Hampton, Fla., has fewer than 500 residents. It’s a tiny blip you pass through on the drive between Gainesville, home of the University of Florida, and Jacksonville. The city is known mostly for being a notorious speed trap right near Gainesville.
Now, thanks to a damning state audit released last month, the place might get dissolved. (Think about that for a second: This is the city that might be too far gone for Florida, a state that should be impossible to shock, a state where the chief export is bizarre news.)
The audit reported a host of problems: unreliable accounting, a lack of oversight, duplicated paychecks, missing deposits, lost records, a failure to correct errors, an absence of written policies, lost revenue and other irregularities.
Hampton, part of Bradford County, was supposed to maintain its public records and keep track of the ordinances the City Council passed. It did not. Officials said some records were “lost in a swamp” due to a traffic accident, but no accident was ever reported, the audit said. The city had more than $27,000 in expenditures that were ostensibly public, but lacked the necessary explanation for what purpose they served.
“You can’t make this stuff up,” state Sen. Rob Bradley, who represents Bradford County, told the Florida Times-Union. “It’s like something out of a Southern Gothic novel.”
At the very least, the city did have its endlessly valuable traffic ticket pipeline. Hampton raked in more than $211,000 in revenue from traffic tickets in the 2011-2012 fiscal year, more than $234,000 in 2010-2011 and north of $170,000 in 2009-2010.
The city, which was established in 1925, relied heavily on these traffic fines. It actually annexed a stretch of U.S. 301 in the mid-1990s solely to get the ticket revenue, a former mayor told the New York Times.
The audit was conducted from May 2013 to September 2013. And, as the auditors noted, since they couldn’t review every record and every action of every staff member or vendor, they couldn’t even identify every single instance of fraud, waste or abuse.
When it came time for the city of Hampton to respond, the letter came from acting mayor Myrtice McCullough. That’s because Barry Moore, the city’s mayor, was arrested last November after an investigation showed he had sold Oxycodone. (“This isn’t Toronto,” Gordon Smith, sheriff of Bradford County, said in a statement announcing the arrest.)
State legislators, who have advocated for dissolving the city, said after a meeting with residents that they will wait to see if the city makes strides to fix things. But if Hampton is dissolved, it would become part of unincorporated Bradford County.
The Bradford County Sheriff’s Office, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the state attorney’s office are investigating Hampton, visiting City Hall last week as part of the criminal investigation.
This post has been updated. Two references to Hampton initially said “Hamilton,” which is the name of another county in Florida.