Mixed feelings from seeing the old City Hall turned into dust.
I spent many hours in that building, day and night, covering local government as a reporter.
In 1970, the Jacksonville Journal took a new approach to covering local government. It created the “governmental affairs team.”
Instead of covering physical buildings such as City Hall and the courthouse, team members covered subjects, such as the environment, health, crime, no matter where it took them.
Also, consolidation of city and county governments still was new and both the morning and afternoon papers were determined to cover it top to bottom.
We tracked bills, attended City Council meetings, including committees, and went to the mayor’s meeting of his department heads.
The government was not closed then, to the extent it is now. All employees and records were totally accessible.
Mayors who presided in the old City Hall included Haydon Burns, Lou Ritter, Hans Tanzler, Jake Godbold, Tommy Hazouri, Ed Austin and John Delaney.
It was built during the Burns administration by politicians with an edifice complex. Using prime riverfront space that should have been used productively by the private sector, it rose to 15 stories and had to be made ridiculously thin to reach that height.
The new city government was involved in tackling a number of tough issues that had been neglected by politicians, such as sewerage, pollution, roads and taxation. For the first 10 years of consolidation, property taxes were cut every year.
The local papers and TV stations covered those changes and reported the occasional mishaps and failures as well.
It was difficult for politicians to keep secrets with so much accessibility.
One morning I strolled into the mayor’s office and began quizzing him about a tip I had picked up as soon as I entered the building that day. It seems two councilmen had gotten into a fist fight on an elevator after a council meeting the night before.
That was the Journal’s Page One headline story that day.
A building is only a building so there is no need to weep for the loss of the bricks and mortar of the old City Hall. But there is reason to weep for the public access that existed within its walls and now seemingly has been lost.