There is little doubt that Hall has a strong personality and may have intimidated some people in Hampton and angered others. Residents say she spent the days sitting in her City Hall office, chain-smoking. Sometimes she'd turn on the little black-and-white TV and watch soap operas. She is not the type to pull punches.
But if the Halls, Hodges or anyone else in Hampton were getting rich off speeding tickets, they don't have much to show for it.
The Halls' home, a two-block stroll from City Hall, is hardly a palace. As a neighbor described it in a complaint to the sheriff's office, it seems like something from the reality television show "Hoarders":
"This property is full of debris and cars that are not tagged or registered. This yard is very unsafe. They have garbage that is all around their home. There are probably 30 cats and kittens that are running loose in her yard. Looking in her home windows, she is a hoarder."
The complaint describes "unsafe living conditions," including boxes stacked to the ceiling and "a porch so cluttered that a path has been cleared to pass through it all."
Hall responded with a typed, two-page letter asserting that the person making the complaint was doing so out of spite and "using your office as a tool to punish me for her anger against the City of Hampton that she for some reason blames on me." She added that the complainant had her own code violations to worry about and questioned why the county believed it had jurisdiction over the Halls' property, which was within the city limits.
As CNN walked the neighborhood, 81-year-old Jerry Warren grumbled at the nosy strangers about the "vendetta" he thinks is being waged against the Halls. He was quick to defend the couple, describing them as caring neighbors and "honest as the day is long."
Hall said she received three visits in one week from the sheriff's office. Two concerned the feral cats overtaking her yard, and one was to check on a child who came home from school with one of her grandchildren.
She said the visits stirred up the rumor mill. People were sure the police activity was audit-related.
"I certainly do not want any issues with the sheriff's department and have lived my whole life as a law-abiding citizen," she said. She thinks she being made to "look like some kind of criminal mastermind."
"That would be like saying Snoopy is Cujo's twin brother."
'Why is this even a city?'
The politicians in Florida's capital, Tallahassee, were gobsmacked by the audit when it was unveiled Feb. 10 at a public hearing. They used words like "crazy," "outrageous" and "weird" to describe what they heard and struggled to find the right metaphors and points of comparison: Southern Gothic literature, John Grisham novels and Al Capone came to mind.
The city doesn't pay its bills on time, if it pays them at all, the audit says. It doesn't balance the checkbook or withhold employee payroll taxes or hold elections when it should. It doesn't maintain insurance on city vehicles. Record-keeping is hit or miss. The auditors were told that the records they sought were destroyed by an accident or in a flood. The water meter readings? Those were "lost in the swamp."
This was perhaps the most disturbing bit of news to come out of that hearing: City officials acknowledged that petty cash and money from water customers -- the city clerk often demanded payment in cash -- were kept together in a bag. When police said they needed cash to buy drugs for "undercover investigations," it came out of that bag, Smith and Van Zant said.
No records were kept, so nobody had a clue what happened to the money -- or the acquired contraband. This much is clear to Smith: No prosecutions resulted.
In the end, the auditors unearthed a problem far deeper than speed traps and mismanagement. They found evidence of what legislators called "wholesale corruption" and "abuse of the public." The vote was unanimous: request a criminal investigation, a forensic audit and a grand jury and look into getting a special prosecutor.
It was the outraged legislators' idea to take matters a step further and dissolve Hampton. They included Hampton's own representatives in Tallahassee, Van Zant and Sen. Rob Bradley.
"Why is this even a city?" asked Bradley, a former prosecutor whose district also includes the wealthier suburbs of Jacksonville.
It is an unusual step, and no one can recall the last time anyone in Florida pulled the plug on a city for corruption.