PROVO — When he was sworn in as Provo's mayor in 1998, Lewis Billing invoked the memory of one of the city's early leaders, Abraham O. Smoot.
Smoot, who was told by Brigham Young he could go to Provo or hell, chose the former, but only after thinking about it. He served as mayor for 13 years and carved his name indelibly in the city's history.
As Billings prepares to relinquish office after 12 years, the Smoot reference seems appropriate as he becomes only the third of Provo's 44 mayors to serve a dozen or more years. (Verl Dixon was mayor from 1962 to 1974.)
"At noon on Jan. 4, I'm going to walk out of here and feel really good about what I've done because I feel in my heart I have done all that I could," Billings said during an interview in his City Hall office two days before Christmas.
He pointed to two large stacks of reports and other paperwork and said both would be completed before the holiday weekend was over.
"This job will take everything you will give it," Billings said. "One can put in 80 hours a week here, no sweat."
Billings, 53, is no stranger to long hours. Before he went to work for Provo as the community relations officer and then as the chief administrative officer, he was a self-employed real estate developer.
He was Provo's CAO for three years before outgoing Mayor George Stewart championed him as his successor in 1997.
Intelligent and articulate, Billings was a rising star in the Utah Republican Party during his first term and was on the short list for the GOP nomination for governor.
"Ultimately, I decided it was not time for me to pursue that," he said. "I am not a person who has a plan to get me into higher office."
Billings is quick to point out that when good things happen in a city, it's the result of many people working together.
"The mayor is just the leader of the choir," he said.
The construction of two major public buildings bookend his administration.
The transformation of the old Brigham Young Academy into the Provo City Library at Academy Square, begun in 1999 and funded with almost $6 million in donations and a $16 million bond, was a significant event in Billings' first term.
On Dec. 5, during his final month as mayor, Billings announced the city had finished paying for the $8.5 million Covey Center for the Arts, which was converted from the old city library adjacent to City Hall in 2007.
Billings is also proud of the city's work on the Utah Lake Commission, improvements at Provo Municipal Airport, Provo's role in the 2002 Winter Games, and economic development projects from the Wells Fargo Center downtown to plans for Duncan Aviation to open a center at the airport to service Bombardier aircraft.
A personal highlight involves the city's sesquicentennial celebration in 1999, when Billings accompanied a group on horseback re-creating the establishment of Provo.
"When we got near to the river, they called me to the front and gave me the flag to carry," he said. "As we crossed the Provo River where the first settlers crossed, that was a very powerful moment."
Billings defends the city's development of iProvo, which was the largest city-owned fiber-to-home network providing cable television, telephone and Internet service in the United States until it was sold to Veracity Networks this year for $40.6 million.
While iProvo drew criticism from residents who said the network was too costly and fiber-optic service providers who complained the city was competing with the private sector, Billings said the city provided a service that private companies at the time were unwilling to offer, and the network is a positive for businesses and residents.
"There is no city in the state that has the fiber connectivity build-out Provo has," he said. "We have the best broadband system in the state, and we've privatized it."
Billings' plans for the future are to return to managing his family business interests, which have been in a blind trust throughout his administration.
He also has been approached to be a public policy advocate for the public power industry.
Billings said he's looking forward to having time to build wooden clocks and to work on an airplane he and his two sons are rebuilding in a hangar at the Provo Airport. His pilot's license has lapsed, but he loves to fly.
He also looks forward to spending time with his wife and six daughters. Billings' youngest is 8, and "four of my kids don't remember a time when their father wasn't mayor."
Who: Mayor Lewis Billings
When: 5-7 p.m. today
Where: Provo City Center, 351 W. Center
e-mail: [email protected]