Blackwood, who has led the agency since Gov. Nathan Deal appointed him to the job in 2011, was a longtime Gainesville Times reporter when he left the publication to work for Deal’s 2010 campaign for governor. He said he completed the workplace training in the spring, notching a 90 on the final exam. He was not issued a formal reprimand.
“I would never intentionally say something to offend anyone,” Blackwood told the AJC. “I have learned from this experience and have accepted responsibility and have moved forward to address the goals and needs of the Office of Highway Safety.”
Deal spokeswoman Sasha Dlugolenski said Friday that Blackwood has the full confidence of the governor.
The complaints outline several incidents. One staffer said she felt she needed to cross her arms across her chest because Blackwood was staring at her. Another said that she asked Blackwood to leave when he told her to talk “soft and low” when she called him with a weather update. (He told the investigator he was joking.) He was also accused of saying women and alcohol were the necessities of his life.
Two of the incidents took place on Feb. 7 as the agency, which coordinates traffic safety, was preparing for a blast of wintry weather.
The first involved Lauren Armour Pugh, who was then the agency’s deputy director. She said Blackwood and several other state officials were huddled in a conference room talking about strategies to help the public avoid panicking when he made a startling, sexually inappropriate comment.
Pugh said she stared at the floor in shock after hearing those words. The meeting suddenly got very quiet, she said, and staffers soon dispersed.
Blackwood said he meant the comment for a male co-worker as part of a joke about an old movie.
That same day, Blackwood told an intern that a friend’s wife was flirting with him on Facebook and had asked him “just how married are you?” The intern told the investigator it made her feel uneasy.
”He just does not know boundaries,” the intern, who was soon transferred to another department, told an investigator.
Blackwood said it was made in reference to the shocking things people say on Facebook. “I also said, ‘I unfriended her so fast it would make your head swim,’ ” he told the investigator.
Col. Mark McDonough, the head of the state Department of Public Safety, told the investigator that he considered Blackwood a jokester who tries to lighten the mood with quips. He compared him to the late comedian John Candy.
“His personality lends him to that stage,” McDonough said. “He is a performer, always on.”
Pugh, who has since moved to another state job, said in the report that the February incidents weren’t the first awkward comments he had made, and that she was concerned his behavior would have a negative impact on the staff.
Blackwood, in his own comments to the investigator, said the remarks weren’t intended to make employees feel uncomfortable.
“You never know what others may find offensive,” Blackwood said. “I should have known better.”