Corruption! Scandal! Incompetence!
The accusations came one after another.
A quaint Florida city was portrayed as a cesspool of greedy public servants intent on living the good life at the expense of those unlucky enough to be passing through.
The city of Hampton — about 20 miles north of Gainesville off U.S. 301 — was pretty much depicted as a speed trap with an ATM for a town crest.
The city's 477 residents were apparently so safety conscious they kept 17 cops on the payroll, according to an Orlando Sentinel report. The current mayor was busted in November for allegedly selling oxycodone to an undercover sheriff's deputy. Some of the town's financial records were missing and presumed drowned (no, really) in a flood.
So, by the time the testimony was completed Monday afternoon, a joint legislative committee had heard enough.
Off with their heads!
(Or at least their radar guns.)
The Senate and House members on the Florida Joint Legislative Auditing Committee declared that the city of Hampton should be no more. Dissolved. Kaput. Finite.
I don't know about you, but it seems like a pretty drastic step, this erasure of an entire city. Even if a convenience store qualifies as that city's retail center and City Hall's roof has a rust problem.
"I don't think they need to shut the city down. That sounds ridiculous,'' said Jim Mitzel, a former two-term mayor of Hampton. "I know the audit showed we might have had some problems with some people in office. And maybe some changes need to be made.
"But shutting the city down sounds like a bit too much.''
This undoubtedly qualifies as the biggest news to hit Hampton since the AAA Motor Club declared Hampton (along with neighboring cities Waldo and Lawtey) as the nation's most notorious speed trap in the mid 1990s.
How did AAA come to that conclusion?
It might have had something to do with Hampton annexing a quarter-mile stretch of U.S. 301 in 1993, then feasting on drivers who were passing through the (freshly acquired) outskirts of town.
At one point, the motor club estimated that 60 percent of the city's revenue was derived from moving violations issued to non-residents. In 1995, a town marshal said he was fired by the City Council because he wasn't writing enough speeding tickets.
"We might have had that reputation a few years ago,'' Mitzel said. "But I don't think that's a problem anymore.''
Even if the speed trap issue is overblown, the legislative committee did seem a bit peeved about the city's credit cards being used haphazardly, as well as bills at the local convenience store topping more than $100,000 in recent years. Nepotism seemed to be another issue, and the city had a small problem with bouncing checks.
At any rate, lawmakers have three weeks to file the necessary paperwork to begin dissolving Hampton, which was incorporated in 1870 and named after a farmer's 10-year-old son.
City officials did not dispute many of the findings in the Florida Auditor General's report, so the best chance for Hampton's survival might be to plead guilty by association.
Corruption? Scandal? Incompetence?
After all, if it's good enough for Tallahassee …