For decades prior to the 1960s, the idea of consolidating the governments of Duval County and Jacksonville had been kicked around.
It made it onto voting ballots as early as the ‘30s but was rejected every time it was proposed.
The city was keen on the idea of annexing surrounding suburbs – and even successfully won a vote to annex San Marco and its surrounding area – but many county residents were still hesitant.
So what made Duval County voters change their minds?
Voters inside of Jax city limits were the first to feel the factors that set consolidation in motion. “White flight” and suburban sprawl escalated following World War II, leaving behind a depleted population largely consisting of minorities in the urban core. But those minority residents weren’t given political representation in proportion with the population shift.
The lost tax revenue from residents fleeing to other municipalities meant the city started running out of money to fund critical necessities such as sanitation and education.
Gradually, the suburbs began to feel the pressure too. They were lacking some of the government services they’d enjoyed in the city – and other services were being needlessly duplicated, wasting taxpayers’ money.
They also didn’t like losing their say in elections within city limits. It didn’t help that corruption scandals arose within Jacksonville’s government in the ‘60s. Eleven city officials – including four city council members – were indicted, and a twelfth resigned in disgrace.
To top it all off, all fifteen of Duval County’s public high schools lost their accreditation in 1964 – a product of years of under-funding.
THE SOLUTION: CONSOLIDATION
In 1964, Claude Yates was named president of Jacksonville’s Chamber of Commerce.
Yates, a former executive at Southern Bell Telephone Company, saw the problems facing the city and called a meeting of around two dozen prominent local business and civic leaders.
At that meeting, a brief petition was formed – to be sent to the county’s representatives in the state legislature. Dubbed the Yates Manifesto, it read:
We, the undersigned, respectfully request the Duval County Delegation to the Florida Legislature to prepare an enabling act calling for the citizens of Duval County to vote on the consolidation of government within Duval to secure more efficient and effective government under one governmental body.
The legislature, in turn, formed a commission tasked with studying the practicalities of consolidation and designing a structure for the new consolidated government. J.J. Daniel, a prominent businessman, was named chairman, with Lex Hester serving as executive director. (Hester would later play a key role in the controversial River City Renaissance plan of the early ‘90s.)
The committee featured community leaders and prominent business figures, but intentionally avoided politicians.
In 1967, after around a year and a half of work, the committee submitted a consolidation plan it called the Blueprint for Improvement. The plan, after approval from the legislature, was added to ballots as a referendum in 1967.
Yates led the efforts to promote the plan to voters. Urban core residents were swayed by the chance at a heightened political voice in a government newly purged of cronyism and expanded drastically in size. Suburban residents were told of the economic benefits as well as the simplification of government services.
Many prominent citizens jumped behind the proposal, including prominent black leaders Sallye Mathis and Mary Singleton. Even Mayor Hans Tanzler, who would have to face an early re-election as part of the proposal, was on board with consolidation.
Just under 65% of county voters approved the consolidation plan. The governments of Duval County and Jacksonville consolidated officially on October 1, 1968 – with Baldwin and the Beaches remaining as separate municipalities. Tanzler was re-elected as the first mayor of consolidated Jacksonville.
Jax became the largest city by land area in the contiguous United States, and one of ten such consolidated governments in the country. Signs were erected declaring Jax to be the “Bold New City of the South.”
Consolidation proved successful in providing an economic boost to the city and helped in cutting down corruption and inefficiency. But many of the promises made to inner city voters about gaining power didn’t come to fruition. And the massive sprawl of the city has made issues like mass transit and forming a cohesive identity much more complicated.
But as the city’s population keeps growing rapidly, having all this space should at least prove to be a major advantage.
Do you think consolidation was successful? Let us know below in the comments or on social media!