PIERRE, SD — A South Dakota government accountability board on Thursday set an April deadline for Governor Kristi Noem to respond to a pair of ethics complaints from the state’s attorney general, signaling that it believes that the complaints might be well-founded.
Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, who like Noem is a Republican, asked the board to consider two issues. One is whether Noem’s use of state aircraft broke the law, and the other is whether she improperly interfered with a state agency that was evaluating her daughter’s application for a real estate appraiser license.
Noem insisted she had done nothing wrong.
After meeting for about 10 minutes behind closed doors, the Government Accountability Board, made up of retired judges, decided to give Noem until April 15 – after the end of the legislative session – to respond to the complaints. In December, he requested a response to one of the complaints, but the governor’s office asked for more time.
“It’s probably not the best time of year,” retired judge Gene Kean said, referring to the governor’s busy work schedule.
Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice David Gilbertson, who was appointed to the board by Noem, recused himself from reviewing the complaints.
The board keeps details of complaints secret unless it decides they warrant a public hearing. In the past, it has dismissed complaints without requiring the officials concerned to respond to them.
Ravnsborg declined to discuss specifics of the complaints Thursday, but explained that the board’s process requires a response from the subject of a complaint before the board decides whether to “dismiss it, pursue it or request an investigation.”
If the board finds ethics violations, it can take a wide range of actions, from requesting a criminal investigation to issuing a private reprimand or requiring community service. But in the five years since its inception, the council has never considered taking action against a governor.
“The council has very wide discretion and we’re all learning a bit within the bounds of the law because they haven’t had a lot of complaints,” Ravnsborg said. “That’s pretty new advice.”
Although Ravnsborg and Noem are both Republicans, they are not allies. The governor pushed to remove Ravnsborg from office after hitting and killing a pedestrian with his car in 2020.
Noem has come under scrutiny for his involvement in the state’s appraiser certification program since the Associated Press reported that Noem called a meeting with his daughter, the secretary of labor and the manager. of the certification program at the time, Sherry Bren, just days after the Department of Labor. and Regulation decided to deny her daughter’s appraiser license application in 2020.
In December, Bren told a legislative committee reviewing the episode that she felt intimidated at the meeting and that afterwards, Noem’s daughter, Kassidy Peters, had an unprecedented additional opportunity to show that his work as an appraiser could meet federal requirements.
Noem, who is running for reelection and positioned for a White House bid in 2024, has repeatedly denied wrongdoing and said she was simply trying to address a shortage of evaluators in the state. .
Noem also dismissed scrutiny of using his state plane as a political attack after news website Raw Story found he was using state-owned planes to fly to events. of 2019 organized by political organizations such as the National Rifle Association, Turning Point USA and the Republican Jewish Coalition. Noem listed her travels as part of her job as an “ambassador” for the state.
South Dakota officials aren’t allowed to use the planes for anything other than state business, and Democratic Sen. Reynold Nesiba has asked the attorney general to investigate.
Noem’s spokesman, Ian Fury, said after the council announced its decision that his office “is focused on the work of the legislative session”.