Mustangs support John Barta in contract negotiations with City of Billings

Dehler Park at Ninth Avenue North and 27th Street in Billings will be home to Mustangs baseball for the next decade under a contract approved by the Billings City Council on Monday. (Jonathan McNiven photo)

Originally published in print edition of Yellowstone County News. 

BILLINGS — After over a year of negotiating, the city of Billings and the Billings Mustangs have approved a lease for Dehler Park.

The lease extends until 2026.

The City Council approved the new lease on an 8-1 vote after a long Monday night session in the council chambers. Brent Cromley voted no; Larry Brewster and Angela Cimmono did not attend the meeting. Part of the discussion on the lease renewal centered around an addendum to the lease agreement that spelled out education and certification for the field’s groundskeeper, or turf manager. Mustangs owner Dave Heller asked the city to remove Exhibit B, saying it would require the Mustangs to find a new turf manager to replace John Barta, who is the club’s senior director of field maintenance and facilities.

Currently, Barta does not have the formal certifications that Exhibit B would have required.

Gary Roller, general manager for the Billings Mustangs, said Wednesday that the team’s support for Barta as an experienced and exemplary turf manager was only one of its concerns over Exhibit B, which refers to any current or future employees in that position.

Barta, a Shepherd High School teacher, has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and has announced his retirement from the school district.

“John is our turf manager and will be our turf manager until he decides not to be,” said Roller. One of the concerns with what has been titled Exhibit B was that it locked any present or future turf manager into certain required certifications and degrees.

“It would have been difficult to abide by it as it was written,” Roller said. But Minor League Baseball also has requirements, known as Rule 58, that govern minor league baseball field maintenance across the United States, Roller said, and that is what the Mustangs have always complied with as a member of the Pioneer League and Minor League Baseball.

Barta’s cancer diagnosis or health concerns did not factor into the discussion of Exhibit B during Monday’s meeting, Roller said. Read Full story by subscribing online.