Crash Course

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

The state gave up nothing in return for the district officials' signing the consent decree and is continuing its criminal investigation. "This agreement does nothing to foreclose the possibility of criminal charges in the future," Goddard said.

School district officials benefit from the consent decree at least in the short run by avoiding the public embarrassment of having to plead the Fifth Amendment before the education board. School district officials also are showing a willingness to cooperate with the state, which could help mitigate a sentence and/or fine if they are eventually charged and convicted of a crime.

Ironically, Oliver Barlow, one of the school officials under criminal investigation, will at least temporarily keep his school district job as business manager and serve as a liaison between the district and the receiver.

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.


The state now faces a daunting public relations challenge as it prepares to salvage the school district's financial mess.

For years, Centennial Park polygamists blamed Jeffs for high property tax rates. Now, the state will likely become the target of bitter complaints as the school district receiver is forced to raise taxes to eliminate the district's $2 million debt over the next three years.

"The taxes will have to be raised substantially each year," says Mohave County school superintendent File.

Higher taxes will only further fuel deep suspicions spreading quickly among many Centennial Park polygamists that the school receivership is just the first step in a bigger plan by the state to eliminate polygamy.

"I think they are apprehensive that the people coming in will attack their religion," says Colorado City schoolteacher Bateman.

A year ago, Centennial Park families were clamoring for assistance from the media to bring attention to the school district's issuing bad paychecks. In recent months, however, Centennial Park polygamists have expressed strong support for Alvin Barlow and the school district, claiming that the media are distorting the district's financial problems.

Concerns about the state's launching a general attack against polygamy appear to be misplaced. There is no indication that law enforcement plans to break up existing polygamous families or arrest consenting adults who wish to engage in polygamy.

However, both Goddard and Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith have made it clear they will prosecute anyone who has recently taken an underage girl into a polygamous relationship.

"We will prosecute child abuse anywhere it occurs in the state," Goddard says.

Earlier this year, Mohave County filed felony charges against eight Colorado City men for engaging in unlawful sexual conduct with minors. The men all were given underage girls as polygamous wives by FLDS leaders. The cases are pending in Mohave County Superior Court.

But as long as fundamentalist polygamist Mormons refrain from spiritually marrying underage girls, it is very unlikely the state will prosecute consenting adults practicing polygamy -- especially since Arizona does not have a criminal statute forbidding polygamous unions.

Bateman says he expects fears about the school receivership to diminish in the near future if the receiver can demonstrate that teachers, students and parents will be better off with the FLDS no longer controlling the school district.

"I think in the long run everybody is going to be pretty happy about the change here," Bateman says. "Maybe they don't believe it now, but in the future I think they will."

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