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Nina Laycook and her husband used to travel regularly through Kanab on their way from Southern California to Lake Powell. The beauty and pleasant climate of this city surrounded by redrock cliffs enticed them to move here in 1997.

Now Laycook is the newly-elected mayor of the southern Utah city of 4,300 people.

"I was on the City Council for the past two years, and when I saw the previous mayor was not running again, I saw the opportunity there [to run]," said Laycook from her small but cozy office. "I enjoy the community and like to serve so it was a good step."

Laycook will be the third female mayor in a city that in 1912, before women were allowed to vote, elected Mary Howard and an all-female city council.

Karen Alvey was mayor for most the 1990s.

Laycook and her husband, a retired Air Force colonel who was a fighter pilot and a test pilot when they lived in California, said besides being a commercial apple grower in Tehachapi, Calif., she worked as a deputy supervisor of Kern County, Calif., for 15 years.

"In that job you see what goes on behind the scenes in all phases of county government," said Laycook, who is well-dressed and exudes the confidence of someone who has a wealth of experience.

She plans to apply that experience to small-town government, with an optimistic eye on the future. Balancing finances are always a challenge, she said. "We have to keep a thumb on that pulse."

While she yearns for more space in city offices, she has no plans to try and expand during a recession. She laughs when asked about a happy couple pictured in a framed photo on her bookcase shelf.

It's no one she knows, Laycook said, but came with the frame. She simply hasn't had time to fill it with her own family photo.

Laycook wants to work with the Chamber of Commerce to lure businesses by promoting such assets as the city's Symphony of the Canyons and a park with baseball diamonds that is a popular spot for regional tournaments.

Kanab, she boasts, is the base of such tourist attractions as Grand Canyon and Zion national parks, Lake Powell and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

"We can promote that more," she said. "Others claim to be the hub, but we're the center."

One thing she isn't interested in promoting is the Natural Family Resolution approved by the previous city government, which purported to define the ideal family and brought international publicity to the city, much of it negative. Laycook is happy to let that controversy die.

"It would not resolve anything," she said. "There is no need to resurrect that issue."

Kay Giles, director of the Kane County Office of Tourism and Film Commission in Kanab, looks forward to working with Laycook.

"She is a breath of fresh air for this town," said Giles. "It is good to bring in new and different ideas."

Giles said she has already floated the idea of an events coordinator for the city.

"There is enough going on for conventions to come here or to promote other events like baseball tournaments or rodeos," Giles said.

New city council member Ed Meyer, who was sworn in with Laycook, said the new mayor has all the right skills.

"She's a bright light," said Meyer. "She's a very politically savvy, intelligent, capable, thoughtful person who can keep people on focus."

Meyer, former director of rural economic development for the Governor's Office of Economic Development, retired to Kanab in 2005.

"Right now the appropriate thing to do is support Nina," said Meyer, who is hoping she will lean on him to help the city develop economically.

"From my perspective, we can also develop in the arts and recreation as well as bring in entrepreneurial development," said Meyer. "We'll see how it plays out."

Meet the mayor

Name » Nina Laycook, Kanab

Age » 63

Family » Husband Lloyd, daughter Gloria, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Education » Accounting degree from Cal-State Bakersfield.

Career » Commercial apple grower in Southern California and former deputy supervisor in Kern County, Calif.

Fun facts » Has run and finished six St. George Marathons. With her husband, she likes to teach children how to water ski on Lake Powell. "Every [child] remembers when they learned to water ski," says Laycook.