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Polygamy in Arizona: The Wages of Sin

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Jessop and his entourage rang up hotel bills of $144 in Pueblo, Colorado, $162 in Kansas City and $142 in Nauvoo. The group lingered in Illinois, spending $90 at a hotel in Fairview Heights, just outside of St. Louis. After four nights on the road, Jessop got serious and drove straight to Marietta, Georgia, where he picked up the propane equipment. The group spent another $90 for a hotel room for one night.

With the apparent religious pilgrimage accomplished and the machinery loaded on the truck, Jessop and his crew blasted across the southern United States for 44 hours to Carlsbad, New Mexico, where the group booked two rooms for $128. The trip ended two days later back in Colorado City. They got back just in time for the equipment to be installed for the first day of school.

Besides hotel bills totaling $803, the trip cost the school district $309 for gasoline and $299 for meals. The total outlay was $1,412, according to Jessop's travel voucher, which listed the expenses of the kids and the other adult.

Jeffrey Jessop's summer jaunt -- for personal and dubious business reasons -- is typical of the district's travel policy.

In some cases, there is no doubt that travel was personal, such as when high school principal Lawrence Steed charged $300 to his district-issued credit card during his vacation last July to Canada.

School district records document an amazing amount of travel conducted by district administrators and principals. There aren't many weeks of a given year when somebody working for the district isn't in Phoenix, Kingman, Flagstaff, Tucson or Las Vegas. In some instances, the same employee will make the 800-mile round-trip drive from Colorado City to Phoenix twice in one week, records show.

The relentless travel hasn't gone unnoticed by Arizona Department of Education and state School Facilities Board officials.

"I would say they travel more than almost any other school district in the state," Lyle Friesen, the Department of Education's finance director, says of Colorado City school officials.

Friesen adds that the travel by the Colorado City employees has often been unnecessary; the issues easily could have been resolved by telephone or through e-mail.

The situation got so ridiculous that secretaries at the School Facilities Board tended to laugh about how often the Colorado City district officials -- sometimes with multiple wives in tow -- would show up unexpectedly at state offices.

The expense of all this travel, however, is no joke for taxpayers.

The district refused to produce its line-item for travel expenses for this article, but credit card receipts and travel vouchers indicate they have exceeded $50,000 a year.

This is far more than the $8,000 annual travel budget for the superintendent of the Washington County, Utah, public schools -- who oversees 30 schools, 20,000 students and has a $100 million-a-year budget. Superintendent Granger says she has spent only $3,158 on travel this year.

Colorado City school district travel records show that employees frequently stay at $100-a-night-and-up hotels and that they ring up expensive meal tabs for themselves and their frequent guests (who usually are not identified by name on travel records).

Along with the F-350, four-wheel-drive pickup assigned to Jeffrey Jessop and a $32,000, 2000 Ford Excursion handed to Superintendent Alvin Barlow, the one-school Colorado City district owns an additional 13 vehicles, including five Chevy Suburbans.

Nearly all of the vehicles are handed out to administrators, principals and support personnel and are used for district as well as personal needs. Superintendent Alvin Barlow says the district does not require employees to keep track of personal miles driven and allows employees to take the vehicles home.

At the same time, the district does not list personal use of district vehicles in its employee contracts, thereby allowing workers to escape from paying state and federal taxes on the benefit.

State law mandates that school district vehicles are for official use only.

The large number of district vehicles issued to employees seemed to concern school board member W.H. Meldrum at a January 19, 2002, meeting.

"Let's figure out a way we can do it so it is legal and right," he said to fellow board members. "That's all I'm asking. I've brought this up two or three times before, yet we go right on doing the same thing."

Board president Bistline also expressed worry about vehicle use.

"I am real concerned about the appropriate use of vehicles," he told Superintendent Barlow.

But the two board members must not have been concerned enough, because a minute or two later they voted along with the rest of the board to purchase another vehicle -- the F-350 pickup truck now assigned to Jessop, who is paid $41,700 annually.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty