JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – More than a quarter of Jacksonville’s 200-year history involves something unique.
The city of Jacksonville and Duval County are consolidated into one government -- the only municipality of its kind in Florida.
Georgia has eight of them.
How did Jacksonville arrive at consolidation?
Author and government law attorney Chris Hand, who wrote the 50th Anniversary edition of “A Quiet Revolution” detailing the consolidation of Jacksonville and Duval County, said it followed a very dark part of Jacksonville’s history.
“The school system had been discredited,” Hand said. “There had been multiple election elected officials who were indicted on corruption issues. The St. Johns River was seen as very concerningly polluted during that period of time. Local government was seen as bureaucratic.”
Jacksonville had city commissioners, but there was also a county commission. Budget issues were critical, too.
“So there was just this confluence of a number of challenges,” Hand explained. “And that sort of generated a real spirit of reform in government and a desire to make government more efficient and more effective. And the way they decided to do that was to put it to the voters to see how they felt about merging the city and county government.”
Overwhelmingly, Hand said, on Aug. 8, 1967, the voters chose to create the Consolidated City of Jacksonville. It took effect in 1968 and created the largest city by area in the contiguous United States, and the 12th largest by population.
“If you go to other places in Florida, for example, both Miami Dade County and Broward County each have more than 30 different municipalities in those counties in addition to their county government,” Hand said. “Here in Jacksonville, the buck stops in one place: at the City of Jacksonville. There’s a single government, both city and county. If one wants to do business with local government in Jacksonville, it’s very clear where that has to happen.”
Hand believes consolidation achieved some of the goals it was designed for, including more efficiency and accountability. However, Hand said, there are unfulfilled promises of better infrastructure in certain neighborhoods. There has been some progress with replacing septic tanks and improving infrastructure in recent years.
“What there hasn’t been is a sustained effort over time to fulfill those promises once and for all,” Hand said. “So as we get ready to start the next potentially 55 years of consolidation, one really important issue to decide what consolidation is going to look like in the future is do we extend the benefits of consolidation to the entire community? Do we fulfill the promises that were made in 1967 for everybody so that everyone can have those benefits going forward?”
For a more in-depth conversation about the consolidation of Jacksonville, watch This Week in Jacksonville Sunday at 9 a.m. on Channel 4.