Jefferson County Commission

World Games’ High-Risk Rating by Homeland Security Will Mean Extensive Federal Security Assistance, CEO Tells Jefferson County Commission

Legion Field prepares for The World Games 2022. (Source: Art Meripol)

Birmingham’s upcoming World Games will get the highest level of security attention from the federal government.

The games has been given a level-one Special Event Assessment Rating by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, a move that designates the games as a high-risk event but that will bring in federal officers to help secure the area.

Nick Sellers, the games’ chief executive officer on Thursday briefed the Jefferson County Commission on the move. The level-one designation is reserved for major events with large crowds, such as the Super Bowl, Kentucky Derby and Indianapolis 500 — usually about six events per year.

“We went to the (DHS) with a request … with respect to overall security coordination. There are five different levels that Homeland Security gives an event. We were a level three, and we asked for a two. They came back with a level one security rating for this event,” Sellers said. “With that comes great benefits in terms of having one of the safest and most secure events that our community has ever seen.”

The rating, and the federal assistance that comes with it, also comes with a bit of a price in terms of inconvenience for World Games participants and spectators.

“It’s very rare that you get the full benefits without some burdens,” Sellers said. “For instance, some parking decks are going to be shut down in and around the city center and perimeter area.” The full list of restrictions will be announced later as plans develop.

For past level-one events, federal assistance has included explosive detection canine teams, cyber risk assessments, venue screening and field intelligence teams, and air security and tactical operations support, according to a Homeland Security fact sheet.

The World Games is an international multi-sport event, similar in format to the Olympic Games. Most sports featured are those that are not on the official Olympic program, such as lacrosse, sumo wrestling, cue sports (nine-ball pool and snooker), drone racing and flag football. The games will be held July 7-17 at venues across metro Birmingham, including Protective Stadium, Legion Field and the Hoover Met.

Originally scheduled for 2021, the event was delayed a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic that forced the 2020 Summer Olympics to be moved a year later, which would have conflicted with the original World Games dates. 

Relief Funds for Food Programs

The commission also approved allocating federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to programs that help feed people adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The allocations were the focus of debate in Tuesday’s committee meeting when objections were raised to the appearance that the funds were being provided by individual elected officials rather than being approved by the full commission.

Three of the requests for food insecurity program funds were approved unanimously: Mission Alabama, $64,900; Christian Service Mission, $190,000; and Jones Valley Teaching Farm, $70,000.

A fourth request – for $175,000 from Kikstart Inc. – was approved on a 3-1 vote, with Commissioner Lashunda Scales abstaining and Commissioner Joe Knight voting no.

Commissioner Lashunda Scales makes a point during the April 5, 2022, committee meeting of the Jefferson County Commission. (Photo by Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

Kikstart sponsored a food giveaway event that came under question Tuesday during which gas also was given away and potential voters were registered.

Commissioner Sheila Tyson said the gas giveaway portion was her event, one that did not use county funds, but concerns were raised that it appeared the food and gas giveaway events were interconnected.

Scales at that time expressed concern that the commission wasn’t receiving sufficient credit for its role in distributing the federal funds, as did commission President Jimmie Stephens. Stephens urged that federal money distributions be depoliticized.

Milo’s Tea Incentives

Commissioners unanimously approved an incentive package for Milo’s Tea Company Inc. to expand its operations into Homewood.

The incentive will give the company up to $100,000 for job creation at its new lemonade production facility, which will be located in the former Barber Dairies plant off West Oxmoor Road. That move will allow expanded production of lemonade, as well as more room to produce the company’s flagship tea at the original plant in Bessemer, resulting in 291 new jobs.

Milo’s Tea Company sells its drink products across most of the eastern half of the United States. It was split from the family’s Milo’s Hamburgers fast-food chain several years ago but is still run by the family of founder Milo Carlton.

Liquor License Rejected

The commission rejected an application for a liquor store license in the Concord/Rock Creek area. Applicants Vimarsh Patel and Roshan Patel of Tuscaloosa wanted to open the store in a building they purchased on Warrior River Road near the intersection with 15th Street Road.

The application was opposed by several residents of the surrounding neighborhood, partly because the store would be near a bus stop used by students of Hueytown High and Hueytown Middle schools and partly because of a proposed charity bingo operation in part of the building, which previously housed a plumbing supply business and has been vacant for years.

Dina Dalton, who lives near the proposed store site, said the neighborhood has already seen an increase in traffic from people outside the community after reports surfaced on social media about the bingo facility and the liquor store.

“This is concerning to us. It poses an issue of safety,” Dalton said. “This is the only area for people coming from the river, from Oak Grove, and some people come from Birmingport.”

Brandy Jackson, the assistant manager at a Dollar General store across Warrior River Road from the proposed liquor store, said her store already has seen an increase of people under the influence of alcohol come in during morning hours. She added that there were also incidents of people having sex in the parking lot. “This is not what we need in our community,” Jackson said. “I don’t want my children to see this.”

County Attorney Theo Lawson said that the license the proposed operator of the charity bingo hall presented to the Patels was not valid. “I want to take this opportunity to make it clear that in unincorporated Jefferson County, bingo is illegal. There are no bingo (operations) subject to resolutions or ordinances of the past by this body.”

The vote was 4-0 in favor of rejection, with Scales not voting.

Workforce Development Split

The commission also approved splitting the Department of Community Services and Workforce Development into two separate departments, primarily because of the funding source for the workforce development side.

County Manager Cal Markert said in Tuesday’s pre-commission meeting that workforce development gets its funding from federal and state sources and already was de facto separate from community services. Markert supported the split so that the new departments would be easier to manage, with no layoffs expected from either.