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April 11, 2013

Report: 2 state officials resign after party

ATLANTA — Two high-ranking officials at the state Department of Agriculture resigned after hosting a drunken party during a government-funded training session and then going skinny dipping with several employees, according to an investigation released Wednesday.

Chief Operating Officer Billy Skaggs and Oscar Garrison, director of the food safety division, both resigned March 30. Several others were disciplined for their conduct during the Sept. 17 incident.

“Once we were made aware of the allegations regarding misconduct a review was promptly conducted, and swift action was taken,” Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black said in a statement. He said the department was “saddened and disappointed” by the allegations.

Skaggs acknowledged making errors of judgment but declined to comment in detail. Garrison did not respond to messages seeking comment.

“While I will not go into detail, I made a mistake which has deeply impacted my family for which I am truly sorry,” Skaggs said in an email. “My wife and I are working through this situation as a family and ask that you respect our privacy.”

Black began the probe after he was contacted by a retired employee, who complained about the behavior that occurred during the training session, according to department documents.

The party took place on the evening of Sept. 17 during a three-day government training session at Lake Blackshear. Witnesses told investigators that 30 to 40 department employees gathered at a cabin used by Skaggs, Garrison and Trey Joyner, a department employee.

“There was heavy consumption of alcohol, music and dancing, and the environment became similar to that of a college fraternity party,” the report said.

After several hours, a group of seven men and one woman, all of whom worked for the department, went swimming in “various stages of undress.” The group included Skaggs, who was appointed by Black to oversee the department’s day-to-day operations.

Several witnesses told the investigators that the female employee swam topless. The woman denied that, according to the report. There was no record of her being punished by the department.

During the probe, investigators said they learned that Skaggs’ state-issued car had been damaged during the evening. It was not entirely clear how the damage occurred. Skaggs paid nearly $152 to reimburse the state for the repairs.

According to the report, the director and assistant director of the department’s fuel and measures division, Rich Lewis and Marvin Pound, received suspensions without pay. Two other employees, Cedric Lloyd and Doug Killingsworth, were also suspended without pay.

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Follow Ray Henry on Twitter: http://twitter.com/rhenryAP.

 

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