Hampton, Fla. – population 477 – may have the most scandals per capita of any town in America. And Florida lawmakers have a novel idea for cleaning it up: Get rid of the town entirely.
After a state audit discovered more than two dozen violations of city, state and federal laws, Florida legislators decided the easiest solution would be to simply dissolve Hampton. The findings are eye-catching. The audit presented to the Florida Joint Legislative Auditing Committee Feb. 10 found that the city kept careless records of its expenses for years (when it recorded them at all), overpaid a former clerk by $9,000, spent more than $27,000 without demonstrating a public purpose, didn’t keep records of assigned vehicles for its employees, failed to keep track of almost half its water supply and admitted that some of its records were “lost in a swamp.”
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“It’s like something out of a Southern Gothic novel,” says state senator Rob Bradley, a Republican whose district includes Hampton and a member of the auditing committee who supports abolishing the town.
The town’s acting mayor, Myrtice McCullough, couldn’t be reached for comment. McCullough filled the seat of former mayor Barry Moore, who was arrested for possessing and selling oxycodone in November.
Before the mayor’s bust, the town was best known as an infamous speedtrap. For years, Hampton – which is about 20 miles north of the Gainesville and the campus of the University of Florida – essentially funded itself by rigidly enforcing speed limits which dropped, abruptly, when a state highway turned into a portion of road annexed by the town.
“This town exists apparently just to write speeding tickets,” Bradley says.
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Not entirely. Hampton does have a post office, water utilities and a city hall. But if state legislators have their way, the town will become an unincorporated area within Bradford County. To make that work, lawmakers would have to devise a plan for managing the town’s assets, which could include turning city hall into a community center and letting the county operate the water utility. The process would take until early next year, Bradley says, but it looks to have a good chance of passing, considering the auditing committee voted unanimously to ask for a criminal investigation of town officials.
Bradley says it hasn’t been hard to win public support for scrapping the town.
“Most people don’t understand why it exists in the first place,” he says.