Corruptville, Florida May Lose Its Cityship

from the good-riddance dept

We've covered stories in the past about when municipalities begin seeing their governing role as one less about representing their people and more about extorting as much money as possible from non-residents. Previously, one Oklahoma town found themselves disallowed from enforcing their traffic tickets when it was discovered that the process had devolved into what was essentially a money-making scheme. Never one to be outdone when it comes to crazy, the state of Florida has upped the ante.

Hampton, Florida is the kind of town you might miss if you blink as you're driving through it. Miss it, that is, unless you managed to get ensnared by one of the most brutal traffic policing regimes this side of the border patrol.

And so it fell to the police to force hurried travelers to stop and savor the 1,260-foot ribbon of roadway belonging to this city. Hidden by trash bins or concealed in a stretch of woods, the officers — a word loosely applied here — pointed their radar devices. Between 2011 and 2012, Hampton's officers issued 12,698 speeding tickets to motorists, many most likely caught outside Hampton's strip of county road.
Some context about Hampton, if I might. The town has less than 500 total residents, but has a police force of 14. Around 3% of their residents are officers. In comparison, Chicago has roughly 2.7 million residents and 12,244 officers, or less than one half of one percent of the population. Six times the percentage of residents as offered, for a town that consists of a three-football-fields sized strip of road. That must be why the town somehow pulled in nearly a quarter of a million dollars in traffic fines the past three years. What's less clear is how all that money is brought in and still the town operates on a deficit. The mystery seems less confounding when you realize that the town's mayor is currently in jail awaiting trial for possession of Oxycodone with intent to sell and that all of City Hall appears to serve as a sort of blank check for nepotism.
Jane Hall, the former city clerk, is the mother of the former maintenance operator, Adam Hall, who also ran the water system, and the wife of Charles Hall, a longtime city councilman. Her daughter also worked there for a short time. There were mutterings about vanishing city funds; personal use of city credit cards, trucks and gas; and trips to Ms. Hall's clutter-filled house to hand over cash payments for water bills for which she offered no receipts. Some residents were threatened with the loss of water — the one utility controlled by the city — if they made trouble, Mr. Smith said. Auditors found that 46 percent of the city's water went unaccounted for, much of it leaking through decrepit lines.
On top of all this, the local police chief somehow officially added being a church minister to his official job description, an audacious merging of church and state that I would have thought would be enough to make Thomas Jefferson rise from his grave with a musket in hand to go have a chat with this police chief. In any case, all this coupled with the town's reluctance in providing any actual explanation for its misdeeds (at one point, town officials claimed certain records were lost in a swamp... seriously) has resulted in the state of Florida taking a look at de-towning the municipality.
"I have said it before: It's something out of a Southern Gothic novel. You can't make this stuff up," said State Senator Rob Bradley, whose district includes the city. "This situation went on for so long and the mismanagement was so deep, we have to seriously consider abolishing the government."

Hampton, a mishmash of trailers and wood-frame houses, some ramshackle, some not, has about 30 days to come up with a plan and make a genuine attempt to right itself or it will tumble into oblivion. The State Legislature would then take up a vote to dissolve it, handing over management of the city's one square mile to Bradford County.
Good riddance, Hampton. When you can't even be a town in Florida, you've clearly steered your ship into the rocks.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Ninja (profile), Mar 21st, 2014 @ 3:52am

    I honestly thought the name of the town was Corruptville which would have made the article a million times funnier. My fellow readers from Florida should suggest they change the name of the city for the comedic value =/

     

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  2.  
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    charliebrown (profile), Mar 21st, 2014 @ 5:40am

    Sad Laughter

    That was the funniest thing I've read all day, and I visited the LOLcats site!

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2014 @ 5:57am

    Well this is the state that accidentally banned computers with their anti-gambling bill...

     

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  4.  
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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Mar 21st, 2014 @ 6:00am

    They forgot how to town.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2014 @ 6:12am

    This locale is but one on many municipalities by no means limited to Florida that have turned mindless enforcement of traffic laws into an art form that raises virtually all of the monies that comprise the municipal budget. My recollection is that there is a municipality in the upper Midwest that is even more anal than that in Florida, which is virtually certain to have its charter revoked for many reasons cumulative to their law enforcement practices. A bill to revoke its charter is currently before the Legislature, and the strong belief is not if it will pass, but only when.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2014 @ 6:18am

    Re:

    Hey at least California can brag that they ALMOST banned water in the state in their zeal to combat dangerous drugs. Almost because a staffer for a state congressman had heard of the Dihydrogen Monoxide joke and stopped them from passing the bill.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2014 @ 6:21am

    Re:

    There should be no reason for the Town to lose its charter.

