Photo: Andrew McMurtrie Outgoing Lilburn Mayor Diana Preston sits in the Calvin Fitchett Municipal Complex Friday in downtown Lilburn. Preston was defeated by mayor elect and council member Johnny Crist.
LILBURN -- Packing up her office, Diana Preston has been excited to let go.
She has thrown away files from projects long past and let go of things she has no control over.
So despite an election that didn't go her way last month, she is leaving her decades-long political life with no regrets.
"We've got a lot of good people in Lilburn," Preston said of the city she began serving on the city council in the 1980s. "There's going to be some change, and change usually is good. That's why we have elections."
Preston leaves office at the end of the month as Lilburn's mayor.
A retired school teacher and administrator who played a major role in the boosting of City Park, Preston presided over Lilburn's centennial celebration and set in motion projects to build a new City Hall and library as well as create a tournament sports park in the city.
But she said her biggest achievement is likely in helping form a community improvement district along the U.S. Highway 29 corridor.
"In the future, that's going to make a big difference in Lilburn," she said. adding that incentives are now in place to draw redevelopment to the aging area, which could blossom once the economy improves.
She was also the only local mayor to find an agreement with county officials in a long-embattled service delivery dispute. But the legal battle remains in court because of the remaining 14 cities.
The 63-year-old, who became involved in the city when its first zoning codes were created in the 1980s, said she never intended to run for mayor. But that changed four years ago when a change in administration threatened the completion of a city trail network.
Preston almost kept her name off the ballot this year, after a community rift caused by the proposed expansion of a mosque along U.S. 29.
Originally, the proposal included a portion of Preston's family land, so she recused herself from the discussions, even after she pulled out of the land deal.
But the issues caused heated debate in the city and even resulted in a Department of Justice settlement, where the city was accused of discriminating based on religion.
Preston, though, doesn't regret the way she treated the mosque members.
"I just felt like I treated them as I would have wanted to be treated if I was in their shoes," she said. "I'm probably naive, but I just put that in my mind, 'If it was the First Baptist Church, what would I do?' ...
"I've really acted according to my conscious," she said. "It didn't turn out that well, but maybe it did. I've got time to do some of my home projects now."
While city law dictates she has to wait a year before serving in an appointed position, Preston said she hopes to continue her work for the city, maybe on the community board for the CID or the Downtown Development Authority, which could also help with revitalization.
"I really don't have any regrets," she said. "I did it the way I felt I needed to."