Opinion

Florida town may learn a revolutionary lesson: When government becomes too corrupt, it gets abolished

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Tea Party,Florida,Corruption,Ashe Schow,Waste and Fraud

It's a made-for-the-Tea Party solution: If the government becomes too corrupt to govern, perhaps the best plan is to get rid of it.

That could be the fate of the small town of Hampton, Fla., population 477, if the city can't get its act together.

Rampant corruption plagues the town, with a state audit finding 31 violations of local rules or state or federal law, including a city clerk being overpaid by $9,000 and gas for personal use being charged to the city charge card.

The mayor is in jail for allegedly selling oxycodone to an undercover cop. The city racks up thousands of dollars for personal items but doesn’t pay its bills on time — if it does at all — and nearly half of the water the city pumps doesn’t reach its residents.

But where does all that money come from? The nation’s most notorious speed trap.

City cops ignore other crime in order to sit along the highway and give out tickets. The city collected $616,960 between 2010 and 2012, setting a record in 2011 by bringing in more than $253,000.

"It became 'serve and collect' instead of 'serve and protect.' Cash-register justice," Bradford County Sheriff Gordon Smith told CNN. "Do y'all remember the old 'Dukes of Hazzard'? Boss Hogg? They make Boss Hogg look like a Sunday school teacher."

A city audit found evidence of “wholesale corruption” and “abuse of the public.”

So what's the state of Florida to do about America's “dirtiest little town”?

Abolish it.

A preliminary vote on dissolving the town’s charter garnered unanimous support. But state Rep. Charles Van Zant (who once got a speeding ticket in Hampton) said he would delay taking the vote to the full House to let the town prove it can change.

If it can’t, the Florida legislature would probably vote to dissolve the town.

Hampton has until early April to fix itself. To do that, everyone at City Hall (elected officials and staff) must be replaced. The city has to stop its addiction to speeding tickets and fix its water system.

Despite the town’s government getting the residents into the mess, elected officials are, not surprisingly, asking the state government to bail them out.

“The government bailed out General Motors. The government bailed out Chrysler. Why can't the state of Florida bail out the city of Hampton?” former Mayor Jim Mitzel asked.

That message isn't likely to get a positive reception from a legislature where many members were elected with Tea Party support.

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