This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2004, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
BIG WATER - The tiny town of Big Water is not a typical Utah community.
There is no church. At least 10 percent of its more than 400 residents are unaffiliated polygamists. It does not have a main street. The Town Council once tried to pass more-lenient marijuana laws.
And Big Water has an openly gay mayor.
Situated in a small oasis of greenery well off U.S. 89 in Kane County just 8 miles from Lake Powell, the south-central Utah town sprung up in the early 1960s as a watering hole for workers building the Glen Canyon Dam.
Over the years, the town became a haven for retirees and political mavericks who were drawn to the area by its isolation, mild winters and some of the country's cleanest air.
Mayor Willie Marshall faces problems that many mayors do - bad roads, the need for economic development. The fact he is gay has never been an issue.
"If people disagree with me, it's politically - not because I'm gay," says Marshall, seated behind a desk in his window-encased office at the town's headquarters on Aaron Burr Boulevard.
On the walls are a plethora of newspaper articles documenting events in the town's colorful history, including a cover story by a gay newspaper in Salt Lake City that features Marshall.
"Whenever I go into a gay bar in Salt Lake City now, everybody goes, 'Hello, mayor,' " says Marshall, with a tinge of pride in his voice.
Marshall said being gay was something he never tried to hide in his campaign, and the subject never became an issue.
"It's easier for a gay person to get elected in a small town because people know you and their biases go away," says Marshall. "In a place like Salt Lake City, it would be a bigger issue because you can't meet everybody and they vote their biases."
Marshall says he was drawn to the area by his friend, the late polygamist Alex Joseph, who led the town's incorporation efforts as mayor in 1983.
"I always said I would move here someday, so I did in 2000," says Marshall, who in addition to mayor, works as a dispatcher for Classic Helicopter in nearby Page, Ariz.
Shortly after moving to the community, Marshall was appointed to fill vacancies on the Planning and Zoning Commission and Town Council.
As a councilman, he helped defeat a measure to disincorporate the town and began pushing for a tax cut.
Then in May 2001, Mayor Tonya Roseberry proposed an annual salary of 3,000 for the mayor, which the council passed. Marshall voted against the measure.
"I thought that was ridiculous, especially when she said we can't afford to cut taxes," says Marshall. "So in the fall, I ran against her for mayor, saying that if elected I'd repeal the salary for the mayor and cut taxes."
Marshall won the 2002 election, receiving 90 of 157 votes.
"It was a good win over an incumbent," said Marshall. "We cut taxes by 50 percent. The town treasurer predicted it would ruin us, but it didn't.
And he works with no salary.
Roseberry, the former mayor, has little to say about her successor.
"I guess he's doing an OK job," she says. "But I don't care to comment."
As soon as he became mayor, Marshall successfully took care of one problem plaguing the town. He paved the streets using state road funds, as well as with grants and loans from the state's Community Impact Board.
"They were just washboards, and the dust was incredible," said Marshall.
His current project is getting the town a main street along U.S. Highway 89.
Marshall hopes to convince the Utah Department of Transportation to reduce - from 300 feet to 116 feet - its right of way on either side of the highway.
"The right of way was established before the town even existed," says Marshall. "If UDOT traded the land with the [state's] school-trust lands, it could then be sold in parcels."
Marshall believes such a deal could bring $20 million into state education coffers and bring needed businesses to the town.
"Look at Salt Lake City and Kanab." he says. "Both are what they are because they have a main street. As it is now, people fly by Big Water at 65 mph, not even knowing we're here."
Boudicca Joseph, one of nine polygamous wives of Alex Joseph - he died two years ago - runs Palaquin Realty in offices converted from one of the town's former bars. She is is a Town Council member, chairwoman of the Planning and Zoning Commission and a Marshall supporter.
"He's done a great job," says Joseph. "Prior to his being mayor, there was a constant turnover [in town government], but he stabilized things with a spirit of compassion and vision. We don't have the bickering we used to."
Joseph would like the state's help for promoting the community by taking advantage of Big Water's proximity to Lake Powell. This would give life to Marshall's main street vision, she said. And such a move would also bring more attention to what the area has to offer.
"We have the lake surrounded by open spaces, pristine nature and some of the cleanest air in the country," says Joseph. "What we want is high-class development - not runaway growth."
Marshall says he is just carrying on the tradition of freedom for the individual espoused by Alex Joseph.
That tradition was exemplified in an effort in 2001 to lessen the penalty for possession of marijuana in town from a misdemeanor to a citation - even less than a parking ticket - and a 0 fine.
The measure never went into effect, but Marshall says it sent a message about what the town stands for.
"We appeal to the libertarian," he says. "In this town, freedom and individual responsibility [make up] the common attitude."