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Thu April 11, 2013

Ga. Agriculture Officials Resign After Drunken Party at Department Training Retreat

Credit Georgia Department of Agriculture

  

A newly released report by the Chief Investigator’s Office for the Georgia Department of Agriculture explains why two top agriculture officials recently resigned.

The report shows former Chief Operating Officer Billy Skaggs and Food Safety Division Director Oscar Garrison resigned after partying and damage to a state vehicle occurred at a department training retreat in Cordele, Georgia.

The broadcast version of this story.

According to the report, State Agricultural commissioner Gary Black first learned about misconduct that occurred during a September retreat at Lake Blackshear Resort from retired department employee Peggy Gates. 

Initially, both Garrison and Skaggs denied doing anything wrong. Meanwhile, other employees who attended the retreat gave Black conflicting information.

On March 30, Garrison and Skaggs met with Black again, changed their stories and handed in their resignations. At that point, a formal investigation was launched. A report released on the investigation found that on the night of September 17, there was heavy consumption of alcohol, dancing and what the report referred to as a fraternity like atmosphere in Skaggs’ and Garrison’s cabin.

Billy Skaggs (left) and Oscar Garrison (right) both resigned abruptly from their positions with the Georgia Department of Agriculture on March 30.
Credit Georgia Department of Agriculture

Later, both men, several other male employees and one female employee went swimming in Lake Blackshear. Skaggs claims the female employee took her top off, but she denies it.

At some point the evening, the sideview mirror on Skagg’s state issued Ford Fusion was damaged.

Another female employee says Skaggs had trouble backing out of  a driveway while driving her back to the main hotel in his state vehicle, got close to a tree and she heard a cracking noise. And at least one other male employee admits driving Skaggs’ vehicle but denies doing any damage.

$151 dollars in state funds were used to repair the car’s mirror. Skaggs has since reimbursed the department.

In a statement, the department says it’s “deeply saddened and disappointed in the actions of the individuals involved.”

However, the department says “through this situation it’s working together to move forward in building a stronger and united team.”

Commissioner Black has also taken disciplinary action against other employees accused of misconduct.

Skaggs was appointed as Chief Operating Officer in 2011 by Agricultural Commissioner Gary Black.

Garrison joined the agency in 1994 and was appointed to oversee the food safety division in 2007.

Download The Report

We have posted the narrative sections of the Department of Agriculture's investigator's report on the incident at Lake Blackshear Resort that led to the resignations of Billy Skaggs and Oscar Garrison.