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Flowery Branch mayor resigns to retire
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Flowery Branch Mayor Diane Hirling

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Listen as Diane Hirling reflects on her four years as Flowery Branch mayor.

Flowery Branch Mayor Diane Hirling is resigning effective Memorial Day.

“After 18 positive and productive years in Flowery Branch, my husband, Bob, and I have made the difficult decision to leave North Georgia and return to South Florida to enjoy our retirement in the warm Florida winters,” she wrote in a one-page letter dated Sunday.

Hirling was re-elected in November to a second four-year term that began Jan. 1.

City Council will hold a meeting at 7 a.m. Wednesday to discuss an ordinance calling for a Sept. 21 special election to fill Hirling’s seat. The council is set to meet again at 6 p.m. Thursday to give final OK to the ordinance.

Both meetings will take place in City Hall, 5517 Main St.

Hirling’s announcement comes one month after Councilman Craig Lutz resigned to run for the District 1 seat on the Hall County Board of Commissioners.

The special election would fill both vacancies, with qualifying set for June 21-25. One resident, Chris Strickland, has announced publicly that he would seek Lutz’ seat.

The Hirlings moved to Flowery Branch in 1992 from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Bob Hirling’s job with Piedmont Labs. He retired last year.

In late January and early February, the couple went to Port St. Lucie, Fla., on vacation and found a home.

“We still have all our friends down there because I’m from Fort Lauderdale,” Diane Hirling said Monday night. “After a week of them torturing us to move back, we decided that was the right thing to do.”

She said her husband never wanted to return to Florida and she always did.

“I think maybe it was the bad winter that we had and all our friends pressuring us that changed his mind,” Hirling said.

In her resignation letter, Hirling said her main priority “has always been how to best work with the many wonderful people in our community to make Flowery Branch a better place to live.”

Before she arrived, the city was beset with problems, including city staff that came and went and bad relationships among council members.

Hirling, who ran unopposed for her second four-year term, said at her Jan. 6 swearing in that she had set out four years ago “to bring stability and respectability” to the city government.

“I am proud to say we have achieved it,” she said.

Reflecting on the past 4 1/2 years, she said, “I’ve never looked at it as a political career. I just looked at it as hoping to make Flowery Branch a stable and respectable city.”

Hirling added, “I hope it continues. I hope whomever becomes mayor will continue on the same path that this last council is heading.”

She said she feels comfortable about the current council, which has three of five members starting their first four-year terms.

“I see Flowery Branch really developing into a wonderful, small city,” Hirling said.

Chris Fetterman, who is in the third year of his four-year term on the council, said the announcement came as a shock but he was happy for the Hirlings.

“I’m excited for her,” he said. “When it’s time to retire, it’s time to retire.”

Like Hirling, Fetterman said he believes the council is a strong group.

“We don’t need to slow down anything we’re doing. Our group ... is willing to work together and we’ll work through whatever we need to for the next several months until we fill the vacancy,” he said.

“I don’t think there’s anything we need to postpone. We’ll just keep driving on with city business.”

The city’s acting mayor will be Mike Miller, who was named mayor pro tem at Thursday’s City Council meeting. Lutz had served in that role.

“It’s something I welcome,” he said. “I think I have the skills and ability to do it. I think (Hirling) has set us up as a great city — she has set that foundation, and that’s large shoes to fill.”

Miller said his understanding is that seeking the mayor’s seat would be open to anyone on the council as well.

“I haven’t decided if that’s something I’d like to do or not,” he said.

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