Not Really A Government, Hampton Edition

Among the many things we take for granted as we travel through life is that the places we travel through actually exist. Obviously, they exist physically, land, trees, road, but that they exist legally. After all, every tiny inch of dirt from sea to shining see has to be governed by someone, right?

Years ago, I awoke to find that someone had parked a backhoe on the corner of my property. When I mentioned something about it in a very loud voice, the explanation was that they didn’t realize it was anyone’s property.  I responded, in an even louder voice, by asking if they really thought there was free-floating land in New York that wasn’t owned by somebody, still waiting to be claimed.

There is a ribbon of highway, a part of Route 301 in Florida, consisting of a grand total of 1,260 feet, that is owned by the city of Hampton.  That 1,260 feet of highway is Hampton’s ATM, its cash machine, where the speed limit drops from 65 to 55, and if you blink, you missed it.  Except Hampton doesn’t really exist.

I mean sure, it has land, trees and this 1,260 foot stretch of highway, but otherwise, it’s a sham.

Hidden by trash bins or concealed in a stretch of woods, the officers — a word loosely applied here — pointed their radar devices. Between 2011 and 2012, Hampton’s officers issued 12,698 speeding tickets to motorists, many most likely caught outside Hampton’s strip of county road.

But, as it turns out, surprised motorists are not the only ones getting burned. So many speeding tickets were churned out for so many years and with such brazenness that this city of 477 residents came under scrutiny — and not just for revenue raising with a radar gun.

Even this was a sham.

In pursuit of speeders, the city’s force grew to 17 from one, some of them volunteers and a few of them driving uninsured cars. Sheriff Smith said he did not know how many were actually police officers and how many were trained in radar detection. Fed up, the sheriff last year cut the police chief’s access to databases, radio communications and the use of the jail.

What does the mayor think about all this? Who knows? He has other things on his mind.

The new mayor, Barry Moore, is in jail awaiting trial for possession of Oxycodone with intent to sell.  Credit: Edward Linsmier for The New York Times

The populist notion that the closer government is to the people, the more responsive it will be to their needs, is heartwarming. It’s also false in some instances.

There were mutterings about vanishing city funds; personal use of city credit cards, trucks and gas; and trips to Ms. Hall’s clutter-filled house to hand over cash payments for water bills for which she offered no receipts. Some residents were threatened with the loss of water — the one utility controlled by the city — if they made trouble, Mr. Smith said.

For all the money Hampton bring in from its speed trap, it’s broke and no one knows where the money went, except that it’s gone. Hampton, “a mishmash of trailers and wood-frame houses, some ramshackle, some not,” is one square mile that includes 1,260 feet of highway.  But get a speeding ticket, from whoever is handing them out that day, and you pay it because, well, that’s what you’re supposed to do.

We presume regularity.  We presume that a local government exists, functions with some degree of normalcy, and makes a reasonable effort to comply with law.  And then there’s Hampton.  And before anyone else says it, there are Hamptons all over the country, tiny pockets that are essentially devoid of government, law, normalcy. They exist in the deep south and in the deep north, as well.

I’ve been to local courts where procedural law is not only ignored, but no one in the house has a clue what it is.  And provided they don’t piss off too many people in the process, there is no oversight as to what these tiny fiefdoms do. Or don’t do.

I’ve seen local government where the local politicos, who are in office forever because no one else wants the job, are utterly clueless about any aspect of the job or law. They do whatever they please because there is no one around to challenge them. They just make it up, and they believe it’s their right to do so.

While lawyers and lawprofs spend their time pondering the nuances of Supreme Court opinions and proposed laws in Congress, there are pockets of utter lawlessness throughout the country. And yet few notice, fewer still question and if we are unfortunate enough to drive on their 1,260 feet of highway, chances are awfully good that they will get us.

