Crash Course

Fundamentalist Mormons lose control of Colorado City's school district, as a criminal investigation continues

As the December 3 Colorado City Unified School District board of governors meeting draws to a close, Alvin Barlow, Arizona's longest tenured public school superintendent, instinctively opens his pocket calendar to set the date for the next meeting.

Barlow flips through the calendar for a few seconds and fumbles with his pen.

Then he stops, and stares across the classroom inside the adobe building he helped construct 45 years ago -- a collective effort by fellow fundamentalist polygamist Mormons to improve education in this isolated community 60 miles north of the Grand Canyon.

The Colorado City school district's purchase of an airplane attracted international attention and sharp criticism from state education leaders.
John Dougherty
The Colorado City school district's purchase of an airplane attracted international attention and sharp criticism from state education leaders.
Colorado City school district superintendent Alvin Barlow will retire  December 31.
John Dougherty
Colorado City school district superintendent Alvin Barlow will retire December 31.

Without making an entry, Barlow slowly closes the calendar.

There will be no more school board meetings for Alvin Barlow.

Late last month, Barlow signed a tentative agreement with the Arizona Attorney General's Office that strips him of his authority. He'll retire by the end of the year. More significant, the agreement calls for the state Board of Education to appoint a receiver to take over the financial affairs of the school district. The board of education formalized the agreement earlier this week.

The receiver will investigate how the school district plunged $2 million into debt. Barlow is already under criminal investigation by the AG for misusing public funds. A comprehensive review of the district's finances by the receiver increases the chance that criminal charges will be filed against him and other Colorado City school officials.

The possibility that Barlow will go to prison is real.

The reality that his 40-year public education career is about to end in disgrace is impossible for him to ignore, as he sits through his last board meeting. But he's obviously doing his best, following the fundamentalist Mormon creed to "Keep Sweet," no matter the adversity.

In a voice devoid of emotion, Barlow tells the two school board members in attendance and a third listening in on speaker phone that for the first time, he cannot set the date for the next board meeting. That duty, he says, must be performed by the receiver poised to seize control of the financially ruined school district.

The board accepts Barlow's recommendation without comment.

"I know of no other items," Barlow says, signaling the end of the meeting.

He carefully puts his calendar back into his suit pocket as the meeting adjourns.

Alvin Barlow, one of the most powerful men in Colorado City, walks silently out the door of his last school board meeting, down the hallway and into his office, ignoring a New Timesreporter's questions along the way. There are no other journalists present to cover Barlow's last school board meeting.

Barlow's forced retirement and the appointment of a receiver to oversee the Colorado City school district marks a historic moment in the turbulent history of the closed polygamous society.

For more than 70 years, the adjoining towns of Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah, have been ruled by a theocracy controlled by the leadership of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a breakaway sect of the Salt Lake City-based Mormon Church ("Bound by Fear," March 13, 2003).

For decades, FLDS leaders have ignored numerous state laws and the Arizona Constitution, which forbids polygamy, in their relentless quest for plural wives. Hundreds of underage girls have been coerced into illegal cohabitations with older men who were already legally married.

The current FLDS leader is Warren Jeffs, a fugitive wanted on seven felony charges out of Mohave County in connection with the act of conducting "spiritual" marriages of underage girls to already legally married men. Jeffs exerts unquestioned authority over all aspects of life in Colorado City and Hildale, despite a nationwide manhunt to find him and a $10,000 reward posted by the Arizona AG for information leading to his arrest.

Those who dare to question Jeffs stand to lose their family, home, job and, most important, salvation.

An ongoing three-year New Timesinvestigation of the polygamous community has uncovered evidence that all government functions in Colorado City and Hildale, including the town councils, the police department, the fire district, the municipal electric utility, municipal courts and the school board, are completely controlled by Jeffs.

All the members of the school board and school administrators, for example, are in those positions because they were ordered to work there by FLDS leaders.

"They wouldn't be here running the school if it wasn't for Warren's power," says Colorado City schoolteacher Deloy Bateman, who quit the FLDS four years ago over a child custody dispute. "Warren told them to be here, and that's why they are here, plain and simple."

For decades, the primary purpose of Colorado City and Hildale's governmental bodies has been to collect taxpayer funds and divert the money to FLDS-mandated activities. FLDS members brazenly describe the diversion of taxpayer funds to church-sanctioned projects as "bleeding the beast."

Over the past 50 years, tens of millions of taxpayer dollars have been collected by FLDS-controlled governments and funneled to church programs to help subsidize the high cost of raising huge polygamous families. It's not unusual for fundamentalist women to bear more than a dozen children and for men to have multiple wives.

But now, for the first time, the state of Arizona has struck back at the FLDS theocracy by forcing Alvin Barlow and the FLDS-controlled school board to relinquish financial control of the school district's $6 million annual budget.

1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Phoenix Concert Tickets
Loading...