‘Initiate it’: First woman to be elected mayor of Hurricane shares vision, priorities for the city

HURRICANEElected Hurricane’s first woman mayor in the Nov. 2 municipal election, Nanette Billings said she can’t deny that the city is experiencing unprecedented growth.

While the city needs more houses to accommodate young families and more businesses to cultivate a larger tax base, this must also be done strategically, she told St. George News in an interview last week. With this in mind, Billings said she believes Hurricane has the perfect roadmap in its master plan. 

Of which, she said she didn’t want to call it “controlled” growth but rather a plan that allows growth.

“I just recognize that if I help to control that (growth) by saying we’re going to follow this (plan), it’s going to be an amazing place,” she said. “But if we just let everything happen because it’s just going to happen, it could be a mess. We don’t need a mess. No one wants a mess.” 

It’s this hard stance that has at times led to her being in the minority as a council member.

Newly-elected Hurricane Mayor Nanette Billings said she is committed to helping drive the town forward while maintaining its small-town charm, Hurricane, Utah, Nov. 8, 2021 | Photo by Sarah Torribio, St. George News

As an illustration, during an Oct. 21 meeting, the Hurricane City Council granted a developer a zone change, from agricultural residential to a less restrictive designation, on a 52-acre parcel, which allowed Scott Stratton of Stratton Construction in LaVerkin to move forward with plans to build single-family homes on half-acre lots. 

The two dissenting votes were cast by then-Councilmember Billings and Councilmember Joseph Prete. Billings said her decision was not obstructionist but instead based on the will of residents. 

“People moved here because they want the rural lifestyle. They want the small-town charm,” she said, during the interview with St. George News last week. “If they wanted that, just high-density, they’d move to West Valley and not stay here.”

Mayoral race

The mayoral race against opponent Councilmember Kevin Tervort was very close.

“I recognize how humbling this is to win. To barely win with only a hundred votes is a telling story. Citizens appreciate both Kevin and myself,” Billings said. “I am going to work harder to gain all citizens’ support for the next four years. … And I will serve all citizens each day as the city of Hurricane’s first female mayor.”

Billings, also a grandmother of five, said she didn’t originally plan to be a politician. As the November 2019 municipal election loomed, she tried to convince residents with a more conservative approach to the city’s growth to run for a spot on the council. Then her husband asked a pointed question: How could she expect someone to take on a responsibility she herself was unwilling to shoulder?

She decided to run for council and then, two years after her successful bid, for mayor. 

A close connection

In this file photo, Nanette Billings listens to a speaker at a Hurricane City Council Meeting, Hurricane, Utah, May 21, 2020 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News

As Billings presides over council meetings, she faces a somewhat unusual situation. One council member is her brother-in-law, another a cousin, and yet another related through her grandmother. But to this, she said that she and her colleagues were elected by the community.

“People have asked about nepotism,” she said. “I said, ‘Nepotism is when you hire someone you are related to.’ First of all, I’m from here, and I’m related to half of Hurricane. If you just moved here, I won’t be related to you directly. But you know, you stay here long enough, you might have someone that marries one of my nieces or something. And that’s just how it works.”

For those who assert that connections are necessary to get anywhere, Billings said the makeup of city staff and commissions tells a different story that includes longtime residents and relative newcomers working to drive Hurricane’s policies. Billings encouraged anyone interested in holding office to throw their hat in the ring.

But this also illuminates part of the problem.

“It’s apathy,” she said. “People don’t want to do something, so they don’t. Most people, even if they want to have change, they don’t do anything about it. And the people that are stepping up to keep Hurricane amazing, it’s because they care – like I care.”

Hurricane candidate for mayor Nanette Billings speaks at a forum, Hurricane, Utah, Oct. 4, 2021 | Photo by E. George Goold, St. George News

Billings said priorities for her first term as mayor include maintaining a business-friendly atmosphere in Hurricane and reinforcing the town’s emergency services. Inevitably, topics that have dominated council discussion for years will continue to show up on meeting agendas.

These include zoning, securing enough water for the town and developing infrastructures like new roads and flood management systems.

Billings said she’s also looking forward to some capital projects set to be completed during her term, which includes the installation of the venerable town bell in either a bell tower or monument in the historic town square and the construction of an equestrian park that will house Hurricane’s new rodeo grounds, both of which have been discussed for decades.

Billings is part of the Hurricane Historical Preservation Commission, which is working with the local chapter of the Sons of Utah Pioneers to get the bell project done. Earlier this year, it was removed from its vantage in the Red Brick Church, cleaned up and powder-coated. It’s now time to build a new home for the cast-iron bell, which was purchased in 1906 by the town’s earliest settlers.

Billings said it’s about time.

“This is my – maybe you can call it – leadership style,” Billings said. “I ask a question, and then I find out information and then I follow up. And then I make sure that we’re doing whatever it is we’re talking about, instead of just talk about it, talk about it, talk about it. You talk about it and then you follow up and initiate it.”

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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