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."Good riddance, Hampton. When you can't even be a town in Florida, you've clearly steered your ship into the rocks.
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.