A Statesboro businessman hoping to host a Georgia Southern University alumni ball during homecoming weekend said he intends to make every possible effort to keep the event safe.
Benjamin Powell told Bulloch County Commissioners Tuesday that he will hire mature security personnel, use wristbands and take all precautions to prevent underage drinking at the Oct. 11 alumni ball he plans to hold at the National Guard Armory on U.S. Highway 301 North.
In applying to the state for a one-day special event alcohol license for the party, Powell learned that local governmental approval is also needed before the state license will be granted, he told commissioners.
He said he plans to hire security personnel who will check identification upon entrance, as well as at a bar, where alcoholic beverages will be available to guests paying a cover charge as part of the event.
Commissioners questioned whether alcohol would be sold at the event as well. Commissioner Roy Thompson said he understood that the National Guard Armory does not allow alcohol sales, but Powell said his request had been approved by Guard officials.
Commissioners had Bulloch County sheriff's Chief Deputy Jared Akins make a phone call to clarify the issue, and it was determined that Powell would request a $20 cover charge upon entry and that would include alcoholic beverages. A National Guard spokesperson told Akins an open bar is acceptable, but alcohol sales are not allowed.
Commissioners tabled the issue and moved on to other business while Akins stepped out to make the call. They resumed discussion of Powell's event once Akins came back after completing the call to the Guard.
"I don't want (guests) bringing their own alcohol," Powell said, adding that he was concerned about underage guests obtaining alcoholic beverages. "We want to control consumption and I want to make sure I do everything right."
Thompson expressed concern that the county could be held liable in the event or injury or death. He referred to the recent incident in which a Georgia Southern University student was severely injured after an altercation with a bouncer at a local bar and died later that day. Both the bouncer and victim were underage.
Michael Gatto, 18, of Elkhorn Court in Cumming, died of injuries sustained in the beating after a bouncer evicted him from the premises.
Grant James Spencer, 20, of Olympic Boulevard, is in the Bulloch County Jail on murder and aggravated battery charges stemming from the Aug. 28 incident at Rude Rudy's in University Plaza.
Bulloch County staff attorney Jeff Akins said that if commissioners approved the special event license request, the county would not be responsible for any accidents at the venue.
Commissioner Robert Rushing asked Powell if the event would be restricted to GSU alumni. Powell said the ball is for alumni, but others may attend.
Commission Chairman Garrett Nevil asked Powell if he would still check identification although alcohol would be available at an open bar, and not sold. "Yes," Powell said, adding that he would have "older" security staff checking IDs at the door as well as at the bar. Like establishments serving alcohol on a regular basis, wristbands identifying those under the legal drinking age of 21 would be used, he said.
Commissioner Carolyn Etheridge made a motion to approve Powell's request, with a second by Commissioner Ray Mosley. The motion was approved 4-1, with Commissioner Anthony Simmons absent from the meeting and Commissioner Walter Gibson opposed. Nevil, as chairman, only votes to break ties.
After the meeting, Powell said he plans to host the event from 10 p.m. Oct. 11 to 2 a.m. Oct 12, with alcohol being served only until midnight.
"The event is mainly for alumni, but current GSU students are welcome," he said.
He planned the event after friends from out of town asked him about homecoming events, and said he hopes to have a controlled, "safe, fun event" as an alternative to unregulated parties.
Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.