Greg Walker ended his term as Hall County’s parks director Monday, the apparent consequence of commissioners’ plans to transform recreation services in Hall County.
County Administrator Randy Knighton confirmed late Monday that he had released Walker from his contract, and agreed to a severance package for the three-year department head equal to three months’ pay.
Marty Nix, the county’s newly promoted assistant administrator, will now oversee the transformation of the Parks and Leisure Services Department, though it is still uncertain what the future incarnation of county recreation services will look like.
Most talk has centered on privatization of the department’s services, though county officials once said they would consider revising the department’s fee structure to make it financially self-sufficient.
Walker could not be reached for comment Monday, but a letter his attorney wrote to County Attorney Bill Blalock shows that Walker intended to leave his position because of commissioners’ recent move toward privatization of his department.
The letter, dated July 26, notified county officials that Walker would cease employment with the county on a mutually agreed upon date “no later than Aug. 22.”
The letter also demanded that Walker be paid the severance package outlined in his employment contract, which according to the letter, was equal to three months’ salary and any unused vacation time.
Knighton said he forwarded the letter to commissioners when he received it last week.
“It was determined that the most appropriate action to take was to grant an immediate release,” Knighton said.
Neither Commissioner Billy Powell nor Commissioner Scott Gibbs could be reached for comment on Walker’s release from the county.
Commissioners Ashley Bell said Walker initiated the end of his employment, but his departure was “in everybody’s best interest.”
Both Bell and Commissioner Craig Lutz said Walker had not been helpful in making a transition from a taxpayer-funded recreation department to one that received little to no help from the county’s general fund revenues.
Lutz, Powell, Gibbs and Bell voted in late June to fund the department only through the end of this month.
The move was meant to keep the board from raising residents’ tax rates, and give county leaders enough time to come up with alternative funding for county-sponsored recreation programs.
Specifically, commissioners said they were looking at outsourcing segments of the department to nonprofits or finding a way for the department to become self-sufficient through user fees.
But a month after that decision was made — and less than a month before the funding runs out for the current department — there is no plan for what will happen Sept. 1.
“I think it was fair to say that we just didn’t have the leadership over there to get it done,” Bell said. “I think it was mutual — in everybody’s best interest — to end that relationship with Mr. Walker.”
Bell said Walker may have been more concerned with finding another job than leading the transition of the department. Bell said Walker made no serious proposals for making the department stand on its own.
“It’s getting to crunch time, and I think we’re all disappointed in the fact that we haven’t moved that ball further down the field,” Bell said.
Lutz said Walker never supported a privatization of the department’s services, even though Lutz said Walker’s job may have not been outsourced if the commission chose to let nonprofits like the YMCA and the Boys and Girls Clubs take over recreation services.
But Commission Chairman Tom Oliver, who cast the sole vote against the county’s new spending plan, said he could understand why Walker might look elsewhere for work.
He said Walker’s departure is just the “tip of the iceberg,” and may be a sign that other county employees are looking for an out.
As well as promising to transform the county’s parks department, commissioners’ most recent budget decision also cuts out contributions to employees’ retirement accounts.
“They don’t know if they’ve got a job. They don’t know what they’re going to do,” Oliver said. “They know none of these things that they should know ... We’ve got other employees that are looking to leave as fast as they can. You have no retirement and you have limited exposure to what’s going to happen next and this whole thing just comes tumbling down.”