Monday marks 50 years since Jacksonville's consolidation

City, Duval County formed consolidated government Oct. 1, 1968

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In the 1960s, Jacksonville faced daunting problems including a financial crisis, a discredited school system, corruption scandals that saw 11 officials indicted and 600 million gallons of raw, untreated sewage being pumped into the St. Johns River every month.

Over a period of years, community leaders looked at solutions, then petitioned the Duval legislative delegation to put the consolidation of government within Duval County to a referendum vote to create a more efficient and effective government.

In August of 1967, legislation passed 65-35 percent and after, a year of transition, the consolidated government went into effect Oct. 1, 1968.

On Monday, Jacksonville marked the golden anniversary of consolidation. Jacksonville Historical Society’s Task Force for Consolidation along with the city of Jacksonville, the Jacksonville Chamber and other partners hosted a Consolidation Commemoration at the Jessie Ball duPont Center on Ocean Street.

“Jacksonville’s change to a consolidated government was one of the greatest moments in our city’s history,” said Matt Carlucci, who co-chairs the Jacksonville Historical Society’s Task Force for Consolidation along with Earl Johnson, Jr. “Earl’s father and my father served together on the new consolidated City Council and we are proud of the work they did to move our city forward. As we reflect on this historic day, our hope is it will serve to rekindle the boldness of our city leaders past as we face the great challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.”

During the Consolidation Commemoration, the task force honored the living members of the very first City Council under the new consolidated government: Walter Williams, Walter Dickinson, Don MacLean, Bill Basford and Jake Godbold. They also honored Earl Johnson Sr. who, in addition to serving on the first consolidated City Council, served on the commission that wrote the consolidation proposal; and Hans Tanzler, the first mayor after consolidation.

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IMAGES: Consolidation memorabilia on display at City Hall

Attorney and civic leader, Jim Rinaman, was in Jacksonville before, during and after the switch.

"The grand jury did a 40-page indictment presentment about the problems in the city,” Rinaman said.

“And they indicted 11 of 20 public officials for bribery and larceny."

A 1966 WJXT documentary, "Government by Gaslight," helped persuade voters to approve consolidation

Less than a decade later, the consolidated city's first mayor, Hans Tanzler, water skied in the St. Johns River to highlight cleanup efforts that included stopping untreated sewage from being dumped in the water.

Walter Williams was part of the first Jacksonville City Council to operate under the new consolidated government.

"It doesn't seem like it's been 50 years. We've seen a lot of things happening in the city," Williams said. 

Williams said consolidation led to lower taxes, more efficient government and a new moniker, "The Bold New City of the South." 

Jacksonville's first consolidated City Council and Mayor Hans Tanzler (back row, fifth from left). Walter Williams is the last man on the right in the first row.

He adds the River City would not be what it is today had the merger not happened.

"I think taxes would be a lot higher and I think we wouldn't have accomplished the things we did such as getting the Jaguars. Also a number of areas where the government became much more efficient," Williams said.

Rinaman agreed, adding that infrastructure improved as well.

"Hans (Tanzler) put in 17,000 streetlights. And we got rid of the sewer outfalls and cleaned up the river,” Rinaman said.

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Memorabilia,documents and photographs on display at Jacksonville's City Hallthrough Oct. 5 tell the story of the 1968consolidation of Jacksonville and Duval County.

About the Authors:

Ashley Harding joined the Channel 4 news team in March 2013. She reports for and anchors The Morning Show.

Kent Justice co-anchors News4Jax's 5 p.m., 10 and 11 p.m. newscasts weeknights and reports on government and politics. He also hosts "This Week in Jacksonville," Channel 4's hot topics and politics public affairs show each Sunday morning at 9 a.m.