Contrary to the assumption that most people have, there is no one watching over these tiny outlaw kingdoms, making sure that local governments pretend, at the very least, to adhere to the laws and ways of a municipality in the United States of America. They aren’t really governments at all, but you wouldn’t know it to get a ticket in their speed trap.  And so you just pay.

17 thoughts on “Not Really A Government, Hampton Edition

  1. John Burgess

    I’m familiar with the ~50 mile stretch of US 301 that runs from Hawthorne to Baldwin in FL. It is the only speed trap so noted by the AAA in the entire US. It’s located primarily in Bradford Co.

    The trick they use it to yo-yo speed limits. They’ll go from 55 to 35 to 45 to 20 within the stretch of a mile. Particularly cute is to have a 20 mph limit around a blind curve from a stretch at 55.

    Personally, I’m for disincorporating the entire county. It makes no bones about how it funds the various PDs from traffic fines. And, as FL counties get to set their own fines for traffic offenses, they’re earning multiples of thousands of dollars daily.

      1. John Burgess

        I’ve read those comments on various websites that track speed traps. The people making that claim actually believe it, apparently. Or know that their taxes would go up if they didn’t believe it.

  2. Bruce Coulson

    This sort of government has been around for a while. Phenix City is the classic example. They last until they annoy someone who has real power. Up to that point, it’s a great scam. Because the people who should care (and can do something about it); the real governments that surround these kingdoms; don’t care until the kingdom over-reaches.

      1. the other rob

        My “example”, involving the abolition of the Fourth, is much more dramatic. However, given that your view that war stories are like assholes, everybody’s got one is well known in these parts, I shall continue to keep it to myself.

  3. John Barleycorn

    Just because you only have a tonka toy six-wheeler to plow snow with and don’t have your own backhoe, nor apparently are you creative enough to quietly burry trespassing back hoes in the middle of the night instead of resorting to uncivilized tactics like raising your voice, doesn’t mean you should be piling on the little guys.

    It is a novel bonus that the new Mayor of Hampton was only in office a few weeks at a salary of $125 a month and can’t afford to make bail over allegedly slinging a single oxy pill for $20 and his town makes the NYT’s and CNN.

    Perhaps it’s all relative but I am for some reason strangely comfortable and content with Hampton making sure it’s sensitive water and sewer documents documents remain classified via swamp submersion. It almost seems like a refreshingly honest way to do business.

    If the new (suspended by the governor for being accused of a crime) mayor of Hampton is reading while trying to find an attorney I hope he notes that the Florida Legislature is cool with Florida law enforcement receiving an 85% cut of all civil forfeiture generated in the state (just ask Sheriff Smith how it’s done but my guess is he is not only leading the charge to wipe your little town off the map but it might also have been his departments informant that landed you in jail).

    So Mayor, if you prevail and and enjoy the ride you might want to consider directing your PD (if you ever get the chance) to go full pirate next time instead of pissing off the local commuters (especially the ones that happen to be state legislators) and tourists with speeding tickets.

    BTW, I have always wanted to work in a water and sewer department so if your town doesn’t get swallowed up by bigger fish that use attorneys, and state legislators to do the dirty laundry drop me a note.

  4. John Neff

    We have a village inside a larger city with a speed trap. It is a Chesterton,s Fence situation because if the speed trap were eliminated the high school students would speed though the village.

  5. Charlesmorrison

    Okay, two things: who wouldn’t elect Mr. Moore? Look at that face.
    Second: the only powers these officers and “semi officers” had was to issue tickets? Cool. I’m amazed there hasn’t been any stories about people left in holding cells (in one of the trailers or shacks) for two months awaiting their initial appearance. That’s a plus, I guess.

  6. Charlie

    This reminds me of the erstwhile village of New Rome, Ohio, population about 50 or so, with 17 police officers. It existed solely to ticket people commuting to and from the west side of Columbus. The state eventually forcibly disincorporated the town when it discovered they hadn’t held elections in years (instead people reappointed themselves to offices) and the cash from all those speeding tickets was mysteriously converted into fancy new cars for residents.

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