PIERRE, SD (AP) – The daughter of South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem received unusual treatment in an application for a real estate license, including an additional opportunity to obtain it after failing to meet federal requirements, a the former director of a state assessment agency told lawmakers Tuesday.
Sherry Bren’s testimony before 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 office 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 that a plan was made that gave her another chance. to apply.
The agency’s training of this plan – referred to as a “stipulation agreement” – at this point in the application process had never been done before, Bren said. She said it broke established procedures as it gave Peters a third chance to take a work exam; applicants are generally granted two opportunities.
Yet even before that, Bren said, Peters’ candidacy strayed from established practice, when Noem’s cabinet secretary took on an unusual practical role that spring.
The panel’s investigation into the assessor certification program comes as Noem has positioned himself as a prospect for the GOP presidential ticket in 2024 and has shown his willingness to hit potential rivals.
Noem has denied committing any wrongdoing, calling his actions a red tape to address the shortage of state-certified assessors. Noem also insisted the deal was not even 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 her testimony on Tuesday, Bren said she had expected to see the Governor and his Secretary of Labor at the July meeting, but was surprised to see others, including Peters and the principal collaborators of the governor.
“Once I got there I was very nervous and, frankly, intimidated,” Bren said.
She said Noem started the reunion by saying she knew South Dakota is the hardest state to get as an assessor and that she intended “to get to the bottom of it. “. Most of the requirements to be certified as an appraiser are set at the federal level, but Bren said some state standards go beyond that minimum.
As Bren testified, the governor’s office continued to present the stipulation agreement as proof that Noem had not sought special treatment for his daughter. Ian Fury, the governor’s spokesperson, posted on Twitter to say that the deal showed Peters had to meet additional requirements to get his license.
Fury also pointed out that the ministry had already entered into a “stipulation agreement”, but Bren said his agency had never initiated one and that the previous “stipulation agreement” had been reached in a separate process. a license upgrade.
In another deviation from normal procedure, Peters said Labor Secretary Marcia Hultman pushed Bren in the spring to demand that Peters take additional assessor courses. Bren said she doesn’t recall a cabinet secretary ever getting involved in this process.
Hultman previously told the committee that Peters’ candidacy was treated the same as many other candidates. Although she admitted that it was rare to have a candidate like Peters in a meeting with senior administration officials, Hultman said last year’s meeting at the governor’s mansion did hadn’t influenced how the department handled Peters’ request, as regulators had already put a plan in place to let her fix the flaws and try again.
But Bren told lawmakers at the meeting, “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 on Tuesday was compelled by subpoena. She was pressed to retire after Peters obtained her license in November 2020, 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 give them an understanding of why Bren was pressured into retirement.
“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.”
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