and the Powerball to win Saturday's massive jackpot, a $273.9 million cash value.
The winning numbers were 22-57-59-60-66 with Powerball 7.
If you missed out on Saturday's prize, you have another chance to win big in Tuesday's $377 million Mega Millions drawing.
Published: Wednesday, March 14, 2018 @ 7:53 AM
AUSTIN, Texas — Friends and acquaintances of Draylen Mason, the 17-year-old who was killed in one of Monday’s package explosions in Austin, Texas, remembered him as a kind young man and a talented musician.
Mason’s mother also was injured in the explosion first reported around 6:44 a.m. Monday, authorities said. She remained in the hospital on Tuesday and was in stable condition. Authorities haven’t released her name yet.
Mason’s Facebook page shows that he was a senior at East Austin College Prep and was heavily involved in local music programs such as the Austin Youth Orchestra, where he was the principal double bass player, and the youth music program Austin Soundwaves, where he was also the principal bassist.
“He was a cool guy, and he was just so fun to be around,” said his friend, Kylie Phillips. “He was always busy, because he always had gigs and he was always doing things for the orchestra here in Austin. … I used to sing in a band with him, so it was so devastating when I found out he died.”
Another friend from school, Stephanie Lucio, remembered him as “talented to the max, from dancing to playing so many instruments.”
“As for his mother, I pray for her strength and recovery,” Lucio said. “She raised an outstanding son, friend, student and global citizen.”
Former Austin Council Member Mike Martinez said he had met Mason and re-posted on Facebook a photo of them together.
“I had the honor to meet Draylen Mason in 2013 after he won the Hispanic Bar essay contest,” Martinez wrote. “His essay was on racial profiling and was so insightful and mature for such a young man. All of these tragedies are so horrible for our community. We must put a stop to this. RIP Draylen.”
Mason had been accepted to the University of Texas Butler School of Music, UT spokesman J.B. Bird said Tuesday.
The dean of the College of Fine Arts, Doug Dempster, offered his condolences, calling Mason a “most remarkable talent” who had the “chops to study music in college.”
“We at the University of Texas were so eager to have him join our music school … He carried himself with a kind of quiet maturity that belied his youth,” Dempster said. “The loss of a child with such conspicuous ambition, talent and determination is the cruelest kind of heartbreak.”
Some of Mason’s teachers grieved for him on social media, describing him as a remarkable student.
Sam Osemene, a U.S. government professor at Austin Community College, said he was intelligent and well-loved by everyone in the classroom.
“He was a very vibrant young man, full of life, always smiling,” Osemene told the American-Statesman on Tuesday. “He had what I call a zeal to succeed.”
Mason had previously shared a couple videos of classical string performances on his Facebook page, and several photos of him show him playing a double bass or sitting at a piano.
A spokesperson from Soundwaves said Mason had worked with its executive director since he was 11 years old.
Mason had left a five-star review on Austin Soundwaves’ Facebook page: “Austin Soundwaves is a great music programs that’s dedicated to the advancement of kids in East Austin thru the power of music,” he wrote. “They push everyone to strive and to do great things in life.”
The group had been contacted by Mason’s family and asked not to comment further.
Mason had performed with the Austin Youth Orchestra for the last six years, its conductor, William Dicks, said Tuesday.
“He was an outstanding young man that had the talent and artistry to be a first class professional musician,” Dicks said. “It’s senseless.”
Anthony House, who was killed in the first package bombing on March 2, was father to an 8-year-old girl and a Pflugerville High School and Texas State University graduate. Friends remembered him as quiet, clean-cut and driven.
House ran track and played basketball at Pflugerville High School where he made friendships that lasted throughout his life.
“He wanted to be something different and bigger than what a lot of people thought he was going to do,” said fellow Pflugerville Panther Greg Padgitt, who graduated two years before House. “He was quiet, but jokey with the kids that he let in. He was a great kid.”
After graduating from Texas State University with a degree in business administration, finance and financial management services in 2008, House started a money managing firm, serving as president of House Capital Management LLC. More recently he worked as a senior project manager for Texas Quarries, a Cedar Park-based lime fabricator, and Acme Brick, a Fort Worth-based firm. According to public records, House had recently begun attending Austin Community College.
House’s family members declined to speak to the media Tuesday, but Freddie Dixon, House’s stepfather, had previously told the Washington Post that he thinks the bombings were a hate crime.
“Are you trying to say something to prominent African-American families?” Dixon, who is close friends with Mason’s grandfather and is the co-founder of the Austin Area Urban League, told the Post. “It’s not just coincidental.”
Published: Monday, March 12, 2018 @ 10:07 PM
Updated: Monday, March 12, 2018 @ 10:07 PM
AUSTIN, Texas — Three package explosions in Austin in the past two weeks appear similar and related, authorities said Monday, and police are warning residents against taking suspicious packages inside their homes.
Published: Sunday, March 18, 2018 @ 12:03 AM
WASHINGTON, D.C. — A North Carolina teen visiting the nation’s capitol on a middle school field trip died Thursday after he was hit by a bus March 9, according to officials.
Hunter Brown, 14, of Wilkesboro, North Carolina, was struck and trapped under a tour bus at around 6:50 p.m. near the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial, according to the Wilkes Journal-Patriot.
Responders were able to jack up the bus and free Brown after about 10 minutes, according to WFMY. He was taken to Children’s National Medical Center where he was in critical condition.
Brown was visiting Washington, D.C., on an eighth grade field trip with other students from Central Wilkes Middle School, according to WFMY.