In his latest guest column with tales from the petition trail in Meade County, Bob Newland says he’s had a couple suspicious characters inquire about working for him as paid petition circulators… suspicious enough to make him think they might be fingers on the long arm of the law trying to trip him up!
Have Clipboard–Will Travel, Installment VI
Bob Newland guest column
Previous installments of my adventures in Meade County, South Dakota, attempting to raise voter awareness of the Meade County Commission’s allotment of a medical cannabis license to a single favored licensee can be found on Dakota Free Press on May 7, May 10, May 13, May 17 and June 14.
Installment VI presents weirdness associated with undercover stings in pursuit of ballot issue circulation violations.
In the briefest possible introduction for the un-or slightly impaired-woke, I am conducting a petition drive in Meade County, South Dakota, to correct an obvious injustice. The Meade Co. Commission has decreed there shall be only one medical cannabis dispensary in the entire county, which is bigger than England. The commission has allocated that license to a weed dealer with ties to the Commission. WTF? Right?
There is a lot of WTF? in Meade County. Often, by the time the word “cannabis” has passed my lips, folks are grabbing my clipboard. The folks who are beating the streets with this message are sufficiently gratified, by similar gestures of appreciation for their efforts, to continue with a surprisingly daunting task, to continue beating the streets for $60 per hour.
Yep. No one has ever paid anywhere near the effective price-per-signature rate in SoDak as are my employers. All that said, why am I having such a struggle to obtain the signatures of 1,200 people registered to vote in Meade County (which has about 20,000 registered voters)?
Part of it almost certainly is illustrated by the fact that I have been stung once, maybe twice, by undercover law enforcement action.
On 7 June 2022, I was in Sturgis, SoDak, when I received a call from someone purporting to be responding to an employment-offered ad. I have more help-wanted ads out there on the cybernet and everywhere else than I can keep track of. This caller said he was responding to my ad.
This caller said he was interested in my offer. My offer was $40-$65 per hour to say these words to 60-or-so people per day: “Hi. I’m circulating a petition to persuade the Meade County Commission to allow more than one medical cannabis dispensary in the county. Would you like to help?”
I made an appointment to meet this dude at the Slash J in Piedmont, a notorious hangout for various characters in various stages of liver damage, at 3 p.m. I described myself so he could spot me. I walked in and immediately saw the guy, sitting at the bar, resembling the overweight deputy sheriff model on decals on gas dispensers advising you not to get gas without paying (as if that were even possible now). He acknowledged me and we went to a table.
He gave me a name, but I didn’t pay much attention. He was 5’10”, 180#-or-so, shaved head, cop-beard. He portrayed himself as having been dis-jobbed from a “start-up IT company.” He said he thought my offer was interesting and that he wouldn’t mind making some money while he was waiting for replies to other offers for his services.
I explained to him that, unless he could come up with a better idea, we had to knock on doors until we had 1,200 signatures. He asked about remuneration. I said, “I’ll give you $20 per hour and big bonuses if you actually do something.”
He said, “So this will be, like, under the table?”
I took a breath and looked at him. “Not at all,” I said. “I can’t count this much money under the table in a bar. It’s too dark. What did I just say that provoked that question?” He shrugged.
I suspected something like this was going to come down. I have provocative ads running in Meade County. I am administering a petition drive that directly challenges a county commission’s authority to grant favors. I also have previous experience being stung by undercover shame administrators.
The gas pump hero said, “I’ll let you know [whether I want the job you offered].”
The next day, one of my contract employees was knocking on doors in Piedmont. He was greeted at one house by a bald, bearded jerk who insulted him about the cannabis issue he was presenting. After I got a further description of his verbal assailant, I am fairly sure this was my job applicant. Oh, and this guy was wearing a Meade County Sheriff’s deputy outfit.
I suspect he was trying to find a way to bust me for a violation of SDCL 12-13-28, “Employment and compensation of petition circulators.” Click the link. Read the law and see if you can make sense of it. Maybe I and the petition sponsors will run into him down the line.
The next day, 8 June, I interviewed and worked in the field with a guy who said his name was Everett Quincy Thomas, of Lead SD. He said he was 22 and needed to make some money. We worked the crowd at the Wednesday night street concert in Sturgis. He observed while I approached people, introduced my clipboard and obtained four signatures. I asked him if he wanted to approach some people.
He took the clipboard and in short order had obtained three more signatures. I asked him if he needed more training. He said he thought he had the hang of it. We retired to a nearby table and I asked his intent regarding circulation over the next few days. I gave him some satellite photos of areas in Sturgis and directed him to work those areas to avoid stepping on other circulators who were working nearby areas. He agreed, and then committed to going back to the street concert to continue working the crowd.
I pointed out that he already had over $100 in pay sitting on his clipboard (I had donated my work to him), and that I would be glad to pay him the next day for his work that night, if he would get his sheets notarized. He said he would take the maps to his car and return to the crowd. I watched him walk to his car, get in, and drive away.
In spite of my repeated attempts to contact him the next day by means of a phone number on which we had talked and texted, and the email address he gave me, Everett refused to respond.
There are some possibilities. Everett might be in jail or dead. He might have been a cop. He might simply be a lunatic. If he was a cop, why would he not at least meet with me to get paid and allow me to violate 12-13-28. Even a lunatic would, you’d think, respond to my offer to buy my clipboard back for over $100.00.
Currently, my ads offer $40-$65 per hour to recite two sentences to as many people as possible in Meade County. Fact is, some are making in excess of $100.00 per hour. And signatures are trickling in at the rate of 20-30 per day. A third are invalid, because the signers are unaware that they are not registered to vote.
At peak times, from about 6-8:30 in the evening, a circulator can knock on 20 doors before finding someone home. The rest of the day, it might be 40 doors. At that rate, four signatures per hour is not bad production. In the end, it won’t matter much. We’ll get the required number of signatures and Meade County will fight their validity in court. Maybe my sponsors will win, but by that time the whole complexion of cannabis retailing in SoDak will have changed again.
Please write me if they jail me.
Bob Newland, 605-209-4354, email@example.com
“His clipboard for hire meets the calling wind.”