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U.S. Rep. Charlie Bennett was Jacksonville's advocate in Congress from 1949-93. He died in 2003 at age 92. This week in 1966, Bennett announced he was putting together an urban affairs seminar to address issues facing the city and county as the area w...
Jax Daily Record Monday, Aug. 29, 201612:00 PM EST

50 years ago: Dallas Thomas first city official to be indicted by grand jury

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by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

Former city commissioner Dallas Thomas was indicted this week in 1966 by the Duval County grand jury on 40 counts of grand larceny.

The 17 indictments alleged Thomas stole $23,766 from the city over a five-year period.

The former head of the city’s finances, parks, zoo and prison farm appeared grim when he surrendered at the county jail just after 9 p.m. Tuesday.

Thomas arrived with four men, including his attorney, Chester Bedell.

He emerged from the jail 15 minutes later, free under $7,500 bond.

None of the counts in the indictments gave any details about the thefts, other than the amounts of money involved and the dates.

The thefts ranged from $100 to $3,000 and occurred July 19, 1961 to April 13, 1966.

Thomas resigned the week before he was indicted when rumors began circulating that a construction company had provided materials and work on property Thomas owned, but was paid by the city.

After the indictments against Thomas were returned, the grand jury continued its probe of city officials.

Assistant State Attorney William Hallowes issued a subpoena ordering City Recorder W.C. “Shorty” Almand to produce for the grand jury’s inspection all records of the city Pardon Board from Jan. 1, 1960 through July 1966.

The order specified Almand provide every application for pardon made during that period and all actions taken by the board.

The board comprised three City Council members and had the power to release prisoners sentenced by a municipal judge.

The grand jury also began investigating concession operations at the Municipal Coliseum and Civic Auditorium.

Note: Before the grand jury was retired, several more officials would be indicted on charges of bribery and grand larceny, including four of the nine City Council members, two of the five city commissioners, one of the five county commissioners, the executive secretary of the Recreation Department, the city auditor and the city purchasing agent.

In addition, the city tax assessor refused to testify under the Fifth Amendment and resigned.

• Just a week after classes began, disagreement erupted over the location of a permanent campus for the new Florida Junior College at Jacksonville.

On opposing sides of the issue were Herbert Brannen, real estate procurement officer for the Duval County Board of Public Instruction, and attorney Fred Kent, chair of the Duval-Nassau Junior College Advisory Committee.

Kent submitted a report to board members urging them to proceed with a plan to establish the first permanent campus at the Cumberland housing project land at Park Street and Roosevelt Boulevard.

The property, with some of the homes on it converted to classrooms, was being used as a temporary campus.

Kent said he thought developing a campus on property along Beach Boulevard that had been offered free of cost — The Brest-Hodges-Lindberg proposal of 320 acres — would be too costly.

The Cumberland tract was about 37 acres, owned by the federal government and would be available without cost, he said.

Kent proposed acquiring adjacent property owned by the city and purchasing adjoining residential property to increase its size.

Brannen had a different idea.

He supported constructing the permanent campus at the Beach Boulevard site and accepting the Cumberland property from the government as it was and developing it in the future as a supplementary location for the school.

“In our crisis of tight money and facing the prospect of a reduced budget, I am of the opinion the people of Duval County would be less than willing to go along with spending a large sum of money that we don’t have to and turning down a good piece of free land in favor of having to purchase land elsewhere,” said Brannen.

• A man from Stafford, Va., was alive because two men were surfing at Jacksonville Beach when they shouldn’t have been, said police.

Thomas Musselman, an unemployed carpenter, was discovered by the surfers floating facedown in the water.

“We just saw him floating there about 20 yards from us,” said Larry Hinson, 22, of 2886 Post St. “At first, we thought he was fooling around, but we watched him for several seconds and then we swam over to him.”

Hinson said he and Richard McLean, 19, of 4030 Eve Drive E., were in chest-deep water about 75 yards from shore at the foot of 13th Avenue North.

“He was not breathing and his face was purple when we got him to shore. I began giving him artificial respiration and water spilled out of his mouth,” Hinson said.

A witness drove to the Red Cross lifesaving station to alert the beach patrol, which did not cover the beach that far north in September.

Patrol Capt. Jim Thames said a rescue truck with resuscitation equipment was rushed to the scene and the victim was taken to the station for treatment by a doctor who responded to the emergency call.

No charges were filed against the rescuers, who were surfing past the 10 a.m. deadline established by the Jacksonville Beach City Council.

“You can’t arrest a couple of boys who just saved a man’s life,” said Police Chief C. H. Franks.

• Duval County commissioners authorized a call for bids for a two-way radio communication system for the sheriff’s office to keep criminals from listening to law enforcement transmissions.

Patrol Chief W.F. Johnston dramatized the need for a new system by demonstrating for the commission a transistor radio with a $20 adapter that picked up transmissions on the existing radio system.

The device was readily accessible to a would-be burglar or bandit, but would be useless for eavesdropping if the requested Ultra High Frequency equipment was installed, he said.

Johnston asked for bids as a means for acquiring a new system because, he said, the sheriff’s office had no idea what the new system would cost.

• A general location for a proposed Jacksonville Beach tourist welcome station was selected by a committee created by the Beaches Area Chamber of Commerce.

The group agreed the best place to lure visitors to the Beaches was along Interstate 10, where it intersected with U.S. 301 near Baldwin.

T.N. Abood, a former member of the Jacksonville Beach City Council, said he hoped land for the welcome station and a large parking area would be offered free or at a token cost.

• Miss Jacksonville 1966, Jeanette Ferrell, planned to use $500 of her prize when she enrolled as a sophomore at Stetson University.

She had previously competed in several pageants, but being crowned Miss Jacksonville was almost too much for her.

“I lost my composure for the first time and cried,” Ferrell said. “I know I must have looked terrible, but I was so happy, I couldn’t help myself.”

In 1964, she won the Miss Duval County title and went on to the Miss Florida pageant, where she was a runner-up and tied for first place in the talent competition.

In 1965, Ferrell was first runner-up and won the talent competition.

For Miss Jacksonville, she sang “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” to again win the talent competition after two years of voice training.

• An urban affairs seminar, possibly with the participation of a U.S. Cabinet official as the keynote speaker, was being planned for late 1966, said U.S. Rep. Charles Bennett.

He said the community’s population growth and the growth of its problems dictated the need for a broader understanding of them and their remedies.

Bennett would sponsor the seminar and invite key officials from the Department of Health, Education and Welfare and the Department of Housing and Urban Development had been contacted to send representatives to the meeting.

“With the growth and development of the Greater Jacksonville area as a forceful and dynamic community, we have also felt the burden of many problems in our urban-directed society,” he said.

“Housing, air and water pollution, transportation, health facilities and recreation areas are just a few of the many problem areas our city and county governments have had to deal with,” Bennett added.

• The Bonanza Sirloin Pit at 7605 Beach Blvd., was serving a “Buckaroo plate” Monday-Wednesday for children 12 and under.

It included — for 29 cents — a chopped sirloin, a bun, French fries and coleslaw.

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