Ga. Agriculture Officials Resign After Report of Unruly Party

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 report of an incident that happened during a three-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 17.

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”.

Afterward the two men joined a smaller group, which 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 30, they were allowed to resign.

On Thursday, 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, Garrison has not commented.

State Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black released 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.

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


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