St. George -- Former Colorado City-Hildale Chief Marshal Helaman Barlow was terminated Thursday night amid ongoing questions about the influence of polygamous church leaders over the city governments' affairs in the twin state-line communities straddling the Utah-Arizona line.
"They had a special City Council meeting strictly to deal with me and my employment," Barlow said in an exclusive telephone interview with The Spectrum & Daily News on Saturday. "They wanted it done in an executive session, and initially we did have several executive sessions where they talked to me about the issues. … (But) I have a right to request that it be done in open meeting. I have nothing to hide."
The same day Barlow was terminated, the federal judge overseeing litigation against Colorado City and Hildale denied a motion by the Arizona Attorney General's Office that could have led to the court disbanding the marshal's office, but the judge ordered the city not to practice religious discrimination — something Barlow claims was the impetus for his termination.
Colorado City resident Ross Chatwin, who attended Thursday's meeting, said he believes the City Council ignores the concerns of most of its residents in favor of those who belong to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a polygamous church headquartered in Hildale and Colorado City that was instrumental in founding the communities known collectively as Short Creek.
"I wanted to know, 'Why are we firing somebody who's been here so long?' I've had my problems with Helaman, but everything's forgivable," said Chatwin, a former FLDS member. "That's the reason I went; the whole meeting was just about terminating Helaman Barlow. … They said he lied under oath, but we wanted to hear about it. Let's go into that."
Barlow, who has been employed in Short Creek law enforcement for 20 years, said he was told of 16 allegations against him when he was placed on paid administrative leave April 2.
"They told me there's been some trust issues because I was not working well with the city manager," he said.
Colorado City retained an independent investigator to research the claims and dismissed 10 of them as unsubstantiated, Barlow said.
The remaining six were ultimately pared down to three possibly supported claims — that Barlow falsely accused other city employees of misconduct, that Barlow failed to maintain a satisfactory working relationship with other city employees and that he lied under oath, he said.
Change of heart
The third charge, in a way, stems from circumstances that came about after Barlow was placed on leave, although it apparently refers to Barlow's prior testimony in favor of the twin cities and their marshal's office during a fair housing rights discrimination lawsuit.
Barlow was one of the final witnesses during a March trial arising from the lawsuit filed by Colorado City residents Ronald and Jinjer Cooke, who claimed they had been denied city utility services for years because they weren't FLDS members.
Many Short Creek residents claim FLDS church leaders control city functions and discriminate against non-members or former members now deemed "apostates," but Barlow testified during the Cooke trial and in prior depositions that the marshal's office is not under the church's influence and does not discriminate against non-FLDS residents.
He stated he was appointed chief marshal even though he was not an FLDS member, either.
Since then, Barlow has renounced portions of his testimony in an effort to correct what he says were false statements that he had justified to himself as shades of the truth. When he was deposed for an Arizona lawsuit filed by the federal government in an effort to investigate potential discrimination by the marshal's office, he hired an attorney and obtained limited immunity from prosecution for acknowledging he had lied under oath.
"Everyone of us in the marshal's department knew and understood that (the job) was a church calling," Barlow said.
As for his own membership, at the time he said he was not FLDS, everyone in the church had been told they were disenfranchised and would have to requalify for membership under a new, stricter establishment known as The United Order, so everyone, including Barlow, was officially no longer a member of the church until they were invited in by Bishop Lyle Jeffs to requalify, he said.
"So I was still very much a member of the religion, I just hadn't been re-interviewed as part of the select group," he said.
"It got to a point in my own conscience (where) … I couldn't hold onto the big coverup protecting the church and the city," Barlow said. "I don't know if you can understand the kind of self-introspection I went through. It takes a lot of courage to stand up and say I was wrong. I have to give a lot of (the credit) to my wife."
Barlow said the FLDS church is no longer the organization he grew up knowing and believing, so he quit attending — forging a new direction in much the same way as his grandfather who left The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints about a century ago because the parent LDS church had turned away from its early polygamous teachings.
"It got to the point I said, 'I can't do this and look at myself in the mirror.' So I quit going," Barlow said. "I'm a fundamentalist — FLDS — but this new (United Order) is a totally different religion."
He grew a handlebar mustache, something frowned upon by the FLDS church, so that people would know "where I stand" without having to talk to him about it, he said.
The City Council's decision Thursday came as no surprise. The other marshals could lose their church and employment standing if they continued to associate with a known "apostate," and would have to resign if Barlow were retained, he said.
Chatwin said council members discussed options for moving Barlow to another city job, but the city's legal counsel, present by phone, told them they needed to make a clear decision about whether Barlow would be terminated or not.
Barlow said the council spent close to an hour discussing the issue, mindful of the federal government's investigation of alleged religious discrimination by city officials.
"I think the City Council's just stuck between a rock and a hard place," he said.
An uncertain future
Once Barlow was terminated, Colorado City Mayor Joseph Allred delivered a formal letter outlining the city's action, Barlow said. The council did not make a decision on who will replace Barlow, Chatwin said.
"I think we would have been better off to have (Barlow) in place still, because now he has changed who he's supporting. He's supporting the state law instead of the (FLDS) prophet," Chatwin said.
The same day Barlow was terminated, the federal judge overseeing the Cooke case issued a post-trial order stating he would retain oversight of the case for 10 years in much the same way judges often oversee probation in criminal cases, and the city would be prohibited from practicing religious discrimination during that period at the expense of a possible contempt citation.
Senior U.S. District Judge James Teilborg also denied a motion by the Arizona Attorney General's Office to reopen the Cooke record to acknowledge Barlow's new testimony, meaning that the AG's Office's subsequent request that the court order the disbanding of the marshal's office will not be heard.
Attorney General Tom Horne helped craft a legislative bill in 2012 that would have replaced the FLDS marshals with county sheriffs, but the Legislature failed to act on it during three successive years. Horne had hoped to use the court as an alternate method of disbanding the marshals, and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes wrote a letter of support.
Barlow said he anticipates there will yet be future litigation related to his termination or other city officials who may find themselves in a similar position.
For his part, he doesn't intend to return to law enforcement, but has discussed his license status with Utah's police standard's council pending any disciplinary action it may pursue.
"I don't want to end my career based on a religious rule that I have to lose my job just because I'm not a member of the church," he said.
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