The story of Hampton, Florida, could be the plot for a classic rise to power story–like House of Cards, for rednecks–or, under some interpretations, just the origin story of all government–a bunch of people with guns decide to hold up travelers on the highway.
But as hilarious and impossible as it sounds, this one is true. “I have said it before: It’s something out of a Southern Gothic novel. You can’t make this stuff up,” said State Senator Rob Bradley, whose district includes the city.*
One-square mile “city,” home to marshes, trailer parks, a short stretch of highway, and 477 souls.
In the mid-1990s, the city annexed a tiny slice of federal highway 301; the “government” of three full-time employees hires 17 “volunteer” police to issue approximately† 18,000+ tickets in the last three years, collecting over half a million dollars in traffic fines; police chief assumes title of “minister” and begins holding church services at the ramshackle City Hall; the Hall family seizes “power” (Jane Hall, city clerk; Adam Hall, maintenance operators; Charles Hall, councilman).
Despite the huge cash flow, the city runs a deficit; residents begin complaining about personal use of city funds; government threatens to cut water to troublemakers; a state audit reveals 46% of the city’s water is unaccounted for, funds are missing, and there are essentially no records; city employees say the records were “lost in the swamp”; the county sheriff cuts the Hampton police force off from access to computer databases, radio communications, and use of the jail.
All full-time city employees are ousted; newly elected Mayor Barry Moore (seriously) is arrested for possession of Oxycodone with intent to distribute; the City Council is almost never is able hold elections because no one will run.
State Senator Rob Bradley again: “This situation went on for so long and the mismanagement was so deep, we have to seriously consider abolishing the government.”
I feel like that statement is truer and more generally applicable than he intended. But for this particular band of highway robbers, at least, the end may be nigh.
*Credit for this story, details, and quotes belongs to Lizette Alvarez and The New York Times. Credit for the next hit Netflix series belongs to me and the residents and officials of the city of Hampton, FL.
† Estimate based on the total revenue collected from fines. It seems that nobody knows exactly how many tickets were issued in 2010, because of mysteriously missing records.