The last time Mary Jones was in office, the economy was strong and Flowery Branch was growing at a busy clip.
The city added Stonebridge Village, a massive shopping center at the corner of Spout Springs Road and Interstate 985, and saw the construction of its first hotel, the five-story Hampton Inn & Suites.
In the two-plus years since she last served on the Flowery Branch City Council, times have changed. Growth has largely stopped as part of the nation's economic downturn, including the failure of a $15 million downtown project that also took root during Jones' tenure.
Jones is thinking positively, however, as she prepares to be sworn in Thursday at the council's monthly meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. at City Hall, 5517 Main St.
"The town ... is going to do something, and I'd like to see it go forward, not backward," she said. "But this is not about one person. We've got to be able to agree to disagree and move forward."
Jones, 69, an Indiana native who has lived in Flowery Branch since 1959 and a South Hall High School graduate, made her first foray into local politics in 2005.
"It was a circus down here," she said of that era, which was filled with bitter council infighting and city government turmoil.
She said she remembers thinking at the time, "What a shame. This is a nice town — why can't we be credible?"
During her four-year term, the city made strides, particularly in commercial growth.
Also, the city saw the start of a downtown makeover featuring new sidewalks and streetlights — the second phase of which is near completion today.
Toward the end of her term, a council division formed anew, this time with votes splitting between three members representing the older part of town and two councilmen, Craig Lutz and Chris Fetterman, from the sprawling new Sterling on the Lake subdivision.
"I just felt it was time to go at the end of my four years," she said. "Also, I had a business to run and it was time for me to go home."
Jones grows hay and keeps horses, cows and goats on a 65-acre farm off Lights Ferry Road. She came into the business through her husband, Dean, a third-generation farmer who died five years ago.
Help and support she received from Flowery Branch residents after his passing inspired her toward another run at public service.
"I thought I could turn around and help somebody else," she said.
Jones first sought to unseat Fetterman, who was seeking a second four-year term, but lost to him in the Nov. 8 election. The week he was scheduled to be sworn into office, he resigned to take a job transfer to Florida. As the seat fell open again, Jones would go on to be the sole qualifier in what would have been a March 6 election to serve out Fetterman's remaining four-year term.
"I'm fortunate no one chose to run against me," she said.
The city has a March 6 election between three opponents to fill the Post 3 seat vacated last year by Kris Yardley.
Looking ahead, Jones said she has no particular agenda about what she would like to do or see get done.
"I don't think you ought to have an agenda," she said.
Jones will find herself in a minority as she takes her seat on Thursday. Three of the council members and the mayor are all Sterling residents.
She acknowledged that and, smiling, she added, "I'm looking forward to working with them. They ... have the heart of all of Flowery Branch with them."