The petition drive to force a recall election of Rapid City Councilman Bill Clayton over racist remarks made last year has fallen short after a significant number of signatures were disqualified by Rapid City officials on Monday.
Though about 7,000 residents signed the petitions, 166 of the 467 pages of signatures handed in were deemed ineligible because they came from two petition gatherers who are Montana residents, according to a memo from the City Attorney's office. South Dakota law states that people gathering petition signatures must be state residents.
The remaining 4,466 signatures were about 1,700 short of the approximately 6,200 necessary to trigger the recall.
Clayton has been under fire since he made racially insensitive remarks to a Jamaican-American TV reporter last year. In a phone interview last August with Taisha Walker, Clayton suggested that she go back to Kenya and questioned her citizenship.
The man who led the recall effort, former city council member Gary Brown, said Monday he was unlikely to re-start the petition drive. "We are too short, didn't make it," said Brown. He has said he would have run against Clayton if a special election were triggered.
Brown said he doesn't plan on mounting another recall effort, and may not run against Clayton in the next general election. Both Brown and Emmett Reistroffer, the organizer hired to oversee the petition effort, said they were unaware of the residence law.
"I will be happy to take full accountability for violating the law, as will [the two Montana workers] who came in from Billings to assist our efforts," Reistroffer wrote in an email. "We were not aware of the law, and I believe it is a far greater injustice to dismiss the will of nearly 7,000 Rapid City voters because of a technical violation of two signature gatherers."
"I am exploring my options with an attorney to challenge the decision of the city should they throw out that portion of signatures," he added.
Brown declined to say how much he paid Reistroffer, saying, "that's just between he and I."
Rapid City Finance Officer Pauline Sumption declined to comment but was planning to brief the City Council on the situation Monday night.
South Dakota Secretary of State Jason Gant said a new petition effort would have to completely start over and couldn't use signatures previously collected.
If successful, the recall would have triggered a special election between Clayton and eligible challengers. Both Mayor Sam Kooiker and his challenger in Tuesday's election, state Sen. Mark Kirkeby, have said they signed the petition.
Clayton on Monday called the news "a distraction on the eve of the election" and repeated the phrase he often has regarding the entire affair: "This is what happens when you attempt to hoist a lie up the flagpole." Clayton has said he did not know the reporter was a minority when they spoke on the phone last year. Clayton will be up for re-election next year.