Have you ever wondered how corrupt a place would have to be to compel an awesome power to swoop in and just wipe it off the face of the earth?
No, this is not a review of “Noah.” We’re talking about the tiny rural city of Hampton, Florida in the heart of conservative America.
As the New York Times reported this week, Hampton is so hilariously rotten that Florida (Florida!) gave it 30 days to plead for its very existence. If the city can’t clean up its act, it’s simply gotta go. Wiped off the face of the earth!
What makes this town – a single square mile that’s home to 477 people – so horrible?
Mostly it has to do with the hundreds of thousands of dollars they’ve been raking in annually with a “speed trap” that exists on the town’s sole stretch of highway – a piece of road that’s just 1,260 feet long. The town annexed it back in the mid-1990s and promptly lowered the speed limit on it to catch “speeders” with radar.
It’s easy to get addicted to that kind of free money, so much so the town expanded their speeding task force to 17 “officers.” That’s 3.5% of its population on speed trap duty. It’s like New York City hiring a quarter million people to catch jaywalkers.
Yet, while exploiting this windfall for years, Hampton managed to operate at a fiscal deficit. There were rumors of rampant nepotism, missing city funds, stories of “personal use of city credit cards, trucks and gas,” trips to the former city clerk’s “clutter-filled house to hand over cash payments for water bills for which she offered no receipts.” (The water utility is the sole utility controlled by the city, and any resident that complained about the way it was run was threatened with a shut-off of their water supply.)
Meanwhile, auditors discovered that almost half of the city’s water went unaccounted for. Three city commissioners were never sent a water bill for 17 months. City records can’t account for what’s missing because most of the records were inexplicably “lost in a swamp.”
Swamp, indeed. It turns out the former city clerk — the one who collected those cash payments for water bills — is the mother of the man who used to run the water system. The police chief became a minister and started holding church services at City Hall. The town’s mayor — just elected last September — is already in jail, charged with possession of Oxycodone with intent to sell.
And you thought D.C. was corrupt! But this awesome story may be coming to an end – if Florida makes good on its threat to eliminate the city all together. We feel kinda bad about all of this. It’s like discovering they’ve cancelled your favorite trash TV show just as you started getting into the first episode.
But here’s the upside: In any good story like this, there’s gotta be a big finale. And they haven’t pulled the curtain down yet. Hampton still has a few weeks left! So we’re wondering: While there’s still time to snare some easy money, what are the citizens of Hampton going to do? What do YOU think?