50 years ago: Indicted City Council members resign from committees but vow to stay in office
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.
Jacksonville’s two indicted City Council members, Cecil Lowe and W.O. Mattox, resigned from their committee assignments but reaffirmed their decisions to remain in office.
The indictments centered on purchases of personal items, such as television sets and jewelry from Finkelstein’s Inc., a sporting goods company. The items allegedly were paid for with city funds through the Recreation Department.
Lowe and Mattox also were charged with lying to the grand jury.
Both were members of the Law and Rules Committee and the Budget and Finance Committee.
In addition, Lowe was council vice president and a member of the city pardon board, from which he also resigned.
The resignations didn’t alter the plans of Carl Ogden, who was seeking signatures on a petition for a recall election for all council members and commissioners.
“My present plans are to continue the recall campaign. I feel that these men, even though they have resigned, still have not completed the action they should take if they are concerned about the city’s government,” Ogden said.
In other local government news, the grand jury censured council President Lemuel Sharp for refusing to waive immunity when asked to testify about how city money was spent.
The jury criticized Sharp for what it termed “action tantamount to taking the Fifth Amendment” in a special report sent to Circuit Judge Marion Gooding.
Sharp, the jury said, had the constitutional right to statutory immunity, “but he has no constitutional right to be a member of the city council of the city of Jacksonville.”
Sharp’s office, the report said, carried many moral and legal obligations and duties, including not hiding or making secret his official acts and conduct.
The jury said it “condemned as shameful, his irresponsibility and bad faith in relying upon the Fifth Amendment” and Sharp’s refusal to testify was “a betrayal of the trust and confidence reposed in him by Jacksonville citizens.”
• American Maize Products Co. of Hammond, Ind., completed its acquisition of Jacksonville-based Jno. H. Swisher and Son Inc. for $36 million in cash.
The 105-year-old Swisher firm operated cigar factories in Jacksonville, Cullman, Ala., and Waycross, Ga. Its principal brands were King Edward and Swisher Sweets.
American Maize, a corn refining and chemical processing firm, would operate the company as a wholly owned subsidiary with no change of management policy.
Carl Swisher would continue as president of the company and all other officers would continue in their positions.
In addition to its cigar manufacturing plants, leaf wrapper tobacco was grown and processed by Swisher in Quincy and binder and filler tobaccos were grown and processed in Stoughton, Wis., and Greenville, Ohio.
Swisher employed about 1,700 people in Jacksonville, and in 1965 had sales of $42.25 million with net earnings of $2.9 million.
• The Jacksonville Art Museum at 4160 Boulevard Center Drive opened its new art education center.
The facility provided six teaching studios, five areas for exhibitions totaling more than 500 linear feet of wall space, a lecture room with 120 seats and a library and board room.
Jacksonville University was making use of the addition for its expanded visual arts program with courses in sculpture, printmaking and ceramics.
• It was reported it would cost at least $1 million to attempt to eradicate fire ants in North Florida.
“Duval County has one of the heaviest infestations of fire ants in Florida,” said Ralph King, district inspector for the Division of Plant Industry of the state Department of Agriculture.
He said he had fought fire ants for his entire 14 years on the job.
King estimated about 11 million acres in the state and 500,000 acres in the county were infested with the ants, which were not native to Florida.
• An alert 10-year-old boy helped Duval County Patrol officers investigate one of a number of burglaries that ranged from $1,500 taken from a strongbox to three refrigerators stolen from manufactured homes.
Tim Kalleher, of 7120 Alana Road, flagged down Patrolman R.D. Childers as the officer was leaving the scene of a robbery at the William R. Cesery real estate office at 8947 Merrill Road.
Kalleher handed Childers a paper bag he found in a hedge at Terry Parker Baptist Church filled with checks and keys.
The items were identified as those taken from the nearby Cesery office. Kalleher said he was afraid thieves had broken into the church.
Following an investigation, Childers said a door to the church had been pried open and an office ransacked, but nothing was taken.
Childers praised Kalleher for assuming full responsibility and for being “a good citizen aiding in law enforcement.”
• Eye tests conducted at Fletcher Junior High School revealed 150 cases of visual defects among the school’s 1,281 students, according to the Jacksonville Beach Lions Club.
The club sponsored a program that also was conducted at Jacksonville Beach Elementary-Junior High School.
• By a 5-3 vote, City Council turned down Mayor Lou Ritter’s request for a $5,700 fund transfer to pay for screening applicants for chief of police.
The money would pay for a team from the International Association of Chiefs of Police to come to Jacksonville to screen candidates who passed competitive examinations taken in their home cities.
Council member Barney Cobb said he had attended a private conference on the fund shift held in Ritter’s office, where he made it clear he would not support spending any money to “bring in an outsider” to head the police department.
“We have many good men in the department who could do this job better than an outsider,” said Cobb. “The policemen in the ranks here would feel that we were slamming the door to promotion in their face if we spend taxpayers’ money in this fashion.”
Two days later, supported by his fellow city commissioners, Ritter found the money to employ the association to help find a new chief of police.
He said $4,800 would cover the cost of preparing the applications and administering them and then giving oral examinations and screening candidates who passed the written test.
The balance would be earmarked to pay 50 percent of the travel expenses for applicants brought to Jacksonville for interviews.
• A variety of performances and exhibits from crafts to opera were featured during “Arts Festival Nine” at the Civic Auditorium.
Students from Jacksonville University participated in three areas of entertainment: the JU Dance Theater performed seven choreographed sketches, JU Players presented Archibald McLeish’s “J.B.” and the JU chorus and orchestra performed Haydn’s “The Creation,” conducted by Ralph Long and featuring baritone Raymond McAfee.
An evening of ballet was presented by the JU Dance Theater, the Ballet Guild of Jacksonville, the Concert Ballet Company of Jacksonville and the Jacksonville Civic Ballet.
A photographic slide lecture by architect Robert Broward, “An Architectural Walking Tour of Jacksonville,” also was on the schedule.