New Lyon County manager comes full circle
Appeal Staff Writer
Dennis Stark started his career in the West and to the West he has returned.
The new Lyon County manager, a golfer and skier, moved to Nevada as much for the lifestyle as for the job.
“I didn’t move here just for the job,” he said. “I moved here for the people, the environment, the lifestyle, not just for professional reasons.”
That lifestyle is a far cry from Charlotte, Mich., where he was city manager. Everything from the economy to the climate is new, and Stark said had he not spent the first part of his career in Denver, moving West would have been a bigger culture shock.
“If I hadn’t lived in Colorado, I would be totally shocked out here,” he said.
For example, he said, Michigan is humid and moist, cold with a cloudy haze.
“You could never see the stars or the moon,” he said. “Here, it is amazing to see the sky.”
Weather isn’t the only difference. The geography, economy and issues in Michigan are worlds apart from Nevada.
“Charlotte wasn’t growing at a fast pace when we left, but it was doing OK compared to the rest of the state,” he said. “For every person moving into Michigan, there were three people moving out.”
He said the state was struggling economically while neighboring states like Indiana were in better shape. Stark credits a diversified economy, since Michigan is heavily dependent on the Big Three automakers.
Though Lyon County has been hit hard by the housing slowdown, Stark said its diversity and potential should help sustain it.
“The quality of life here is great,” he said. “Here you have wide open space, natural resources, availability of a workforce. This area can support both growth and agriculture, and housing will snap back. Now is a good time to by some lots.”
Stark plans to network and focus on bringing light industry, retail and manufacturing to the north and central parts of the county to avoid Dayton, Fernley or Silver Springs from becoming mere bedroom communities.
“We have to make sure we sell ourselves to the right people,” he said. “There are areas that are prime for high tech, light industrial and manufacturing, and other areas that should stay agricultural.”
For him, getting the job of county manager means he has come full circle, since he earned his degree in public administration but then spent the first part of his career in law enforcement.
“I started in college doing this, but I got waylaid for 27 years,” he said.
Stark was born in the South Side of Chicago, but moved to Denver, “when I got smart enough.”
He picked Denver for the skiing, he said.
“That was the days when skiing was cheap, along with golf,” he said. “Now you have to take out a second mortgage to do both.”
Enforcing the law in a growing city wasn’t really where he wanted his career to go, so he found his way back to administration and moved to Michigan.
“Denver got too crowded,” he said.
His wife, Sharon, is a fraud investigator, and will probably have to find work in Carson City or Reno, he said. They have two sons.
Bart, 24, a police officer, lives in Denver with his wife, Nichole, and 11-month-old son Brayden.
Jeremiah, 26, also lives in Denver where he works as a program project manager with Sprint.
Since his kids are grown, he and Sharon focus their attention on a Senegal parrot named Roscoe, and a 7-month-old beagle named Aggie.
“She’s a hoot,” he said. “We trained her to chase golf balls. I haven’t paid for golf balls in a long time.”
At work, Stark plans to have an open-door policy, but don’t expect him to spend much time in the office.
“In the office, you don’t get anything done but paperwork,” he said. “I plan on spending a lot of time in the communities.”
He hasn’t had much of a chance, after having to go to Elko to attend the Nevada Association of Counties meetings just a few weeks into the job, though he said it was a good thing.
“It was a good opportunity to learn different things and meet other county officials,” he said. “Networking is pretty important. I’m glad I got to go my third week here. Now I know the people I read about in the papers.”
Despite such a short time on the job, Stark has taken notice of the challenges he will face. For example, luring business to provide the kind of jobs that keep young people in the community.
“We need to seek industry that is good to retain our kids,” he said. “It’s not just a matter of money, but our people capital and our future.”
He said not every kid can be a college graduate, so the county must attract jobs that run the gamut from farming to high tech.
He thinks the Nevada way of life is what will lure companies to Lyon County, just as it lured him. He doesn’t think things like tax abatements are as important.
“We need to promote the available workforce and quality of life,” he said. “Most people who want to relocate will do so for quality of life. Most companies don’t care enough about tax abatements.”
He plans to work closely with other counties on water and growth issues.
“We can work out agreements with developers. There are ways of getting along,” he said. “It has to be a regional effort. No county will be able to stand alone.”
In five years, he expects to see expanding industrial parks, bringing retail and tourism while still maintaining the rural flavor and agricultural areas. And he hopes to finish his career here.
“If I had my druthers, it will be my last job,” he said. “I would like this to be the last stop in my career, and hopefully it will be voluntary.”
He said he was not concerned by the dismissal of his predecessor, Donna Kristaponis.
“Each person is unique and each situation is unique,” he said. “I see it as a clean slate and a fresh start. I bring a new perspective and we can learn together. I think it will be fun.”
Perceptions of the area
Lyon County manager Dennis Stark shares his perceptions of the county after about a month on the job.
“I think it’s one of the linchpins in the county as far as residential growth, office parks and light industrial, since it is one of our population centers and has access to Interstate 80.”
“People here want to keep their agricultural heritage.”
“I don’t know much about it beyond the Highway 50 corridor. (Told about the proposed development with mobile home overlay) Why can’t a developer do an upscale housing development that includes some reasonably priced housing? That’s what a neighborhood is, it has middle, low and high-income areas, for both families and retirees.”
“It’s a nice little historic town. It’s a unique area and they want to preserve their way of life. They’re a little different from the rest of the county. That area seems to have its own unique character.”
“There is potential for Dayton with its proximity to Carson City, but I don’t think it’s a good idea that it just be a bedroom community. Dayton is a nice area. There’s a lot of things it has, but a lot of the housing has stopped.”
“It has recreational opportunities and agriculture. It’s a beautiful area.”
“It has a lot of unused potential. There are a lot of things going on in the area that could lead to growth.”
“I don’t know, I haven’t had a chance to look at that area yet.”
• Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at email@example.com or 881-7351.