Arrest the Polyg Prophet Now!

Colorado City school superintendent Alvin Barlow meets me inside the hallway of the public school district's crumbling administration building with an armed Colorado City cop at his side.

Arizona's senior school administrator is quivering with rage. He's extremely unhappy to see me.

Barlow ignores my greeting, abruptly turns and walks down a hallway toward a meeting room where two years ago I began the tedious task of poring through thousands of pages of the school district's financial records.

I follow him, with the cop a few steps behind. Barlow silently places two black notebooks containing district meeting minutes and agendas for the last 10 months on a table for me to review.

As he turns to walk away, I ask him the question everyone in this isolated town north of the Grand Canyon wants him to answer:

"Why are the school district's payroll checks bouncing?"

Barlow ignores my question and walks out of the room.

He doesn't need to say anything. I already know the answer.

Two years ago, I uncovered substantial and compelling evidence that Barlow and the Colorado City Unified School District's school board were systematically looting public funds for the benefit of the fundamentalist Mormon polygamists who control all aspects of life in the twin towns of Colorado City and Hildale, Utah.

In April 2003, I wrote a lengthy feature story detailing how the school district is merely a pawn in a much larger and surreal power play orchestrated by Warren Jeffs, the self-proclaimed prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The FLDS openly practices polygamy. The sect is a renegade offshoot of the Salt Lake City-based Mormon Church, which banned polygamy in 1890 so that Utah could gain statehood.

Despite nearly two years of warnings in New Times stories that Barlow and his FLDS cohorts were driving the Colorado City school district into the ground, the state of Arizona has done nothing to prepare for the inevitable moment that has now arrived -- the district is in financial ruin and teachers aren't being paid.

The district's biweekly, $108,000 worth of payroll checks began bouncing in late October without warning. Teachers not only suffered the loss of their paychecks, many have incurred hundreds of dollars in penalties from their banks as their checks bounced in the wake of the district's payroll default.

But the teachers continue to show up each day for their classes.

"We're teachers, and when 6-year-olds depend on you, what are you going to do?" a teacher tells me. "We don't do this for the money."

The teacher, who asked not to be identified, says many of her associates are hugely frustrated; they have been abandoned by the state and lied to by the school board.

"I think if [state school superintendent] Tom Horne really cared, he would be here," the teacher says. "If anybody in the state really cared, they would be here."

Amazingly, even if Horne and other state officials swooped into Colorado City, there is nothing they can do about the renegade school district. There is no law that allows the state Department of Education to forcibly remove a corrupt and/or incompetent public school administration and school board from power -- even if they effectively bankrupt a school district.

"Nothing can be done until I get authority to do something," Horne tells me. "I should already have that authority, but I don't."

Horne says he will ask the state Legislature to pass an emergency bill in January allowing the state school superintendent to take over "dysfunctional" school districts. A similar bill failed last year. Horne says he still has to find a sponsor for the bill, which could meet stiff resistance from legislators who want local school boards to remain completely insulated from state control.

Governor Janet Napolitano should play a prominent role in pushing through emergency legislation. But she continues to ignore the outrageous situation in Colorado City. Her office did not respond to a series of questions I sent to her press secretary concerning the school crisis.

Attorney General Terry Goddard says he will strongly support legislation that would allow him to ask a court to force a financially insolvent school district into receivership. But at this point, Goddard says, there is nothing his office can do unless the school district voluntarily files for bankruptcy -- which is extremely unlikely.

"Short of legislation, I don't know what we can do to ease the situation up there," Goddard says. "Obviously, it's tragic and irresponsible of the people who run the district up there."

If and when the Legislature finally addresses the crisis, it will have a gigantic mess on its hands. The district already is more than $1.5 million in the red, and that will only mount as it continues to issue worthless paychecks that legally must be paid.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty