– A three-part series exclusive from Connect Savannah –
Senate Bill 443 targeting unpermitted events passes the House; it has already impacted Orange Crush plans

Two men identified by Tybee Island officials as promoters of Orange Crush say that recent decisions at the Georgia General Assembly in Atlanta and at City Hall on Tybee have caused them to rethink plans for the weekend of April 19-21, 2024.

Earlier this month, the Georgia House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 443, legislation spearheaded by a pair of Savannah lawmakers aiming to hold promoters of unpermitted events, like Orange Crush on Tybee Island, responsible for financial expenses incurred by a municipality during those events.

Two weeks prior to the senate's passage of SB 443, Tybee’s City Manager denied the permit application submitted by Tre “Britian” Wigfall, who Tybee says is one of the promoters of Orange Crush. Wigfall was applying to host an “HBCU Food Truck Festival” on April 20, 2024, the same weekend as Orange Crush, traditionally held on the third weekend of April.
George “Mikey” Turner is the owner and founder of Orange Crush Festival, LLC and the owner of a trademark for “Orange Crush Festival.” He had the Tybee Island Pier Pavilion booked for a fashion show event through Chatham County Parks and Recreation for April 20.

But Turner, who lives in Savannah, announced he was no longer having his fashion show at the pier once he learned of Wigfall's permit denial.
click to enlarge Bill targeting promoters of unpermitted events causes Orange Crush promoters to rethink plans
"If there is no permit for anything on Tybee that weekend," Turner said in January. “Then we won't be down there. We can't make our entire company liable for everyone on the island without a permit."

Wigfall says he isn’t promoting any Orange Crush events, despite what Tybee claims. He cites the denial of his permit by interim City Manager Michelle Owens for his decision to not be on the island during Orange Crush this April. He met with Connect Savannah on March 1 for his first public interview since being labeled – he says wrongly – as a primary promoter of Orange Crush 2023.

"My goal when I first started to reach out last year was to work with Tybee, and to work with (Turner)," Wigfall said. "But Tybee isn't concerned with any of that. If we did a food truck event, then people would have activities to do instead of what it is now. I thought I was doing what they asked for when I submitted for an event that is nothing like Orange Crush, but I don't think they care."
click to enlarge Bill targeting promoters of unpermitted events causes Orange Crush promoters to rethink plans
Tre 'Britian' Wigfall (in orange shirt, black shorts, middle) on Tybee in April of 2023

"I'm not going to be on Tybee (for Orange Crush this year) because I don't have any events that I'm promoting there. My events aren't Orange Crush, they are (scheduled) around it, and because of it, but I don't control Orange Crush. Nobody does."

Orange Crush's date is not official. The third weekend of April is the usual date because it lines up with the collegiate academic calendar's traditional spring break.

Neither Wigfall nor Turner thinks his choice to separate from Orange Crush means that it won’t happen. Quite the opposite.

Turner thinks “there could be even more people" in 2024 than the 111,100 at last year's Orange Crush. That attendance number comes from “” data for April 21-23, 2023. The data was released by Tybee in May of 2023.

"They think I can control Orange Crush, or they think they can stop it, or (Turner) can stop it. But nobody can stop Orange Crush,” said Wigfall. “It's the third week of April every year and I explained that to (Tybee) one hundred times.”
Authored primarily by Sen. Ben Watson (Republican-Savannah), Senate Bill 443 passed through the senate by a vote of 47-1 on Feb. 15. Once it moved over to the House, the bill quickly went to the floor for a vote, and, on March 5, it was passed in that chamber by a tally of 163-4.

A key figure in helping to aid the passage of Watson's senate bill through the house was Rep. Jesse Petrea (R-Savannah). He was one of 163 "yay" votes in the House for SB 443. All four of his fellow Savannah representatives (Carl Gilliard, Edna Jackson, Ron Stephens, Anne Allen Westbrook) also voted yes on the bill. The four "nay" votes were cast by Charlise Byrd (R-Woodstock), Mitchell Horner (R-Ringgold), Tanya F. Miller (D-Atlanta) and Angela Moore (D-Stonecrest).
During separate phone calls with Connect Savannah on Feb. 9, Petrea and Watson spoke about the bill's ultimate aim.

“What we're trying to say is this: I don't care who you are, what group you are, and I don't care if you or the event looks conventional. It doesn't matter, especially if you're going to refuse to follow the city's permitting process," said Petrea. "Which is what [Orange Crush organizers] are doing, they're circumventing that process."
click to enlarge Bill targeting promoters of unpermitted events causes Orange Crush promoters to rethink plans

"Promoters and organizers of this event are doing this intentionally without going through a permitting process. If you're going to do that, if you choose that route, and therefore you cause a hardship on the local community in terms of traffic, in terms of enforcement, sanitation and all of that, then you've made a decision to not do it the right way. This just makes it clear and gives the city the tools to go after that promoter, that organizer, and say ‘you're going to pay for this.’"

But what happens if the city cannot identify a promoter of an event organically happening at a public beach, at the same time of year, and nearly every year? What happens when people like Wigfall and Turner publicly state that they aren’t promoters of an unpermitted event? What happens when a permit is applied for and denied?

Who pays for event expenses in that case?

“As a jurisdiction, we're going to have to eat those costs upfront,” Owens said during a Feb. 23 phone call with Connect Savannah. “The way the legislation is set up, we would be able to then legally go after (promoters of unpermitted events) once we have proof of what our costs were for the event. But regardless, the city is putting the funds forward. If any other jurisdictions that are participating with us, such as the Chatham County Sheriff’s Department, they have to eat those costs themselves.”
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Tybee city manager Michelle Owens
She says last year’s unpermitted Orange Crush event cost the island nearly $200,000.

"Expanded public safety measures cost the city $187,520," Owens said. "That cost included overtime wages for city police and fire rescue staff, lodging, meals, additional ambulance service, security fencing, extra lighting, and portable bathrooms."

Tybee Police did not conduct a full risk assessment following the weekend of Orange Crush 2023. However, an After-Action Review report (AAR) for another unpermitted event in 2023 was obtained by Connect Savannah through the Georgia Open Records Act; it shows a detailed breakdown of what Tybee police tactics worked, and didn't work, on the weekend of June 30-July 3, 2023.

The unpermitted event was called "Turnt Island," and it was a less popular, HBCU centric event on Tybee. Tybee Police will use the AAR (see pdf version below) from Turnt Island to guide them in planning for Orange Crush 2024, said Tybee Police Chief Tiffany Hayes. The report itself also states its goal.
"The purpose of this AAR is to identify immediate and long-term corrective action for future responses to un-permitted and permitted events on Tybee Island," it says on the first of three pages. "This AAR will be considered when planning for other large scale operations."

The AAR was submitted to Hayes on July 10, 2023. It was written by Assistant Police Chief Bertram Whitley and contained a breakdown of TIPD payroll for 33 officers combining to make $61,132.55 between the dates of June 30-July 4, 2023. Many officers had reached overtime status by the end of Turnt Island operations and were being paid an overtime hourly rate during the island's official fireworks show on July 4th.

"Officers were working 14-18 hour shifts for several days in a row with no breaks in between," Whitley wrote in his report. "Scheduling for officers has proved to be a challenge as it is unknown when subjects attending un-permitted events will begin coming to the island, or when traffic will begin causing a problem for responding officers."

In a Jan. 24, 2024 City Council workshop meeting, Hayes said the island is preparing to use the Turnt Island plan for this April's Orange Crush weekend. That includes the involvement of outside agencies, the implementation of an Emergency Lane (EM), a road safety checkpoint, and the feeding and lodging of officers on the island all weekend.

“I reached out to Georgia State Patrol, DNR (Department of Natural Resources), the (Chatham County) Sheriff’s Department and Motor Compliance. We met with them on (Jan. 23),” said Hayes. "Everyone is in agreement, and it was a very informative meeting. They are going to send the same number (of officers) that we saw during Turnt Island."

The $61,132.55 payroll total did not include wages paid to officers with the Georgia State Patrol, the Chatham County Police Department, or any other involved agencies, Owens confirmed.
click to enlarge Bill targeting promoters of unpermitted events causes Orange Crush promoters to rethink plans
Tybee police chief Tiffany Hayes
"(Wigfall) requested to have a food truck festival on four-twenty. That's his request, but that doesn't mean he won't try to 'backdoor' and still do an Orange Crush," said Hayes on Jan. 24.

Owens says reimbursement wouldn’t come back to the island unless Tybee can identify a promoter. Even then, the money would not come back until long after it was already spent.

“The money is going to be paid up front by whichever agencies are having to put forth the effort to participate in the public safety initiatives. (Getting money from promoters) would be something you would do on the back end if you could find a promoter, if you could tie the event to specific promoters via their advertising on social media or however else they might advertise."

"We would have to be able to tie it to specific persons.”
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Owens' letter informing Wigfall of his permit denial
Wigfall's HBCU food truck festival was summarized in his permit application, which sold it as a family-friendly, block-party style event.

"The festival will have different activities for kids and adults to enjoy along with great food and local vendors," wrote Wigfall. "Activities will include jumping castles, face painting, clothing vendors, and a step-show."

He submitted his permit application after a Jan. 22, 2024 meeting which included Owens, Hayes, Tybee Special Events Coordinator Robyn Rosner, Turner, and Orange Crush Florida CEO Steven Smalls.
Owens summarized that Jan. 22 meeting in an email to Connect Savannah on Feb. 1, 2024.

"City staff (city manager, police chief, assistant police chief, fire chief, special events coordinator) met with and discussed our permitting process with Britian Wigfall, George Mikey Turner and Steven Smalls, all of whom are planning events for April 19-21 timeframe," she said. "Smalls and Turner informed us that they have the Chatham County pier booked for a fashion show and also have a permit for an event in Jacksonville Beach. Turner inquired about the process to get a permit from Tybee, potentially for this year or next year."

"Mr. Wigfall indicated he was intending to seek a permit for an HBCU Food Truck festival in Tybee’s 16th Street Parking lot. We had a meeting with Mr. Wigfall by himself immediately following the first meeting, with only the special events coordinator and the city manager present. That meeting was to speak specifically about his food truck event and what information and documentation the city needs in his event application."

As of March 23, SB 443 hadn't yet gotten the signature of Governor Brian Kemp that it would need to become law ahead of the third weekend in April. If signed, it would apply to all of Georgia, not just Tybee Island. The only way it doesn't become a law is if Kemp uses his veto power. If it's still unsigned at the time of Orange Crush, it could still become law after the fact for future unpermitted events in the peach state.
click to enlarge Bill targeting promoters of unpermitted events causes Orange Crush promoters to rethink plans
"Unsanctioned events should be done appropriately, period," said Watson. "This bill is a way to discourage the promoters from having events without going through proper permitting with Tybee, or whatever city or county it might be."

Petrea said SB 443 should be as much a deterrent as it is a solution. Come April, he and Tybee will know for sure if it actually worked to deter Orange Crush crowds.

“Our hope is that this will discourage these kinds of things and encourage people to go through the proper channels, which is by going to the city, getting a permit, and doing it like everybody else,” he said. “It's about the process.”

Part two of this Orange Crush series was published on Thursday, March 21.

Travis Jaudon

Travis Jaudon is a reporter for Connect Savannah. He is a Savannah native and has been writing in Savannah since 2016. Reach him with feedback or story tips at 912-721-4358
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