Former Hall County Extension agent Billy Skaggs resigned as chief operating officer of the Georgia Department of Agriculture last week after an internal investigation showed that he drank alcohol, went swimming in some state of undress and damaged a state vehicle during a training seminar last year.
Skaggs and Oscar Garrison, head of the Food Safety Division, resigned March 30 after questions surfaced about their behavior at the seminar at the Lake Blackshear Resort and Golf Club near Cordele in September. Both admitted to staying up late and drinking alcohol, but later versions of their stories conflicted with their original interviews, an investigative summary said.
Skaggs told The Times on April 4 that he wasn’t part of any investigation and the resignation was a “mutual” decision. In an emailed statement Wednesday, Skaggs said he resigned because of errors in judgement.
“While I will not go into detail, I made a mistake which has deeply impacted my family for which I am truly sorry,” Skaggs wrote. “My wife and I are working through this situation as a family and ask that you respect our privacy.”
The summary said that agriculture Commissioner Gary Black ordered an official investigation into the matter on March 30. The seminar was held from Sept. 17 to Sept. 19.
According to employee accounts, about 30-40 employees gathered at the cabin of Skaggs, Garrison and Trey Joyner after training was done on Sept. 17.
Department employees drank heavily and there was music and dancing.
About seven or eight male employees, including Skaggs, Garrison and Joyner, and a female employee, Lauren Barchi, went swimming in the lake.
Several employees interviewed said Barchi had removed some of her clothes, although she denied that. Skaggs said in his second interview that she became topless before getting out of the water. All of the employees that went swimming were subordinates of his.
The allegations of misconduct were made by former retired employee Peggy Gates.
Skaggs was interviewed twice and the summary said that the second version of his interview on March 30 was inconsistent with his first version of events from several days earlier.
Skaggs also tore off one of the rear view mirrors on his state car when he hit a pole that night.. The state of Georgia initially paid for the repair, but Skaggs reimbursed the department for $151.65 on Tuesday.
Black appointed Skaggs to the No. 2 spot in the department in January 2011. Mary Kathryn Yearta, chief communications officer, said the department took swift action after Gates made the allegations.
“We are deeply saddened and disappointed in the actions of the individuals involved,” Yearta said in a statement. ‘“However though this situation we working together to move forward in building a stronger and united team.”
Before he worked for the state of Georgia, Skaggs was county extension coordinator and agriculture agent with the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension in Hall County from 2002 to 2010.
He currently serves on the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Alumni Association Board of Directors.