By STEPHEN GROVES, Associated Press
SIOUX FALLS, SD (AP) — South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem faced a deadline Friday to appeal a state ethics committee’s finding that there was evidence that she had improperly interfered with her daughter’s application for a real estate appraiser’s license.
The Government Accountability Board voted unanimously last month that there was enough evidence to believe the Republican governor had committed wrongdoing and engaged in a conflict of interest.
Noem maintained she had done nothing wrong, but so far the process has been conducted in private. Neither her office nor her re-election campaign responded to questions Friday about whether she would proceed with a contested hearing that would give her a chance to make her case publicly.
The council has taken unspecified “action” against the governor, and council member Gene Kean said last month that Friday would be the deadline for Noem to respond.
If there is no public hearing, it is unclear whether the council will release details of the actions it has taken. The council closed the complaint last month but suggested it could be reopened.
A lawyer who represented the governor before the council also did not respond to questions.
The Associated Press first reported that shortly after a state agency moved in July 2020 to deny Noem’s daughter, Kassidy Peters, an appraiser’s license, the governor held a meeting with Peters and key decision makers of his permit. A few days after the meeting, Peters signed an agreement that gave him another opportunity to meet licensing requirements. The Republican-controlled South Dakota Legislature Audit Committee unanimously approved a report in May that found Noem’s daughter received preferential treatment.
Noem previously called for the ethics complaint to be dismissed without a hearing arguing that the person who filed it, former Republican Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, was out for revenge after he successfully won his impeachment and removal from office. for his driving in a deadly car of 2020. crash.
In that April motion to the board, Noem’s attorneys also said she could counter the charges against her. His campaign spokesman Ian Fury on Friday referred a reporter to a statement from August that called the board’s action “unlawful.”
But refusing to fight the evidence at a hearing on a contested case would allow the commission to “act” against it while potentially avoiding further public scrutiny.
The Government Accountability Board, which has never handled such a high-profile case since its creation in 2017, has not publicly announced the action it has taken. He deliberated over the complaints for nearly a year in a series of closed-door meetings, navigating untested laws.
Council member David Gienapp, at the August council meeting, verbally requested to invoke a law – SDCL 3-24-7 – which states that the council “must” hold a hearing into the disputed matter “to give the accused the opportunity to respond to the allegation.” But draft council minutes, released two days later, make no mention of that law.Instead, the draft minutes say the council acted to “make an initial decision” that the complaint “alleges facts” that the governor engaged in misconduct.
The council minutes say it took “appropriate action”, but the council has kept this action secret until now. The board is authorized under state law to issue a private reprimand. hearing of a contested matter and after determining, by majority vote, that misconduct has occurred.
“Their official actions, whatever they may be, should be a public record,” said David Bordewyk, who heads the South Dakota Newspaper Association and advocates for open records and assembly laws.
“Given the nature of this advice, which is to hold public officials accountable, the public has a right to know what those accountability measures are, regardless of the official.”
This week, board members declined to comment or did not return a request for comment. A lawyer hired by the council, Mark Haigh, has previously said it “fully complies” with all requirements of the laws governing it.
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