HURRICANE —There was poetry, prayer and patriotism in the Hurricane City Council Chambers on Monday as new Mayor Nanette Billings and incoming council members David Hirschi and Kevin Thomas took the oath of office.
It will be the first term as the city’s highest official for Billings, who’s been a member of the City Council since 2019. Serving as Hurricane’s first woman mayor, she’ll preside over a council that includes returning members Dave Sanders and Joseph Prete as well as newcomers Thomas and Hirschi. Thomas previously served a term on council from 2015-2019.
On the day of the swearing-in, the parking lot was full, with latecomers circling the front and back lots of the building before reverting to street parking. Despite a few stragglers, the noon ceremony started promptly with Clint Lawton, a longtime resident, reciting a poem he penned for the occasion. The composition honored the bravery of city leaders, old and new, a tribute underscored by printed portraits of each of the city mayors going back to the turn of the 20th century.
“Our founding documents are inspired indeed, protecting our freedom and every need,” Lawton said. “Mayor Billings has shown great leadership skills, guiding us with promises she fulfills. The day marks the start of a new era, so fine, as the first lady mayor has her time to shine. Continuing to serve us as those from before, protecting our freedom forevermore.”
Lawton was joined in showing reverence for freedom as well as the town’s heritage by the color guard of Boy Scout Troop 1681, who delivered the American flag as well as the state flag to the front of the room for the Pledge of Allegiance. Raina Thorn next sang the national anthem, which was followed by a prayer led by Megan Heaps.
City recorder Cindy Beteag presided over the swearing-in of Billings, Hirschi and Thomas. Hirschi and Thomas then took to the podium to make some remarks, followed by a speech by the newly-minted mayor, sharing her vision for the future.
Hirschi said he’s excited to be part of a unique leadership team.
“I know Nanette would be the first to tell you that this isn’t about gender,” Hirschi said. “It’s not. It’s about her being prepared and working hard and loving the city. But still, it’s pretty historic, isn’t it, that we have the first woman mayor in the history of Hurricane?”
Hirschi noted he was wearing a patriotic tie that had belonged to his father, the late Tom Hirschi. He said he couldn’t sit down without acknowledging his heritage, referring to the elder Hirschi’s three terms as mayor of Hurricane, which spanned from 2002-2013.
“I’m thankful for his example and his encouragement in so many things,” Hirschi said. “You know, growing up watching him, he was always doing something serving somewhere, on some board, whether it was Peach Days or whether it was the Washington County Fair, the planning commissions, the City Council, on and on. He always set such a great example and I’m grateful for that.”
Thomas commented on the size of the crowd.
“There’s a lot more interest in this event this time around than when I was put on the City Council six years ago. I think the only ones in the room when we took the oath of office were those of us that were participating,” he said. “And so this is a whole different experience. It shows the interest that citizens have in what’s going on in our country.”
Thomas said people are under stress, both personally and politically.
“In every aspect of our lives, things are a little bit in upheaval and not the way we would like them to be,” he said. “I’m humbled the citizens of Hurricane were willing to have me back. I pray that I can listen to the people and represent them truly. I know that I will never make everybody happy. But I hope that everybody can feel that I’m doing my best and I’m listening and trying to do what’s right.”
Billings began her talk by acknowledging her gratitude for John Brammal, who was there to hand off the mayoral torch.
“I want to be able to share my gratitude for Mayor Bramal and his service for all these years. He’s been a great tutor,” Billings said.
She said she would let herself be guided by her love for the city and draw strength from her faith.
“Sometimes we feel discouraged because we’re not more of something, more special, more respected, more intelligent, healthy, rich, friendly or capable,” she said, quoting religious leader Dieter F. Uchdorf. “God will take you as you are, at this very moment, and begin to work with you. All you need is a willing heart, a desire to believe and trust in the Lord.”
She assured her fellow citizens that she is willing, has a desire to serve and trusts God.
‘We need affordable housing, and we need it now’
When it comes to zone requests, Billings has been fiercely protective of keeping a low density in Hurricane’s agricultural core. That doesn’t mean she isn’t cognizant of the need for affordable housing, a topic that dominated her vision for the future.
Billings discussed her early years as a young wife and mother, relating how she and her husband William lived first “behind the front desk” of a Best Western motel they managed in Cedar City, then in a mobile home stationed at a KOA campground and next in a trailer at a trailer park before moving into their first house in Hurricane.
“We already have locations for increased density,” she said. “I’m going to encourage development in those areas and not to change zones because developers want to make more money, but develop in those areas that are already zoned for the increased density. Because we need affordable housing, and we need it right now.”
Billings said the city needs some mobile homes, tiny homes and apartments.
“We need a place for people who work in restaurants, the grocery store or driving the garbage truck, for people that take care of our lawns and our parks,” she said. “We need places for nurses, teachers, police and firefighters. We need a place for them to start out. We need a place that’s comfortable and affordable.”
With new leadership installed it will be a busy month, with the City Council’s first gathering of the year set for Thursday. With Billings having left her role as a council member to assume mayorship, there will be an empty spot on the dais that evening.
Community members interested in filling the opening can now throw their hat into the ring, provided they’ve lived in Hurricane for at least a year, are 25 or older and don’t have any felonies on their record. The sitting council will choose among candidates at an election held Jan. 20, prior to the regular City Council meeting.
Council chambers will also be open Jan. 24, when a thank you party will be held from 5-6 p.m. for outgoing mayor Brammal. Anyone in the community is welcome to attend, pay their respects and mingle. Brammal has helmed the city of Hurricane for the past eight years. Before that, he spent 12 years on the City Council, and prior to that served on the town’s Planning Commission.
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