New Rome is an unincorporated community in eastern Prairie Township, Franklin County, Ohio, United States, located on the west side of the Columbus, Ohio metropolitan area. It was originally incorporated as a village in 1947, occupying little more than a three-block stretch of West Broad Street (U.S. Route 40), and dissolved in 2004. The population was 60 at the 2000 census.
New Rome achieved infamy due to its traffic and speed trap, which received national media attention, and the internal corruption of its local government. In 2004, the village was ordered legally dissolved by a Franklin County Court of Common Pleas judge, and its residents, land and assets were made part of Prairie Township.
New Rome speed trap
New Rome police had systematically taken advantage of the village's sudden drop (from to ) in the posted speed limit along the busy thoroughfare of West Broad Street to pull over thousands of motorists, raising nearly $400,000 gross annually from speeding tickets, but primarily vehicle citations, including trivial offenses such as dusty taillights and improperly tinted windows. Nearly all of this money was funneled back into the police force, which almost exclusively dealt with traffic violations and so essentially existed to fund itself. The 60-resident village had as many as 14 policemen (all part-time), with the Village Council wanting more.
Many local business owners complained that customers were being driven away by the village's reputation, and there were many reports of arbitrary and even abusive conduct at the hands of the New Rome police, who even ventured into surrounding jurisdictions to arrest people over unpaid traffic tickets.
The Ohio Department of Transportation eventually decided that New Rome's lower speed limit was inconsistent with state law guidelines. The New Rome police force was suspended by the village in 2003 when its chief resigned, shortly after the village's mayor's court was abolished by the state, and so the speed trap came to an end.
Theft and misuse of funds and equipment
New Rome also had longstanding problems with internal corruption. Several past New Rome officials, including a past clerk, were caught stealing thousands of dollars in public funds; others, including a past mayor, resigned after misuse of village credit cards came to light. Approximately $120,000 was stolen from New Rome over the course of a decade, according to the Ohio State Auditor, who also concluded that the village's poor accounting practices made continuing theft likely. Mayor's court records were also reported to have been destroyed and falsified. A federal grant to the village in 1996 to fight purportedly rising burglaries, vandalism, and gang activity was instead used for traffic enforcement. In 2003, the New Rome police had their access to a State Highway Patrol driver identification database revoked because of misuse against the political rival of a council member.
New Rome last held elections for the village council in 1979, and did not hold elections for mayor from 1995 to 2002. During that time, the incumbents simply reappointed themselves, taking the line that with so few residents, there weren't enough people interested in running.
In 2002, after the state-certified election of a new reformist mayor, Jamie Mueller, the council refused to recognize him and claimed that the old mayor (to whom most of the Council were related) was still in office. The controversy soon broadened into a question of who was even legally on the Council, as none of the council appointments had been registered with the state as required by law. Eventually, the Franklin County prosecutor invalidated the appointments of all but one member, because they were not legally appointed, but village positions continued to be claimed by those without the legal right to do so.
After further investigation of New Rome's history of misconduct, Attorney General Jim Petro, on the recommendation of State Auditor Betty Montgomery, concluded that it should be dissolved, though its residents had voted against dissolution in 2003. At the Attorney General's urging, the Ohio General Assembly passed a law later that year primarily targeted at New Rome. It allowed the state to seek dissolution of a village that had fewer than 150 people if the State Auditor found it provided little or no public services and had a pattern of wrongdoing or incompetence. On December 1, 2003, Petro filed suit for New Rome's dissolution in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas. The complaint cited New Rome for violating state election requirements 23 times since 1988, failing to file a tax budget and failing to provide at least two municipal services.
The village officials did not contest these allegations, but instead challenged the dissolution statute as contrary to the home rule provisions of the Ohio Constitution. Judge David Cain upheld the constitutionality of the statute and granted summary judgment to the State of Ohio on July 30, 2004. In his decision, Cain held that as a result of town officials' malfeasance and nonfeasance, New Rome had effectively dissolved itself. "When the electorate allows key offices to go vacant for unreasonable amounts of time and allows other conditions ... to cause ruin and decay," Cain wrote, "it can easily be inferred that this small group of local citizens has abandoned any right it had to operate a local government unit. The corporate powers have already been surrendered. The body is already dead. The statute merely provides for a decent burial." Judge Cain granted the order to formally dissolve New Rome on August 9, 2004, and also ordered the clearing of all unpaid traffic tickets and all drivers licenses suspended by the village. No appeal was filed by the September 9 deadline, and on that date New Rome was irrevocably absorbed into Prairie Township.