PHOENIX (CN) — The federal government should allow twin towns dominated by a fundamentalist Mormon sect on the Arizona-Utah border to police themselves, despite a jury's finding that they denied police protection, water and utilities to people who do not belong to their religion, a town manager testified Thursday on the last day of hearings.
The Department of Justice sued Colorado City, Ariz. and Hildale, Utah in 2012, claiming the towns routinely denied utilities and police protection to residents who did not belong to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints. The sect's leader, Warren Jeffs, is serving life plus 20 years for sexually abusing two girls he called his "spiritual wives."
A federal jury in March awarded six residents $2.2 million for being denied police protection, water hookups and utilities.
"My desire is to allow the municipality to conduct its business and regulate its subdivision," Colorado City Manager David Darger told a federal judge Thursday. "Someway, somehow the city has to be allowed to be a city."
The Justice Department this week asked U.S. District Judge H. Russel Holland to dismantle the Colorado City Marshal's Office, which police both towns.
During the jury trial this year, evidence showed that the Marshal's Office routinely pursued actions against non-FLDS members, provided support for the church and declined to arrest church members.
The federal government also asks Holland to order the towns to adopt nondiscriminatory zoning and subdivision ordinances.
Colorado City is accused of resisting efforts from the United Effort Plan Trust, which holds nearly all of the town's property, to subdivide. Hildale is already required by a Utah court to subdivide.
"I'm mystified that the United States government would want to order something that we are already doing," Darger said.
He said Colorado City adopted a subdivision ordinance in 2007, but the trust has never submitted an application for subdivision.
Jeff Barlow, executive director of the trust, testified Monday that subdivision would cost nearly $60 million for the trust under the current ordinance, which would require it to dig up utilities throughout the town and install certain infrastructure.
Darger denied the cost would be that high, or that utilities were required to be dug under the ordinance.
"At no time in the nine-year history that I've been involved have I heard that," Darger said.
The trust is especially interested in subdivision since single parcels in Colorado City are often made up of multiple homes or businesses.
Colorado City has no problem with subdividing, Darger said, but the federal government has no reason to be involved in it.
"[Why] the U.S. government would involve itself in a local issue like this ... in an effort to save a buck ..." Darger trailed off, shaking his head.
"Isn't it true the cities don't want to subdivide because it will allow non-FLDS members to buy property?" asked Matthew Donnelly, a Justice Department attorney.
Darger denied any wrongdoing by the towns.
"I feel like it's a retaliation and intimidation against me," Darger said. "I think it's very, very wrong for you to do that."
Darger told the court the towns are more sensitive to claims of religious discrimination since a federal judge in a separate lawsuit ordered them not to discriminate for 10 years. In that case, a couple was granted $5.2 million after a jury found Colorado City and Hildale denied them water because they were not FLDS.
"We've had the opportunity to provide a more professional environment," Darger said.
Darger also spoke of training from the Southwest Fair Housing Council that town employees are now required to take. The most recent training, in September, was attended by members of the Marshal's Office, Colorado City Mayor Joseph Allred and Hildale Mayor Phillip Barlow.
The agenda included protected classes and landlord tenant-matters, and was filmed to "make it available to other employees who were unable to attend" or "needed a refresher," Darger testified.
Colorado City has a population of about 4,800 and Hildale's is about 3,000. Both towns are 99.2 percent white, according to city-data.com.
It's unclear when Judge Holland will issue his findings.
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