The one horse town celebrated its victory in a church this past Friday night. The townspeople broke out into smiles after finding out two Florida policymakers quit their journey to take away Hampton’s city hood. The 89-year-old city, with a population of 477, was on a tight rope after an audit came out in February revealing a plethora of violations. It found 31 federal, state, and local codes were broken, with allegations surrounds double-dipping and using city property for personal reasons.
The quaint city was already known as an infamous speed trap zone but gained even more publicity as a small-town with big corruption when lawmakers threated to pull its city charter a month ago. However, the townspeople persevered. Within a matter of four weeks, they had come up with an outline that persuaded Representative Charles Van Zant and Senator Rob Bradley to allow them to keep their city. They won the tough battle with all odds against them.
“Thank you for the work that has been done,” Bradley told the crowd of 50 gathered Friday at Victory Baptist Church, according to a CNN article, “You’ve got a lot more to do, but boy. …” He clearly was impressed, as was Van Zant, who said, “You’ve done yeoman’s work. I think you’ve done well.”
Trouble arose in a quite innocent way according to the newly hired city attorney John Cooper. A Texaco gas station on nearby US 301 asked for cops to protect the place after a couple of bad accidents and homicides took place. Then, Hampton annexed a 1,200-foot stretch of highway. Later on though, someone arrived at the idea that a lot of easy cash was to be made from pulling over speeders and writing up tickets they would have to pay.
When Hampton’s map was redrawn, it resembled a giant mosquito, draining money straight from the highway. The biggest issue at the time was the police department as it was constantly going over its budget and the revenue from the tickets did not seem to make its way to any person working outside of its city hall building.
The amount of officers increased to 19, which included the chief. However, Bradford County Sheriff Gordon Smith confessed that a bunch of the cops were not at all trained in the proper manner. What is worse, the audit discovered that a couple of them had been driving uninsured vehicles. One policeman, who was better known as “Rambo,” kept an assault rifle strapped across his chest just to write up traffic tickets.
By April 2013, Van Zant requested for the state auditor general to check into the city’s budget situation. At the time, Mayor Barry Layne Moore was locked up in Bradford County jail when the audit was publicly released. He and other officials had an idea that the audit would come back with poor marks though, nobody knew how bad it would actually turn out.
The results came in from the audit and were so daunting, Bradley and Van Zant wanted to call for Hampton to cease to exist as a city as soon as they could. Besides the uncountable amount of code violations, the audit found tons of irregularities. To illustrate, a $132,000 credit account from a local BP gas station and $27,000 in credit card charges for entities that “served no public purpose” were found to be some of the shocking irregularities of the audit. Van Zant blamed Hampton of “abusing the public,” while Bradley questioned, “Why is this even a city?”
Four replacements took over Hampton to clean up the city’s act once and for all. The legislators were so surprised by their short-term progress that they decided to allow for the city to stay intact. In a matter of four weeks, Hampton has already progressed by leaps and bounds. All elected officials that were in power when the corruption ring broke headlines will be forced to resign. Special elections are to be held in September of this year.
The entire crooked police force is being fired as well. The $132,000 spent at the BP gas station and the $27,000 from credit cards was accounted for. Water meters in the city are now being tracked. An ordinance de-annexed the section of US 301 where the speed trap had been set up. City Council meetings are now being held at normal hours and are open to the general public.
“What you’ve seen here in the past month is the rebirth of your town,” Van Zant told the residents as Friday’s meeting came to a close, as stated on CNN.com, “I want to encourage everybody who has never served on the City Council to run for office. … We want some new blood. We want to see a new genesis in Hampton. Make this thing work for you.” Once the city progresses a little more, the lawmakers are expected to pay a visit in the future.