Who do you call when you have a question about a civil lawsuit, curious about the history of downtown Athens, or need someone to ask Santa Claus to show up at an upcoming event? That’s right, Shane Black, Athens City Attorney.
Many of the members of the community have met Black and his family or seen some of the work the family has done, whether as a lawyer for the city, as the leader of “haunted walks” for the Athens-Limestone County Tourism Association, or as chairman of the board of Athens Main street to the place they call home.
Black was appointed attorney for Athens by the city council on November 9th for a further four years. He will hold this position for 20 years by the end of his term of office.
“I am blessed and honored to be a city attorney,” he said. “To be a lawyer and represent your city, you are not only working for your own practice, but also for your hometown.”
Black said he grew up in the Ripley Ward on Poplar Creek in Limestone County. His father was a cotton and cattle breeder. He attended Clements High and after graduation went to Birmingham-Southern College.
“I’ve always wanted to be a lawyer,” said Black. “I had great respect for a cousin of mine, a former district judge named Jerry Batts, who was a lawyer in Athens for many years and whom I consider my mentor. His example of such a wonderful lawyer inspired me to become one too. “
After graduating from Birmingham-Southern, Black moved to the University of Alabama Law School before working for a law firm in Birmingham for seven years. However, he said his dream was always to return home.
“I had an opportunity to come back and work with Batts as a lawyer,” said Black. “When I did that, I took the chance to return home. I wanted to raise my family here. It’s such a special place. I just love it here. “
Schwarz practices civil law. He said his municipal work with the city of Athens encompassed everything from contracts to litigation to property use and zoning issues to public finance and tax issues.
“In Athens we have been very fortunate to have very good officials who have represented Athens over the years, both mayors and city councilors,” he said. “They look around other councilors and they don’t always get along like ours. In some cities there is constant fighting and they do nothing. “
Athens Mayor Ronnie Marks believes Black is one of the best lawyers in the state of Alabama when it comes to city government.
“I’ve known his family all my life,” said Marks. “He’s doing an excellent job for the city and the council has had no hesitation in reappointing him.”
Black grew up in the county and said he was shocked. Athens has so many ghost stories about the city center. As part of his love of the history of his hometown, he went on ghost tours and haunted walks for the tourism association. Little did he know that this work would eventually make him a published author.
“I went on a ghost tour one fall and retired judge Jimmy Woodroof said, ‘Shane, are these stories written down somewhere?'” Black said.
He said no to the judge, to which the judge replied that Black had to be the one to write them in a book.
“He kept saying it when I saw him, and I want to be a good lawyer,” Black said, “and if a judge tells you to do something, do it.”
Black gathered the stories together in a book called “The Ghosts of Athens: Haunted Tales of a City in Alabama”. Many of the stories can be heard on Black’s guided haunted walks.
“One of the coolest things about the Haunted Walk is that you end up telling a lot of local history,” he said. “You’re going to be some kind of cheerleader for your hometown, and we have such an interesting story.”
Hero of the main street
In addition to his other work, Black is President of the Board of Directors of Athens Main Street, which is committed to promoting and revitalizing the city center, especially the plaza.
“His whole focus is on keeping downtown vibrant and keeping the local economy going,” he said. “If you have friends who are coming to town and have never been here, take them to the square first. Downtown Athens really is the heart of Limestone County and our community. “
Black, his wife Trisha, and mother Gayle were all honored with the 2020 Main Street Hero Community Award all across Main Street Alabama. One or more members are nominated for the award each year in the Main Street chapters.
Black said his family really believe that giving time to the community and getting involved is important.
Tere Richardson, executive director of Athens Main Street, said Black’s heart for the community is evident as he does a little bit of everything for the organization from writing or reviewing legal documents to obstacles and playing Santa Claus.
Richardson said when she came into the organization as executive director she wanted to help get things back on track. She said there is no bigger fan of downtown Athens than Black and his family.
“He’s a rare person who sees everything as a half-full glass,” she said. “He always sees the positive side of everything, which I find very remarkable for any professional, but especially for a lawyer.”
Although Richardson mentioned Black’s work as Santa, Black said he doesn’t play the jolly old elf. He only has a “working relationship” with Mr. Claus and helps him “come to town for events”.