- 2014 - February - 3rd -

50 years ago: How did mayor describe 13-month auto tag plan? 'Stupid'

From Staff

Have you ever wondered what life was like in Jacksonville half a century ago? It was a different era of history, culture and politics but there are often parallels between the kind of stories that made headlines then and today. As interesting as the differences may be, so are the similarities. These are some of the top stories from this week in 1964. The items were compiled from the Jacksonville Public Library’s periodical archives by Staff Writer Max Marbut.

• Mayor Haydon Burns described as “stupid” the 13-month automobile tag adopted by the 1963 Legislature.

“I applaud the efforts of the Legislature to move the tag sales from January – with all its Christmas bills – to July, but I think the approach they took is stupid,” Burns said at a meeting of the Duval Democratic Woman’s Club.

The plan was to issue 13-month tags each year through 1969 to move up the date one month a year until it reached July.

“A business approach would have been to sell a half-year tag in January and then go back to a full-year tag in July,” said Burns.

A candidate for the Democratic Party gubernatorial nomination in the May primary election, Burns also blamed Florida’s incumbent leadership for education problems in the state.

He said the current issues were the result of 50 years of “do nothing” by governors and legislators.

“I think we’ve had too much pussyfooting in state leadership,” Burns said, referring to the 20-mill property tax limitation on local contributions to school financing.

He described the property tax method of financing education as being “as antiquated as the State Constitution.”

Burns said the answer to adequate education financing would be found in new sources of revenue, such as a use tax. He did not specify what kind of use tax would be appropriate.


• After the Florida Supreme Court affirmed the validation of a new bond issue for the Jacksonville Expressway Authority, the authority launched plans to begin its $68.3 million expansion program.

The high court upheld the validity of the bond issue to finance the program and also pay the balance due on an earlier $70 million issue.

The total amount of bonds authorized by the decision in Tallahassee was $140 million, but Roger L. Main, chairman of the authority, said only a $135 million issue would be required.

Of that amount, $66.7 million would be needed to pay the outstanding bond obligation, he said.

The validation of bonds was challenged by Leon Anderson, a Jacksonville resident and taxpayer who contended the authority did not possess the power to construct additions to the network of limited access roadways threaded through Jacksonville and Duval County and for which $2.5 million of the anticipated bond funds had been earmarked.

The projects were Chaffee Road, Lane Avenue and Soutel Drive.

The court disagreed.

The judge’s opinion declared state statutes creating the authority specifically granted it the power to construct additional facilities. The judge said the challenge by Anderson was “reminiscent of the title of one of the worst by the Bard of Avon, ‘Much Ado About Nothing.’”

• An escaped convict from North Carolina was apprehended in Jacksonville, but not until he rammed two police cars with his vehicle and was shot in the thigh by a police officer.

Robert Lee Hodges, 41, formerly of Baker County, was being held in the Duval County jail under $50,000 bond on charges of assault to murder and resisting arrest.

The assault-to-murder charge was lodged against Hodges after a county detective was dragged a short distance when the detective caught his hand in the steering wheel of Hodges’ vehicle on the Fuller Warren Bridge.

The detective, Sgt. J.J. Cunningham, was treated at St. Vincent’s Hospital for abrasions and bruises.

Cunningham and detective Sgt. Ed Ashley said they received a tip that Hodges had been seen in a house on Spring Park Road. Hodges escaped from an Avery, N.C., work gang, where he was serving a five-year sentence for possession of burglary tools.

Cunningham and Ashley staked out the house and when Hodges walked out and drove off, the detectives started tracking him in their car.

The officers said they followed the suspect to the Fuller Warren Bridge, pulled ahead of him and got out of their car at the toll booth.

They approached Hodges’ vehicle as he pulled up to the toll gate and told him he was under arrest. Hodges started to drive away and Cunningham reached inside the vehicle in an effort to turn the steering wheel and force Hodges to stop.

Hodges accelerated the car and with Cunningham’s right hand caught in the steering wheel, he was dragged an estimated 40 feet before he fell free. Cunningham said Hodges also bit him on the hand.

Ashley, who was standing on the other side of the vehicle, fired a shot at Hodges, the bullet striking him in the right thigh.

After the unsuccessful apprehension on the bridge, city and county police joined the fray. When he tried to flee the confrontation, Hodges rammed one police car on the bridge and then another near Edison Avenue and Stockton Street. He was arrested at the scene.

• Florida East Coast Railway board Chairman Edward Ball charged the government with both “iron fist” tactics and wasting taxpayers’ money to force the railroad to submit to the demands of striking unions.

Ball’s statements came at a news conference regarding the controversy that erupted at Cape Kennedy when armed government guards refused to allow an FEC train to unload two carloads of steel bound for a construction site at the Merritt Island launch facility.

The railroad had been struck since Jan. 23, 1963, by 11 passenger service unions demanding higher pay. The railroad had not carried passengers since the strike began. “The unions are still on strike and we have resumed carrying freight,” Ball said.

Ball’s “iron fist” comment was in reference to the special presidential board established to inquire into the dispute between the railroad and the unions and its effect on the space effort at Cape Kennedy.

Ball quoted a section from the inquiry board’s report that said if the labor dispute was not settled by the time a new spur track to the spaceport was built, the FEC would not be allowed to operate over it.

With the spur complete, that was the reason the two carloads of steel were barred from being unloaded, Ball said.

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