Santa Barbara County Counsel Shane Stark chose three words to describe the difficulty of working as an attorney in Santa Barbara County: complexity, bellicosity, and litigiousness. And according to some who have worked and interacted with Stark-who is retiring come January 2008 after 13 years as county counsel and 20 years with the county-he has handled the three with style, humor, and an unmatched work ethic.
Being county counsel is no small task. Its description is as broad as it is long and there is as much confidential information as there is news to be broadcast. Former 1st District Supervisor Naomi Schwartz said Stark’s legal acuity when it comes to land use, coupled with his lengthy time with the county, make him an asset to the county. Stark’s retirement-teamed with that of Alan Seltzer, who left the County Counsel office in 2006 to work in the Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office-also means the loss of two of the county’s “bulwarks” in the area of land use, Schwartz said. Seltzer, who worked with Stark for almost 18 years, spared no words in his adoration for his former colleague, saying he has more knowledge about the workings of local government than anyone in the state. “I’m very fortunate to have had him as a mentor, a colleague, and a friend,” Seltzer said.
Stark said he finds local government “intrinsically interesting,” describing Santa Barbara County exciting because of its complex land-use issues and passionate community members on either side. “It’s a minefield,” Seltzer said. “Counsel has to be able to have the vision and acumen to spot the mines and guide the way through.”
In addition to the wisdom imparted over the years as counsel to the Board of Supervisors and the county, Stark conducts himself with a certain quirkiness. For example, callers reaching his voicemail are greeted with this following outgoing message: “I’m not a stenographer and won’t transcribe long messages.” He is also usually the top choice to emcee any retirement roast of department heads. “He’s good enough to go on tour,” said Deputy County Executive Officer Jim Laponis.
His humor is probably only matched by his work ethic and knowledge of the law. “When you looked at the parking lot at 2 a.m., Shane’s was one of the only cars in the lot,” Seltzer said. That work ethic should make retirement even sweeter for Stark, who plans to travel with his wife and spend time with his grandchildren. Stark plans to go on a tour of the country’s presidential libraries, as well as attend his 40-year law school class reunion at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. “I get bored every five minutes, so I gotta do something,” Stark said. He turns 65 years old on the last day of 2007, and decided shortly after that would be a good time to wrap it up. “I’ve enjoyed it here, but it’s time to move on,” Stark said.
Laponis called Stark “intellectually gifted, dedicated to law as his profession, experienced counsel, and highly motivated. The result is an individual who has given himself in enormous ways to the county,” he said. The two men taught a class on ethics in the county, and Stark also published guides to help those in the County Counsel’s office succeed at what they do. Stark’s The Owlet’s Guide to Public Business is filled with totems and chants on public service, the Brown Act, and other useful information, and is teamed with The Eaglet’s Guide to Public Law, a guide for young lawyers on ethics.
Despite taking the time to pen these guides, Stark hasn’t really had a moment of downtime. He wrote in his retirement letter, “This is what [makes] working for county government fresh and vibrant-there are also problems and things always change.”