Saturday, August 6 2022

By STEPHEN GROVES, Associated Press

PIERRE, SD (AP) – The daughter of South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem received unusual treatment in an application for a real estate appraiser’s license, including an additional opportunity to obtain it after failing to meet the requirements federal, said the former director of a state assessment agency. lawmakers Tuesday.

Sherry Bren’s testimony to a legislative panel was the first time she has spoken in-depth in public about Kassidy Peters’ candidacy and a meeting her mother called last year to discuss the assessment process. The panel began reviewing the July 2020 meeting at the governor’s mansion after the Associated Press first reported on it in September.

Noem called the meeting a week after the state’s assessor certification program informed his daughter that her application was going to be denied. Peters finally obtained certification four months later, in November 2020, and Bren said she was subsequently “forced to withdraw” from a program she had run since its inception in 1991.

Bren testified that she felt “intimidated” at the July meeting, where she said Peters’ unsuccessful candidacy was discussed in detail and a plan was made that gave her another shot at. to apply.

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Bren said she can’t remember which agency formed what’s called a “stipulation agreement” for another reviewer at this point in her application. She said this breaks with established procedures, giving Peters a third chance to take a work exam; applicants are generally granted two opportunities.

Even before that, Bren said, Peters’ request strayed from established practice, when Noem’s Labor secretary took on an unusual practical role that spring.

The legislative panel’s investigation comes as Noem has positioned himself as a prospect for the GOP’s presidential ticket in 2024 and has shown his willingness to hit potential rivals.

Noem has denied any wrongdoing, calling his actions a red tape to address the shortage of assessors. Noem also insisted the deal was not discussed at the July meeting and said her daughter only gave “her personal experiences through the program.”

“There has been a continual report that I did something to help him get a license, which is absolutely wrong,” Noem said at an event on Monday.

In testimony on Tuesday, Bren said she expected to see Noem and his Secretary of Labor at the July meeting, but was surprised other people were there, including Peters and the principal collaborators of the governor.

“Once I got there I was very nervous and, frankly, intimidated,” Bren said.

As she testified, Noem spokesperson Ian Fury posted on Twitter that the deal showed Peters had to meet additional requirements to get his license.

In an email, Fury also questioned Bren’s credibility, noting that the agency had already reached a “stipulation agreement” with a candidate in 2017.

But Bren said a 2017 deal was reached through the process of a third-party review board, called the Office of Hearing Examiners, which assessors can appeal to if they think the agency is wrong. managed their license.

“Once our case is heard, these documents are beyond my authority or control, and it would not be the same as what we are discussing today,” Bren told the committee.

The 2017 agreement included a plan for an applicant to withdraw their application and submit a new one; Peters’ agreement allowed him to complete his initial request.

In another deviation from normal procedure, Peters said Labor Secretary Marcia Hultman in the spring pushed Bren to remove from Peters’ first deal the requirement to take extra classes as she tried for the second time to meet federal requirements. Bren said she doesn’t recall a cabinet secretary ever getting involved in this process.

Hultman previously said Peters’ candidacy was treated the same as many other candidates. Hultman also said the meeting in the governor’s mansion did not influence how Peters’ request was handled, as regulators had already shaped the deal.

But Bren told lawmakers: “I remember the discussion focused on crafting a second deal requiring Peters to complete class. Peters agreed to complete the course, correct and rewrite the assessment reports and submit them to the examiner for review.

The agreement was signed more than a week after the meeting.

Bren’s appearance was compelled by subpoena. After retiring, she filed an age discrimination complaint and agreed to a $ 200,000 settlement that prohibits her from disparaging state officials.

Bren said she was “forced to retire”. When asked later to say why, she said: “I think this was discrimination based on age and beyond, it would be strictly speculation on my part.”

Several lawmakers have said they would like the state to remove the non-denigration clause from the Bren deal because it would allow them to gain more information.

“That’s a question about, was a longtime and dedicated employee, was she wrongly fired?” Was she wrongly fired on behalf of a relative of the governor? And did the state end up paying $ 217,000 to cover this? Said Senator Reynold Nesiba, a Democrat. “And we’re not going to know the answer to that question because of this no-denigration clause.”

The committee will write a report on its findings, Republican co-chair Rep. Randy Gross said. He said it would “leave the facts of what we have learned from themselves”.

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