50 years ago: Senior county judge defends making personal profit on sales of marriage certificates
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.
An inherited small business venture operated by a county judge made headlines this week in 1966.
The $3 fee went to the county and to the state Board of Health, but the profit on the certificate — about 85 cents for each one, based on information from the Chicago firm that sold them — went to Senior County Judge McKenney Davis.
A survey showed county judges in some other North Florida jurisdictions also operated a certificate-selling business for their own profit within the courthouse.
Davis said selling the certificates was “entirely handled for the convenience and benefit of the people.”
He contended it was not part of office operations, even though the certificates were sold by county employees during courthouse business hours.
Asked if he saw anything wrong, questionable or illegal about using county employees in an operation that amounted to a private and personal business, Davis said he did not.
“You can be assured that if I saw anything wrong, I would not be doing it and my employees would not be doing it if they thought that anything was wrong with it,” he said.
“If I thought there was anything wrong, I’d try to keep it under the table. It has been out in the open and it always will be as long as I have anything to do with it,” Davis added.
It was noted there were 3,584 marriage licenses issued in 1965 in Duval County. If 95 percent of the couples who obtained licenses also purchased certificates, it would amount to about 3,400 certificates sold.
At a wholesale price of $1.75 per dozen, the cost of each certificate was about 15 cents. That would leave a profit of 85 cents for each certificate sold.
On that basis, the 3,400 certificates would yield a profit of nearly $2,900.
Davis, whose salary was $21,000 per year, had been a judge since 1944. He said marriage certificates were sold through the judge’s office before he took office.
“It was done by the judge before me and the one before him,” said Davis.
Asked if County Judge Page Haddock also sold the certificates, Davis said Haddock did not, because administration of the office was part of the senior judge’s responsibility and sale of marriage licenses fell under office administration.
• An investigation into reports that prisoners were able to buy their way out of the city prison farm incriminated other prisoners rather than guards.
That was part of a report submitted to the City Commission by Arnold O’Quinn, director of internal security at the facility.
He said he discovered prison trustees were allowed to have keys to all locks and gates in the complex.
“Feeling prisoners would have nothing to lose by opening a door and helping another prisoner to escape for a small fee, which he could not be held accountable for, I requested immediately an order to curtail this and that no prisoners would be allowed to have keys to any locks,” said O’Quinn in his report.
The price of purchased freedom was $10. O’Quinn said he felt that was too small an amount for the risk involved for a guard to help a prisoner escape.
In addition, prisoners were not being searched after returning to the facility from work details. That permitted them to bring nails and other items into the prison that could be used to attempt to escape, he reported.
• Striking laundry workers voted to end an 11-week walkout against New York Steam Laundry Inc. and its affiliates.
On July 27, more than 300 workers went on strike, charging unfair labor practices. They also said the company prohibited an election to determine which union would represent them.
“I assume the workers’ action means they’ve accepted our management proposals,” said attorney Arthur Milam, who represented the laundry.
He said the next step would be for union negotiators and management to meet and sign a contract, which would include a $1 per hour minimum wage and a 10-cent per hour raise for those being paid more than $1 per hour, effective immediately.
• Homeowners and leaders of churches in West Jacksonville cheered when the Duval County Zoning Board denied an application for a liquor store.
St. Johns Development Co. requested a change in zoning for a half-acre plot 990 feet north of 103rd Street and 1,100 feet east of Harlow Boulevard.
The petition drew opposition from residents and spokesmen for The Church of the Epiphany and Cedar Hills Baptist Church, plus threat of a lawsuit if the zoning was approved.
The residents feared another liquor store in the neighborhood would reduce their property value, adversely affect children attending three area schools and create traffic hazards.
“There are three liquor stores and one bootlegger already in the area,” said one opponent.
• Joseph Dodge, director of the Cummer Gallery of Art, would judge the second annual Golden Isles Arts Festival Nov. 12 at the Aquarama, a natatorium in Jekyll Island, Ga.
The theme of the festival would be “10,000 Years of Art: Past, Present and Future.”
The event would end with a costumed Beaux Arts ball with music furnished the Jacksonville Symphonette.
• The Jacksonville U.S. Post Office joined more than 300 others to celebrate National ZIP code Week.
Mayor Lou Ritter signed a proclamation unlike the many others he was called on to issue.
The document, measuring 4-by-8 feet, was hung outside the Downtown post office.
Friday afternoon, the U.S. Navy Band played what post office officials called “zippy music” in Hemming Park while Mr. and Miss ZIP handed out ZIP code buttons and directories.
• Thieves looted the Pic N’ Save store in Atlantic Beach and made off with an estimated $5,000 in merchandise.
The culprits gained entrance to the store by hacking a hole through a wall in the rear of the building at 725 Atlantic Blvd.
Patrolman H.P. Craig of the Atlantic Beach Police Department said the thieves took time to exchange their old shoes for new ones from the store’s display, as two pairs of used men’s shoes were found inside the store.
Among the loot taken were six portable television sets, five shotguns and 40 boxes of shells. Several clock radios also were missing along with 45 wristwatches, Craig said.
• Nearly 2.5 million vehicles used Jacksonville’s toll bridges in September and poured almost $400,000 into the bond retirement fund.
According to Samuel Draper, director of revenue projects for the state Road Department, the Mathews Bridge topped the list in number of vehicles with 1.04 million, but the Fuller Warren Bridge, with 1.01 million vehicles, collected more money.
Mathews Bridge receipts were $162,194 while the Warren span earned $163,736.
Trout River Bridge handled 390,863 vehicles and earned $66,102 for the Jacksonville Expressway Authority.
• Florida Junior College at Jacksonville began offering a short course in human relations at the Southside campus on Flagler Avenue.
The course considered the dynamics of human behavior as it related to the individual, the group and society in the changing social and cultural environment. Emphasis would be placed on “ways to better live with yourself and others,” according to the college.
The instructor was William Cobb, who had a Master’s of Arts degree and majored in psychology at the University of Florida.