The tiny town of Hampton, population 477, is well-known in north Florida despite its small size. Sitting along route 301 between Gainesville, where the University of Florida has a campus, and other much larger communities, Hampton is known as a speed-trap, a place where driving too fast frequently gained the transgressor a speeding ticket . It turns out that the 17 policemen on the force of Hampton gave out tickets to the tune of $200,000 over the years, but did not keep track of where the money finally ended up.
This turns out to be only a small sample of the mismanagement at best, and pervasive corruption at worst, that plagued the town for many years. Hampton just went through a devastating audit pointing to gross wrongdoing by city officials. As a result of the audit the entire staff of the town resigned, and the Florida legislature plans on filing legislation to abolish the town this coming spring.
In wake of the fact that the town’s staff has resigned en masse, passage of a bill to disband the town may be purely symbolic, as the town, for all intents and purposes, already does not exist as a political entity.
“The whole town’s resigned now,” said the chairman of the Legislature’s joint auditing committee Lake Ray, R-Jacksonville. “Apparently, the operator of the water plant had resigned but agreed to come back and work for a little while.”
Hampton is about 130 miles north of Orlando. The audit, overseen by the Florida Joint Legislative Auditing Committee, showed that the town kept horrible records of expenses, could not account for 46 percent of its water, entered into contracts without keeping records, and in one case at least, lost public records “in a swamp.” Not to mention the 17 policeman who generated $200,000 in revenue through the handing out of speeding tickets, with no record of where those funds went to.
“You can’t make this stuff up in a book,” Bradford County Sheriff Gordon Smith told the panel last week.
“We do have the information that says there’s a lot of unusual activities,” Ray said. “So therefore we believe there may be some problems, so we’re sending it to the State Attorney’s office. Our understanding is they’re aware of it and they will be taking action.”
The committee is planning on sending a letter to the State Attorney to ask for an investigation into the issue of whether criminal wrongdoing took place in the running of Hampton.