50 years ago this week: Grand jury indicts commissioner

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Apr. 24, 2017

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 1967. The items were compiled from the Jacksonville Public Library’s periodical archives by Staff Writer Max Marbut.

Duval County Commissioner Bob Harris was charged in a grand jury indictment with accepting $1,000 of unlawful compensation to extend Plumosa Drive in the Isle of Palms subdivision near Jacksonville Beach.

The grand jury, racing to complete its six-month term of duty before a new panel would take over May 1, returned the indictment before Circuit Judge Roger Waybright, who set bond at $3,000.

Harris was described as “colorful” and “perhaps the most outspoken and controversial county official in Jacksonville.”

He walked a block along Bay Street from his attorney’s office in the Baymar Building to the county jail to post bond.

Harris told a group of reporters who scurried alongside that he had just been notified of the indictment and was not familiar with its allegations.

“However,” he said, “I can tell you that whatever it charges, I know in my heart that I am innocent because I know I have committed no crime.”

Harris appeared to want to say more, but was advised by his attorneys — Walter Shea, S. Perry Penland and Clarence Wood — to make no further comment.

The indictment alleged that Harris, in his role as a county commissioner, unlawfully accepted a $1,000 reward from Marcus Conant, C.T. Newberry and H.P. Demery for performance of an act that was incumbent upon him to perform.

The act, the indictment charged, was authorization for construction and paving of a 525-foot extension of Plumosa Drive. The indictment further said that the reward was made through Ralph Girvin, as the alleged agent for Harris.

Three days after his indictment, Harris voluntarily gave up his office, pending expected suspension by Gov. Claude Kirk.

Harris said he conferred with the other commissioners and they agreed to divide his duties among themselves until a temporary replacement was appointed.

“I think I owe it to the public which elected me,” Harris said. “Public office indeed is a public trust. I don’t believe anybody wants a public official making decisions which could affect their lives when any shadow of doubt has been cast upon his integrity.”

Bennett says new building needs more parking

U.S. Rep Charles Bennett of Jacksonville asked Congress to authorize the General Services Administration to build and maintain a parking facility Downtown adjacent to the new federal building.

Bennett said there had been no adequate planning for employee or visitor parking for the building, which was scheduled to open in May.

The building would house 31 government agencies and about 1,600 employees while providing only 131 parking spaces for government vehicles and visitors, which was inadequate for the area around Bay and Pearl streets, Bennett said.

Kite spotted flying from hospital room

Several people reported seeing a kite flying from a fourth-floor window at Baptist Memorial Hospital.

Upon investigation, it was confirmed there was kite above the hospital with a string disappearing into the window of room 445.

The room was the temporary home of Mrs. Ashby Woolf, a 10th-grade world history teacher at Englewood High School.

She confessed that there really was a kite and that it was a gift from a former student.

Glen Kaiser, who was a senior at the school, brought Woolf the kite and volunteered to give her a demonstration of kite flying while launching it from her window.

She was in the hospital undergoing a series of tests, but said doctors had pronounced her to be in good health.

Woolf said another student had brought her a slingshot, but she declared that she had not fired it out of the window.

Pay raise approved for nurses at DMC

Salaries of nurses and laborers at Duval Medical Center were about to be increased to make them more competitive with other hospitals in the area.

The Duval County Budget Commission acted on a request from the county hospital authority to transfer $72,700 in surplus funds to make the wage hikes possible through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.

Registered nurses would be raised from $369.50 to $425 monthly, licensed practical nurses from $242.66 to $277.33 and labor class employees from $1.11 to $1.21 per hour minimum.

In other pay-raise news from this week in 1967, the results of a long-awaited study of city salaries would be released no later than May 1, “give or take a day” said Mayor Lou Ritter at a joint meeting of the city commission and city council.

Plenty of culture in Jacksonville

Cultural understanding could be found in Jacksonville on levels from Shakespeare to cartoons, said Frances B. Kinne to members of the Duval County Council of Parent Teacher Associations at a meeting at the Duval County Courthouse.

Kinne was dean of Jacksonville University’s College of Music and Fine Arts.

“I don’t know of any area in the country or in the world that has as many cultural activities as we have right here,” she said.

“Jacksonville is one of the most exciting places that anyone could ever live,” Kinne added.

She advised the PTA representatives to take advantage of resources including the Jacksonville Symphony’s adult and youth concerts, the Civic Music Association, commercial concert agencies, touring Broadway shows, concerts at JU, the JU Players, Cummer Gallery of Art, Jacksonville Art Museum, private art exhibits and ballet groups.

She also mentioned the Friday Musicale as the oldest music club in Florida and the Jacksonville Music Teachers Association, which Kinne said was “one of the strongest groups of its kind.”