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Jax Daily Record Monday, May 23, 201612:00 PM EST

50 years ago: Grand jury to investigate government corruption allegations

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by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

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.

Circuit Judge Marion Gooding directed the grand jury to investigate a range of accusations that public officials were violating the law and wasting public funds.

“There has been wide publicity given in our news media lately accusing certain of our city and county officials and boards with open and flagrant violations of the law and with extravagant spending of public funds. When such accusations are so openly made and widely circulated, the courts, the prosecuting attorneys and the grand jury cannot ignore them,” Gooding said in his instructions to the jury.

Immediately after the judge read the charge, the jury retired to its meeting room with State Attorney William Hallowes, its chief adviser, and three of Hallowes’ assistants.

Gooding said the jury would investigate accusations including whether city officials and employees used vehicles owned by the city in violation of regulations and also would investigate the purchase of a computer system and a crane without competitive bids, in apparent violation of procurement requirements.

Another allegation was that certain public officials and city employees had direct and indirect associations with firms doing business with the city, creating a conflict of interest.

Alleged destruction of municipal records by the auditor’s office after a written request was made that the records be preserved for study also was on the jury’s list.

So was a charge that some city and county officials made decisions vital to the interest of the public during secret meetings, preventing the public from determining how the business was conducted.

Some of those who would be the focus of the investigation said they welcomed the inquiry and were ready to cooperate.

“This affords us an excellent opportunity to bring out on public record the charges and innuendoes which have been given such wide circulation,” said Mayor-Commissioner Lou Ritter. “I can think of no better way to disperse these attacks and once again restore and maintain full public confidence in your city government.”

City Council President W.O. Mattox also was on board with the investigation.

“I am 100 percent in favor of it. I’ll certainly cooperate with the grand jury in any way possible. I look forward to clearing up these insinuations once and for all to give us a chance to do our jobs unhindered by rumor,” he said.

• The Board of Missions of the Methodist Church announced that, as of Sept. 1, it no longer would operate Brewster Methodist Hospital.

The future of the 65-year-old hospital was in the hands of the community and the Health Facilities Planning Council of Jacksonville Inc., which set a June 7 deadline for suggestions about the institution’s use.

Marcus Drewa, administrator of the hospital read a statement from J. Edward Carothers, general secretary of the Board of Missions.

“Changes in social and economic patterns have removed any responsibility for operating a mission-type hospital in Jacksonville,” the statement said.

Jacob F. Bryan III, chairman of the planning council, said the community had several choices.

It could allow Brewster to close permanently, which he said the council did not endorse.

Brewster could be converted into a psychiatric or long-term care facility or it could be operated as a satellite of another hospital, Bryan said.

Dr. Thomas Taylor said the hospital could be used as the start of a medical school.

• The Jacksonville-Duval Area Planning Board endorsed the first phase of the city’s planned St. Johns River anti-pollution program in hopes of securing a $650,000 federal grant.

The city applied months earlier for federal aid to begin a long-range, $10 million river cleanup program, but the request was bogged down in the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Planning board member B.F. Thompson said HUD officials indicated the money would be released if the planning board endorsed the plan and made a satisfactory progress report on its own comprehensive plan for the community.

• Despite record-setting enrollment and expansion of academic programs, Jacksonville University remained firmly linked with the past through its evening program.

Originally, only night courses were offered when Jacksonville Junior College was organized as a two-year institution in 1934.

Influenced by the Great Depression, founders included as one of their main objectives to conduct classes at night in order not to interfere with students’ daytime occupations.

As the college grew into a four-year university and moved from Riverside to its Arlington campus, the addition of day classes was a logical step in the evolution of the school.

In 1966, JU had a spring enrollment of 1,575 students and about 500 were taking night courses.

• Utilities Commissioner George Mosely told the City Council Budget and Finance Committee he was planning an apprenticeship program that would save the city money and eliminate short work crews.

He said the plan also would give jobs to high school graduates and train them as electricians and linemen.

Mosely reported on the apprenticeship program while discussing a $200,000 transfer request for emergency overtime.

“I have checked into the overtime and I found that we are short-handed in most departments,” he said. “We are having to contract more and more of our overhead line work. I am making plans that I believe will overcome this.”

Mosely said that with union sanction, he would set up a 12-month training program. Trainees would work days on the job and attend classes at night and on Saturday.

Also on the agenda, commissioners approved release of almost $1,400 to cover the cost of out-of-town trips for city employees.

Among the recipients were E.L. Flynn and Mershon Rich of the electric department, who would receive $40 and the use of a city car to travel to Orlando for the Florida Utilities Security Conference.

Deputy Inspector of Weights and Measures B.L. Carroll would receive $35 to take the city’s 500-pound test weight to be checked at state facilities in Tallahassee.

• Lemuel Sharp, a 23-year veteran on City Council, was elected president of the legislative body, succeeding W.O. Mattox Jr.

He previously served as president in 1958-59 and also held numerous committee positions.

Council member Cecil Lowe was elected vice president; Robert Roberts, floor leader; and Richard Burroughs Jr., chaplain.

Lavern Reynolds and Lowe were elected to the city Pardon Board.

• As a safety measure for children walking to school, the Board of County Commissioners called for bids to construct a sidewalk along the north side of Fort Caroline Road between University Boulevard and Rogero Road.

Commissioner Bob Harris made the motion to call for the bids, citing a recent accident in which he said a child was struck by a car along the road, which had no sidewalks.

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