In a few weeks, the city will celebrate a momentous event that only a few people seem to remember or appreciate.
In 1967, the voters decided by a 2-to-1 margin that they wanted to consolidate the city and county governments in Jacksonville.
It was a bold move. A previous attempt in 1935 had failed and an annexation plan in 1964 also fell short.
But it followed a series of setbacks, including a wave of corruption in City Hall and disaccreditation of the public schools, that infuriated voters and aroused civic leaders to take action.
The Blueprint for Improvement put together by a blue-ribbon committee promised to eliminate duplication of services and increase accountability.
It was a hard political fight. Legislation was needed, and the Duval Legislative Delegation split on the issue.
Those leading the support were labeled “White Hats” and the opponents “Black Hats.”
But with some compromise, such as allowing the Beaches and Baldwin to opt out and become “urban services districts,” the measure passed and the vote was held.
The new mayor, Hans Tanzler, was a former criminal court judge. He was an honest, thoughtful, no-nonsense guy with a folksy way who was able to work with the new City Council, an assembly of businessmen and civic leaders, most of whom had no prior experience in politics.
For example, I.M. Sulzbacher, who would be one of the standouts on the new council, asked a reporter to stop interviewing him on election night after his victory, saying he was new to it and it was making him nervous. Imagine a politician doing that!
The combination proved effective. The tax rate was lowered each year for the first 10 years of the new government.
The government handled tough issues, cleaning up the city’s sewerage outfalls into the river, improving roads, and buying up and phasing out old, failing water and sewer plants.
In contrast to the old government’s flashy fondness for building huge public buildings, often in ill-suited locations, it was work that was necessary, but costly and little noticed.
Key to making consolidation work were the offices of the general counsel, leading through the tricky legal thickets and the council auditor, which kept a close eye on the money.
An event is planned to recognize the effort to bring about consolidation. Leading it will be Matt Carlucci and Earl Johnson Jr.
Their late fathers – Joe Carlucci and Earl Johnson – were members and leaders of the consolidated government’s City Council.
The only remaining members of the first council are Jake Godbold, who went on to become a mayor, Walter Williams, Walter Dickinson, Don McLean and Bill Basford.
Over the years, the government has been modified but no one ever has tried to undo the combining of the governments, which is proof that it was the right thing to do.
It also showed that voters will take action when politicians get overripe – especially when they have strong leadership.
As Edmond Burke said, “Evil grows when good men do nothing.”