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SD State Legislative committee presses Sec. of Labor on appraisal meeting in Governor’s Mansion

The inquiry into Governor Kristi Noem and the Department of Labor conduct has left lawmakers with more questions than answers.
Published: Oct. 28, 2021 at 11:23 PM CDT
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PIERRE, S.D. - South Dakota Secretary of Labor Marcia Hultman told state lawmakers on the Government Audit and Operations Committee (GOAC) Thursday that Governor Kristi Noem’s daughter, Kassidy Peters, did not receive special treatment when applying for her appraisal licenses.

However, Hultman also said that the sort of meetings that Peters was involved in were not common.

Last month, the Associated Press reported Governor Kristi Noem arranged a meeting with state officials after her daughter had been denied a South Dakota real estate appraiser’s license in 2020.

Since then, Noem says that she has introduced legislation to “streamline the licensing process” during her time as Governor. Noem called it “difficult” to obtain a licenses, and cited a shortage in the amount of available appraisers in the state and across the country.

Thursday, GOAC heard from Hultman and others about the now nationally publicized July 2020 meeting, and the appraisal industry writ large.

“Can you talk about the meeting that you attended with the Governor and Mrs. Bren, and the nature of that meeting... What happened?” State Sen. Reynold Nesiba (D-Sioux Falls) asked Hultman.

“The nature of the meeting was to talk about the current licensing process, to become an appraiser in the state of South Dakota, and potential changes to that process,” Hultman responded.

Hultman confirmed that counsel for the Department of Labor and the Governor’s office were in attendance, but Bren herself attended alone, without counsel.

“The content of the meeting at the residence, was to talk about the status quo of how to become an appraiser in South Dakota, and possible changes to that program,” Hultman said in testimony.

Bren, the former Executive Director of the South Dakota Appraisal Program, was paid $200,000 by the state of South Dakota to settle an age discrimination complaint. However, the costs associated with reaching that settlement were $219,151.72. The payment to Bren was the second highest paid out by the state in the last three years.

Bren did not attend Thursday, in accordance with the advice of her attorney. However, Bren told the AP in a statement that she is “working with my attorney to achieve an opportunity to provide relevant facts to members of the Government Operations and Audit Committee and to correct any factual inaccuracies that were provided to them by Secretary Hultman in her testimony today.”

State lawmakers took turns weighing the allegations against the Governor and the Department of Labor, ultimately breaking up largely along party lines.

“When we get down to the facts of what actually happened, the evidence we have today suggests that there was no point where pressure was brought on Sherry Bren to have an effect on Kassidy Peter’s licenses,” said State Sen. David Wheeler (R-Huron).

I am still left with a variety of questions,” Nesiba said. “For example, ‘Why was Sherry Bren let go’... It still seems like there are a lot of questions that remain unanswered.”

State lawmakers on GOAC agreed to formally request the ‘education agreement’ that was reached between Peters and the state. According to those who testified, those overseeing the appraisal program can draft a plan with an applicant to help them further their education, and plan to have them submit more work samples at a later date. According to Hultman, Peters entered into a work agreement prior to meeting with Bren and Noem at the Governor’s Mansion in July 2020.

The AP submitted numerous Open Records Request for that education agreement, and was declined. If that agreement were to be given to the committee, it would be confidential.

Additionally, lawmakers agreed to send questions to Bren’s lawyer, Tim Rensch, for them to offer a written response to. Those questions have not yet been drafted.

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