Who do you call when you have a question about a civil lawsuit, are curious about the history of downtown Athens or need someone to ask Santa Claus to appear at an upcoming event? That's right, Shane Black, Athens' city attorney.
Whether it's serving as the city attorney, guiding “haunt walks” for the Athens-Limestone County Tourism Association or working as Athens Main Street's board president, many in the community have met Black and his family or seen some of the work the family has put into the place they call home.
Black was reappointed for another four years as Athens' attorney by the City Council on Nov. 9, and by the end of the term, he will have been in the position for 20 years.
“I'm blessed and honored to be able to work as city attorney,” he said. “To be able to practice law and represent your city, you are working not only for your own practice but for your hometown.”
Attorney at law
Black said he grew up in the Ripley community, on Poplar Creek in Limestone County. His dad was a cotton and cattle farmer. He attended Clements High, and after graduating, he went to Birmingham-Southern College.
“I had always wanted to be a lawyer,” Black said. “I had great respect for a cousin of mine, a former district judge named Jerry Batts, who practiced law in Athens for many years and who I consider to be my mentor. His example, such a wonderful lawyer he was, inspired me to become one, too.”
So, after studying at Birmingham-Southern, Black moved on to the University of Alabama School of Law before going to work for a firm in Birmingham for seven years. However, he said his dream was always to come back home.
“I had an opportunity to come back and practice law with Batts,” Black said. “When I did, I jumped at the chance to come back home. I wanted to raise my family here. It's such a special place. I just love it here.”
Black practices civil law. He said his municipal work with the City of Athens involves everything from contracts, litigation over property use and zoning matters to public finance and tax issues.
“In Athens, we have been so lucky to have very good public officials who have represented Athens over the years, both mayors and city council members,” he said. “You look around at other city councils, and they don't always get along like ours does. In some cities and towns, there is constant infighting, and they don't get anything done.”
Athens Mayor Ronnie Marks said he believes Black is one of the best attorneys in the state of Alabama when it comes to city government.
"I have known his family all my life,” Marks said. “He does a fabulous job for the city, and the Council had no hesitancy to reappoint him.”
Growing up in the county, Black said he was shocked Athens had so many ghost stories relating to its downtown area. He ended up doing ghost tours and haunt walks for the tourism association as part of his love for the history of his hometown. Little did he know, that work would eventually make him a published author.
“I was doing a ghost tour one fall, and retired Judge Jimmy Woodroof said, 'Shane, are these stories written down anywhere?'" Black said.
He told the judge no, to which the judge replied that Black needed to be the one to write them in a book.
"He kept saying it when I would see him, and I want to be a good lawyer," Black said, "and when a judge tells you to do something, you do it.”
Black collected the stories together in a book titled, “The Spirits of Athens: Haunting Tales of an Alabama Town.” Many of the stories can be heard on Black's guided haunt walks.
“One of the coolest things about the haunt walks, you end up telling a lot of local history,” he said. “You kind of become a cheerleader for your hometown, and we have such an interesting history.”
Main Street hero
On top of his other work, Black is president of the board of directors for Athens Main Street, which works to promote and revitalize the downtown area, especially The Square.
“Its whole focus is keeping Downtown vibrant and to keep the local economy going,” he said. “When you have friends that come into town that have never been here before, the first thing you do is take them to The Square. Downtown Athens is really the heart of Limestone County and our community.”
Black, his wife Trisha and mother Gayle were all recipients of the 2020 Main Street Hero community awards through Main Street Alabama. Main Street chapters nominate one or more members each year for the accolade.
Black said his family really believes it is important to donate time to the community and get involved.
Athens Main Street Executive Director Tere Richardson said Black's heart for the community is obvious, as he does a bit of everything for the organization, from writing or reviewing legal documents to toting barriers 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 supporter of downtown Athens than Black and his family.
“He is a rare individual that looks at everything as glass half-full,” she said. “He always looks on the positive side of everything, which I find highly remarkable for any professional but particularly for an attorney.”
Though Richardson mentioned Black's work playing Santa Claus, Black said he does not play the jolly old elf. He merely has a “working relationship” with Mr. Claus and helps “facilitate him coming to town” for events.