Sherry Bren contradicts Noem, Hultman during GOAC hearing
While testifying before the Government Operations and Audit Committee (GOAC), Sherry Bren further contradicted statements made by both Governor Kristi Noem and Secretary of Labor Marcia Hultman.
PIERRE, S.D. - The former director of South Dakota’s Appraiser Certification Program says she was forced to retire.
That was just one of the takeaways to come out of Sherry Bren’s testimony Tuesday before state lawmakers on the Government Operations and Audit Committee (GOAC).
The hearing was the latest in a sequence of events triggered by the Associated Press’ reporting on alleged nepotism in the Governor’s office, that came to a head during a meeting at the Governor’s Mansion.
Bren appeared before the committee with the purpose of walking state lawmakers through the appraisal application process, her time working for the state and departure, and ultimately, the now nationally scrutinized mansion meeting on July 27th, 2020.
Bren would lose her job just five months after that meeting, eventually settling an age discrimination lawsuit that cost the state $219,151.72.
Heading into the meeting, Bren said she felt intimidated. She admitted to lawmakers that as a result, the meeting itself was a hazy memory.
“I was told that we would discuss the following; What is the definition of a serious deficiency, What criterium is used for denials, How many are denied each year, How many are approved, Are we saying that Kassidy (Peters) can take certain classes and then resubmit (her application)?” Bren testified before the committee.
Bren told lawmakers that she was not just asked to retire.
“Were you asked to retire?” Asked State Rep. Randy Gross (R-Elkton). Gross will serve as the chair of GOAC in 2022.
“No, I was forced to retire,” Bren replied.
“I mentioned the appraisal classes I thought would be helpful for Peters,” Bren explained. “The governor was upset that she was just now hearing about these classes. Hultman spoke up and said that Bren had originally prescribed additional education in the original draft of the Agreed Disposition.”
The “agreed disposition” that Bren drafted for Peters was intended to help chart a path forward for her as an appraisal applicant. However, Bren testified that Hultman significantly altered the document.
“Was it common for the Secretary of Labor to suggest amendments like that?” Asked State Sen. David Wheeler (R-Huron).
“No, it was not,” Bren replied.
“Had it ever happened in the past?” Wheeler asked.
“I do not recall that there had ever been involvement by the Secretary of Labor in this decision process,” Bren said.
Bren also told the committee that the “Stipulation Agreement” Peter’s received after the mansion meeting, which effectively amounts to a “third chance” at the appraisal certification process, was highly unusual given the circumstances. The Governor’s office has refuted that claim by arguing that stipulation agreements have been made with other appraisal applicants in the past. Noem’s spokesperson Ian Fury also drew into question Bren’s credibility in an email to the press based on this discrepancy.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers have indicated that they would like to see the non-disparagement clause removed from Bren’s settlement agreement with the state, for the sake of getting more information. Bren declined to answer a number of questions from the committee Tuesday, in part based on advice received from her attorney, Tim Rensch.
Noem’s Republican gubernatorial candidate and current State Rep. Steve Haugaard (R-Sioux Falls) has called for both Noem and Peters to be subpoenaed by GOAC.
“This is a question about a longtime, dedicated employee, (and) was she wrongfully fired?” Asked State Sen. Reynold Nesiba (D-Sioux Falls) in his closing remarks. “Was she wrongfully fired on behalf of a relative of the governor? And did the state end up paying +$217,000 to cover that up?”
Rep. Gross told reporters after the hearing that the committee intended to draft a report about the facts that they have found throughout the months long investigation, and eventually make those findings public. The Government Accountability Board is also likely still considering the allegations against Noem in the ordeal.
To listen to the committee hearing, click here.
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