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Two top GA ag officials out over wild party

9:41 PM, Apr 11, 2013   |    comments
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  • Former GA Agriculture Food Safety Commissioner Oscar Garrison (left) and former Chief Operating Officer Billy Skaggs
  • Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black
    

ATLANTA -- Deputy Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Oscar Garrison became the public face for the state's handling of a deadly salmonella outbreak at a Blakely peanut processing plant four years ago.

He defended criticism of the department's response, citing too few inspectors.

Now after nearly 20 years with the department, its head Food Safety man is out of a job, but not for any inspection failings.

Garrison and another top agriculture official, Chief Operating Officer Billy Skaggs, both resigned two weeks ago after being confronted with a scandal that happened during a 3-day training seminar last September.

An internal investigation centered on a party the pair hosted in their room at state owned Lake Blackshear Resort near Cordele the night of September 17th.

A whistle blower reported Garrison, Skaggs and about 30 or 40 state agriculture employees participated in "behavior that would bring discredit upon the department".

Specifically, that the party involved "heavy consumption of alcohol, music and dancing, and the environment became similar to that of a college fraternity party".

Afterwards the two men joined a smaller group that included a woman employee for a swim in the lake "in various stages of undress".

According to the report's findings, Garrison and Skaggs both denied the allegations when first interviewed.

But when they changed their stories on March 30th, they were allowed to resign.

On Thursday, Billy Skaggs sent 11 Alive News a statement saying in part, "I made a mistake which has deeply impacted my family for which I am truly sorry."

So far, Oscar Garrison has not returned our request for comment.

State Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black gave us a statement saying in part, "I believe in forgiveness and redemption for all involved, but I am committed to a department built with integrity and honesty."

According to the investigation no state money was used to buy alcohol for the party.

Billy Skaggs wrote the state a $151 check to reimburse damage done to a state vehicle that night.

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