    The proper response is to "Place every officer, city council member and judge involved into a FEDERAL PENITENTIARY" for a minimum of 10 years!

    That should send a clear message across the nation. Do not abuse your power... but we all know better than this right?

     

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  8.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Mar 21st, 2014 @ 6:22am

    Re:

    My recollection is that there is a municipality in the upper Midwest

    You mean the town in Oklahoma that Tim mentioned in the very first paragraph?

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2014 @ 6:23am

    the local police chief somehow officially added being a church minister to his official job description

    Thank God you have to drive out of your way to visit the Hampton, Fl

     

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  10.  
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    Wally (profile), Mar 21st, 2014 @ 6:33am

    We have one of those towns in Ohio...Bixly....and the Village of Bixly, Ohio lost its mayorship and was annexed into a neighboring town.

     

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    harris12c, Mar 21st, 2014 @ 6:47am

    note that there is NO punishment at all for the individual city & police officials involved. No indictments, just administrative merging of that small town into the county government.

    Many years of outright criminal extortion & RICO racketeering -- and the criminals involved don't even get a slap on the wrist... because they had 'government' titles next to their names.

    The corrupt Hampton cops will just move to other cushy police jobs in the county/state. No real consequences for their crimes.

     

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  12.  
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    BentFranklin (profile), Mar 21st, 2014 @ 7:10am

    Zoom in on Hampton, Florida with Google maps to see their angle.

    http://goo.gl/maps/VL4LV

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2014 @ 7:31am

    Re:

    That's more a function of state prosecutors not doing their job. The loss of Cityship is separate. That's the state legislature dealing with the problem to the best of their ability as prosecutors are moving too slowly, or not at all.

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2014 @ 7:34am

    "...an audacious merging of church and state that I would have thought would be enough to make Thomas Jefferson rise from his grave with a musket in hand to go have a chat with this police chief."

    You mean Madison; freedom of religion was his pet. ;) And actually, he was a minister himself at one point--it really peeved him to watch one group of Christians taking rights away from another.

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2014 @ 7:59am

    Re: Re:

    If we're thinking about the same town, there was quite a bit of news about a few years back. The state legislature ended up passing some kind of law because of it, but I don't remember the details.

     

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    musterion (profile), Mar 21st, 2014 @ 8:22am

    Re: Upper Midwest City

    Perhaps you are thinking of Rome Ohio, a former suburb of Columbus. THe former town has a 1000 ft strip of US 40 west of downtown, and made boatloads of money. It was eventually taken down (disolved)--details can be looked up--and laws were passed in the state to keep such things from happening again.

     

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  17.  
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    Guy (profile), Mar 21st, 2014 @ 9:08am

    It's a long-time problem

    The notorious speed trap used to be in Waldo, just down the highway.

     

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  18.  
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    pr, Mar 21st, 2014 @ 9:21am

    Juggled the boundaries just so they could do this

    Take a look at this town on google maps. They annexed a road so they could annex they highway that bypasses the town, just so they could write tickets to people who didn't even enter their actual town.

    I am told by my elders that, long ago, the town of Ludowici, Georgia (also on US 301) became such a notorious speed trap that the state concluded that it was harming the tourist trade. The State Highway Patrol started holding up traffic at the city limits, then escorting people through the town. when you're getting escorted by the Highway Patrol you can't even stop for a Coke, and eventually the town backed down.

    And to a larger point, why do city cops even have jurisdiction over a highway? If the city says they're only intersted in public safety, then they should have no problem giving the fines to the state. Right?

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2014 @ 9:23am

    Math

    That must be why the town somehow pulled in nearly a quarter of a million dollars in traffic fines the past three years. What's less clear is how all that money is brought in and still the town operates on a deficit.


    Are you kidding? Do the math. If they made $240,000 in extra ticket revenue but they hired 12 more officers than a "normal" town that size, the extra revenue wouldn't even cover the cost of the extra officers. The salary, benefits, and employer payroll taxes would have to be a mere $20,000 per year just to break even.

     

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  20.  
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    Watchit (profile), Mar 21st, 2014 @ 9:28am

    Yep, it's pretty much a known fact in florida: Don't speed in small towns, they're all speed traps.

