News and Tribune

April 29, 2013

Lights go out on Georgetown ballpark

Town wants to lease park; former director says he’s being pushed out

By CHRIS MORRIS
chris.morris@newsandtribune.com

GEORGETOWN —

For eight years, Billy Haller operated the Georgetown Park softball field. He cut the grass, took care of the entire facility and organized leagues and tournaments.

But Haller said he has been forced out after the town decided to lease the park this year, departing from its previous policy of hiring him as an independent contractor. He said the decision has forced him to give up taking care of the park because he can’t afford liability insurance and other costs associated with leasing the park. And since no one else has stepped forward to lease the facility, adult softball leagues in Georgetown have been canceled.

Haller said some town officials have a personal vendetta against him and his wife Kathy — who is a Georgetown Town Board member — which led to the decision to lease the park. He said they wanted him out.

“I think they got what they wanted. They have one less thing to worry about,” Haller said. “They wanted me to turn it down.”

Jim Reynolds, public works director for Georgetown, said the town “bent over backward” for Haller and wanted to give him the opportunity to lease the park. But he said Haller was not interested.

“We tried negotiating with him, but he withdrew,” Reynolds said. “At this point we have no league director.”

Reynolds said the town did not have problems with Haller or the work he was doing. He said Haller’s performance has been praised at public meetings.

“We have nothing against Billy Haller at all. He did a good job,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds said the town wanted to do things legally, and after Haller approached an auditor with the Indiana State Board of Accounts and asked if he should be considered a town employee — which would have allowed him to receive benefits and other compensation — town officials started looking into his employment.

“We weren’t interested in having another employee. We wanted an independent contractor,” Reynolds said.

He said the town began investigating, asking its insurance carrier, the Internal Revenue Service and Indiana Department of Workforce Development if Haller would be considered an employee or independent contractor if he continued to take care of the field. Reynolds said Georgetown’s insurance carrier said since Haller uses town equipment, he would be an employee. The town board then decided to lease the park since that would eliminate all questions.

Haller said he doesn’t remember saying anything to an auditor, but said that is not the real issue. He said there are a few people with the town who just wanted him out and was just looking for a reason. He said some town officials, just “want to get even” with him and his wife Kathy over issues she has questioned or brought up during meetings. He said he had two separate contracts in the past, one for maintenance and one for being league director, the latter being a town ordinance passed in 2012. He said he has always been viewed as an independent contractor, not an employee.

“They said I told the auditor I was an employee, but I don’t remember that,” Haller said. “They held an executive committee meeting and came out and said they wanted to lease the park. For eight years, I worked down there and improved that park 100 percent. 

“I was an independent contractor. That is all I ever was and that is all I wanted to be. It’s just a personal thing. They can say what they want.”

Reynolds said Georgetown is hoping someone will step up so summer leagues can be held. That someone could be the Floyd County Parks Department, which may consider leasing the park at its next meeting on May 6.

However, Roger Jeffers, parks director, said if his department takes control of the park, there would not be time to have a summer league. He also said for the parks department to take over operation of the park, it would have to be given full control of the entire facility which includes a shelter house, playground, basketball courts and tennis courts which have fallen in disrepair.

Haller said he had around 30 teams during the spring, summer and fall leagues play at Georgetown, along with numerous weekend tournaments he hosted. He said he has received phone calls from players upset that the park has closed. He also said the town is no longer reserving the field for practice, and has not touched the dirt infield. 

“They are just letting the park go to pot down there. It looks terrible,” Haller said.