50 years ago: Duval County grand jury criticizes tax assessor for refusing to testify
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 1966. The items were compiled from the Jacksonville Public Library’s periodical archives by Staff Writer Max Marbut.
City Tax Assessor Charlie Wilson was criticized severely by the Duval County grand jury for refusing to waive immunity from prosecution when he was called to testify about more than $48,000 paid to a local company for services rendered to his office.
Due to Wilson’s refusal to waive immunity, the jury said, it was forced to excuse him without hearing his testimony “because we deemed it our duty not to grant him complete immunity before knowing what his testimony would be.”
If the jury heard testimony from Wilson without the immunity waiver, he then would have gained immunity from any charge of larceny or bribery that might arise from the investigation of the city’s dealings with the firm.
The jury said that, in its opinion, Wilson’s decision to rely upon the Fifth Amendment “constituted such conduct as to cause the confidence of Jacksonville’s citizens in Wilson and his office to be totally destroyed.”
The report, which was not an indictment or criminal charge, was brought to Circuit Judge Marion Gooding and read in open court by State Attorney William Hallowes.
The jury said its inquiry established the fact that in 1962, the assessor’s office orally contracted with and paid to U.S. Microfilm Service Inc. of Jacksonville — without a competitive bid process — more than $48,000 for services rendered by the company in microfilming and reproducing the plat books in the assessor’s office.
• School board nominee Don Wells, facing organized write-in opposition from a Presbyterian clergyman in the Nov. 8 general election, won the right to have his name appear on the voting machines rather than on paper ballots.
Duval County Attorney J. Henry Blount ruled the county was required to use voting machines exclusively in the general election.
In addition, Supervisor of Elections Robert Mallard said it would take less time to conduct the election by placing all candidates’ names on two machines rather than using paper ballots to accommodate names of six nominees that couldn’t be put on one machine due to lack of space.
After it was announced paper ballots would be used, Albert Kissling, pastor of Riverside Presbyterian Church, said he would be a write-in candidate against Wells, the Democratic nominee who had no Republican opposition.
Kissling’s announcement prompted Wells to go before the Board of County Commissioners to protest the planned use of paper ballots, alleging he was being discriminated against.
While write-in campaigns were generally difficult to win, political analysts agreed they were easier to achieve using paper ballots rather than machines, thus Wells’ alarm.
On a paper ballot, a voter favoring Kissling would simply mark an X in a space beneath Wells’ name and then write out Kissling’s name.
On a machine, the voter would have to lift a lever under the nominee’s name and write in Kissling’s name in a space provided for that purpose.
• The Duval Air Improvement Authority, armed with rules that became effective this week in 1966, applied for a federal grant to improve its programs and operation.
Meeting at the county courthouse, the authority approved an application for $65,000 a year for three years under the federal Clean Air Acts of 1963 and 1965.
According to George Auchter Jr., authority chair, approval of the grant would save money for local taxpayers.
He said under the legislation that created the authority, the group could be funded by no more than $110,000 a year from county ad valorem taxes.
In 1966, Auchter said, the authority operated with a budget of about $60,000 since Jan. 1 when it was established.
It was requesting $82,500 for 1966-67, an increase of $22,500 for a full year.
Under the Clean Air Act, the federal government would match every $1 of local increase in financial support with $3 in federal funds.
If the budget commission granted the $22,500 increase, the federal government would match it with $67,500, giving the authority a budget of $150,000 — $40,000 more than it could get from the county.
• The Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra announced Lisa della Casa, star of the Metropolitan Opera and Vienna State Theater, would make her Jacksonville debut and open the orchestra’s 18th season Oct. 25 in the Civic Auditorium.
The symphony, under the direction of John Canarina, would present a series of seven concerts, six with guest artists.
• A gunman slipped through a door at the rear of the Murray Hill branch of the Fidelity Federal Savings & Loan Association and robbed a teller of $2,700.
Police, summoned by a silent alarm system set off by the teller, arrived in minutes, but the robber had fled the scene.
Officers were quickly joined by a large complement of FBI agents.
Elizabeth Futch was alone in an office in the back of the branch at 1086 S. Edgewood Ave. A coworker and other employees were in another part of the building receiving annual flu immunization shots when the robbery occurred.
Futch said the man was wearing a blue raincoat and a tan golf cap with a red emblem on the front. He also was wearing wraparound sunglasses and appeared to be in his late 30s or early 40s, she said.
When Futch got up to see if she could help the man, he pointed a pistol at her and said, “Give me the money.”
She quickly complied, filling a brown paper bag with the money from her cash drawer.
It was noted the robbery was the seventh such crime in recent months in Duval and Alachua counties and none had been solved.
• The City Commission hired a consultant to review a proposal by Utilities Commissioner George Mosely that the Electric Department start a sales promotion program.
R.H. Cockfield of Los Angeles, Calif., would be paid $1,750 to study the proposal.
He was to evaluate the load characteristics of the local plant to determine the types of loads that would make the maximum contribution, the potential market of existing and new customers, support available for business development program and a sales organization that might best meet the needs of the city.
• Phillip Gearing, who was the supervisor of adult education for the Duval County school system, was a man of many talents.
He was a sculptor, painter, carpenter, boat builder, a jazz fan — particularly Dave Brubeck — and a musician who played the baritone ukulele and electric organ.
Gearing also wrote a book in collaboration with Jewel Varnado, who taught adults in the school system
Titled “English Lessons for Adults,” it was intended for adults with no more than four years of formal education.
Book 1, the first of three planned volumes, provided reading, writing, spelling and vocabulary-building lessons.
The goal of the book, Gearing said, was to equip adults with at least the rudimentary English skills needed to get a job or acquire a better job than they might already have.
• On the topic of employment, the Jacksonville Area Chamber of Commerce was pleased with the response to a Northeast Florida job survey.
David Cooley, executive vice president of the chamber, told the Kiwanis Club of Jacksonville there were 28,000 responses to the questionnaire.
On the basis of the survey, the chamber estimated there were 150,000 underemployed and undereducated people in the area.
Cooley mentioned the survey while discussing the need for an area vocational school in Duval County.
He said because there was no center, there was a gap in education and employment patterns.