    I have to go through about three or four such towns when traveling from home to college, and in each one a cop is waiting to pull you over if you go so much as 3mph over the speed limit.

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2014 @ 9:34am

    This is not the first or only town to live off of passers through. Let me introduce you to the town of Ludowici, Ga. in the 70's.

    A town that all the city limits signs ended in 4 for the speed limit, like 34 mph. Last sign on the state highway, downtown, hidden behind a telephone pole on the side walk at a red light.

    The city officers all part of the same family, the cops, the judge, the lawyer, you name it. Speed trap city in which once arrested you were liable to come home separated from your belongings, as your vehicle was thoroughly searched and the fines would be at least how much money you were carrying.

    The governor of the state erected to interstate sized bill boards outside the city limits warning travelers to beware in the city limits. They got white washed over twice until state cops were assigned to watch the signs.

     

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  22.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Mar 21st, 2014 @ 9:41am

    Re:

    Or, even better, don't go to Florida at all. Speed traps are the least of the things to be worried about down there.

     

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  23.  
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    zip, Mar 21st, 2014 @ 9:56am

    simpler solution

    A simpler solution would be to require cities and counties to turn over their traffic-fine money to the state. Then most small-town police forces would be downsized dramatically, as would the number of speed traps.

     

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  24.  
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    Michael, Mar 21st, 2014 @ 10:14am

    The town has less than 500 total residents, but has a police force of 14

    14 is the minimum number of officers you can possibly have on a police force.

    Think about it, if you have one getting lunch and one managing dispatch, how could you possibly have a dozen officers beat up an unarmed suspect if you have any fewer?

     

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  25.  
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    DogBreath, Mar 21st, 2014 @ 10:32am

    This reminded me of a movie showing what can happen when townships go unchecked

    For those that only received traffic tickets, it could have been worse, much worse. Attempting to travel through the village of Valkenvania:

    Nothing But Trouble (1991) - Tribute

     

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  26.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2014 @ 1:48pm

    Ahh...US 301 in Florida!
    Just north of Hampton on 301 is Lawtey, Just outside of which AAA Motor Club rented a billboard warning of speed traps ahead. Starke and Waldo (north and south of Hampton) are also known speed traps. I always go under the speed limit on this stretch of road.

     

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  27.  
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    Avatar, Mar 21st, 2014 @ 5:14pm

    Re: simpler solution

    Texas partially implemented this kind of plan. Cities and counties can only raise up to 40% of their total revenue through fines of any kind; any excess collected has to be turned over to the state. That was doom on the tiny-town speed trap - most of them didn't have the tax revenue to fund an officer even at the full 40%, so their entire police force would end up getting laid off. Highway driving isn't entirely cop-free, the state patrol still pulls people over, but they're not all that thick on the ground. (And the speed limit in rural Texas is darned high anyway...)

     

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  28.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2014 @ 11:54pm

    Re:

    Don't speed in the state of Victoria, Australia. Here travelling just 1km over the speed limit will get you a massive fine sent to you by the private contractors who run the safety (speed) cameras & get a commission for each fine handed out & paid. The unlucky people of Victoria fork out over $500 million every year to the state government, all in a state of just under 6 million.

     

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  29.  
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    xenomancer (profile), Mar 22nd, 2014 @ 12:01am

    Real cities of interest.

    (/bud)
    Clearly you haven't been through Lawtey or Waldo in the past three decades.

    (That was a city? This is a ticket? I was speeding? You made it through our public schools in less than 30 years? (nope, failed the "jeh-ee eh-deh-ey" four times and ranked through the "akah-demmy"; and "that", otherwise known as open air without a free, court-appointed attorney present, was indeed a "stop sign"))

    /sarc

    There are townships in Florida that have lost said "township" status due to this kind of bullshit (AS THEY FUCKING SHOULD HAVE), so this is no surprise.

     

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  30.  
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    xenomancer (profile), Mar 22nd, 2014 @ 12:05am

    Re: It's a long-time problem

    It still is. As is Lawtey.

     

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  31.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 23rd, 2014 @ 7:03am

    Re: Re:

    Linndale, OH is one in the upper Midwest...

     

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  32.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 1st, 2014 @ 8:00am

    Re:

    May I add they can't even into town.

    My purposefully failed towns in Sim City 4 probably were better managed (3/4 of my Montreal island and south and north shore suburbs were well made but at some point it was too huge to give a fuck, which is why for once I welcomed the advanced multiplayer of Sim City "5".)

     

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