Lawmakers give tiny city of Hampton more time to fix problems

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STARKE, Fla. - Florida lawmakers have given a one-square-mile city a month to prove it is righting itself after a state audit found widespread violations of city, state and federal laws.

At a meeting Thursday at the Bradford County Courthouse, state Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, and state Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, told about 90 Hampton residents that the Legislature would hold off on deciding whether to dissolve the city of 477 people.

A state audit released earlier this month found more than 30 problems with the government of Hampton, ranging from inadequately maintained public records, more than $27,000 in questionable city expenses and no clear policy on employing relatives. Florida lawmakers threatened to just dissolve the city.

All three of Hampton's full-time employees - police chief, city clerk and maintenance operator - have resigned.

Hampton is about 40 miles southwest of Jacksonville, and it's known as a speed trap to generate revenue. The city's acting mayor and some Bradford County commissioners and residents don't want to see Hampton dissolved.

Acting Mayor Myrtice McCullough told The Gainesville Sun that there are 119 signatures so far on a petition opposing the city's dissolution.

"We have all heard the long list of accusations against the city of Hampton and its officials, but there have been no criminal charges filed, no arrests made, and no public officials have been removed from office," said County Commissioner Danny Riddick .

Bradford County Sheriff Gordon Smith there is an ongoing criminal investigation being conducted by his agency, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the State Attorney's Office.

If Hampton is dissolved, residents would no longer pay city taxes and the county would have to take over some responsibilities, such as its water system, Bradley said. However, the city's post office would remain open, city signs would remain as is and the Hampton Elementary School would keep its name.

Bradley and Van Zant agreed to return in about four weeks to hold a meeting in Hampton to see whether the city was addressing improvements to the water system, a change in the town's boundaries and an election to for a new city council.

The lawmakers said they won't push a bill proposing Hampton's dissolution unless they're convinced that the city doesn't have a plan to make progress.

"I do not want to see this town move up and then take a nosedive," Van Zant said.

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