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Former deputy agriculture commissioner admits inappropriate actions at resort
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The day after the release of an internal investigation that said top Georgia Department of Agriculture officials behaved badly at a training seminar last year, Billy Skaggs, former deputy agriculture commissioner, admitted he had an inappropriate sexual interaction during the three-day meeting.

“I can only speak for myself and not anyone else,” Skaggs said. “It cost me my job, damaged my integrity and has severely hurt my relationship with my family.”

Skaggs and Food Safety Division Director Oscar Garrison resigned on March 30, and four more employees were suspended without pay after a formal investigation was conducted last week.

Seven male employees, including top agency heads, and a female employee drank heavily and went swimming in some state of undress while at the seminar on Sept. 17, the internal report said. Two people involved are still employed at the department with no record of any disciplinary action.

Richard Lewis, Fuels and Measures Division director, was suspended for 10 business days without pay, the division’s assistant director, Marvin Pound, was suspended for five business days, and division employees Cedric Lloyd and William “Doug” Killingsworth were each suspended without pay for one day.

The disciplinary measures were noted in the investigative report. There were no indications for a female employee and Leon “Trey” Joyner. Joyner is an operations analyst, according to government transparency website Open Georgia. He’s also listed as a special projects coordinator on the agenda for the seminar.

Mary Kathryn Yearta, chief communications officer, declined to comment on whether there was any disciplinary action for those employees.

Attempts to reach Commissioner Gary Black were unsuccessful because he was out of town. The department declined to give The Times the number to his government-issued cellphone.

The Food Safety Seminar last September cost nearly $32,000 and was paid for by a food sanitation grant. The statewide training for 93 employees was held Sept. 17-19 at Lake Blackshear Resort and Golf Club.

The investigation found that after training ended on the first day there was a party, which included heavy drinking and a fraternitylike atmosphere, with about 40 people at the cabin of Skaggs, Garrison and Joyner. Skaggs said he consumed too much alcohol that night and had a lapse in judgment.

The investigative report included interviews of others there that night, including those who were disciplined. Interviews describe a female employee who “flashed” a male employee by “pulling up her shirt,” and couples disappearing into rooms for “consensual horseplay.”

Joyner, who was interviewed five times, said he was leading people in shots of alcohol.

After the party, the seven men and a female went swimming in the lake in various states of undress. In some of the interviews, the state workers said the female was topless in the water, which she denied, and acting playful with Skaggs and Garrison. Skaggs also damaged his state vehicle that night, but has reimbursed the agency for the cost.

Skaggs said he made a monumental mistake he’ll have to live with for the rest of his life.

“My objective right now is to step up to the plate, admit that my actions are indefensible and try to make amends where possible,” he said.

He said he and his wife still love each other and are in counseling.

Black ordered a formal investigation in the matter on March 30. The report said former retired employee Peggy Gates contacted Black about the night’s activities.

Black appointed Skaggs to the No. 2 spot in the department in January 2011.

Previously, Skaggs was county extension coordinator and agriculture agent with the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension in Hall County from 2002 to 2010.

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