By STEPHEN GROVES, Associated Press
SIOUX FALLS, SD (AP) — South Dakota lawmakers on Wednesday unanimously approved a report finding Republican Gov. Kristi Noem’s daughter got preferential treatment as she applied for a real estate appraiser’s license in 2020.
The findings of last year’s legislative inquiry, which was conducted by a Republican-controlled government operations and audit committee, repudiate Noem’s insistence that his daughter, Kassidy Peters, did not did not receive special treatment with his candidacy. An Associated Press report into Noem’s actions surrounding his daughter’s license sparked the investigation.
State lawmakers on Wednesday approved the committee’s findings by a voice vote and without discussion.
Noem, who is running for re-election and is positioned for a White House bid in 2024, has repeatedly denied wrongdoing, despite holding a meeting that included Peters and key agency decision makers who were assessing his license application just days after the agency’s move to deny him the license. After the meeting, Peters was given another opportunity to demonstrate that she could meet federal standards and eventually earned the license.
The Republican governor made his defense Wednesday, saying in a statement that “Kassidy went through the same process as other candidates to get his license. She did not receive preferential treatment.
But the report says Peters had three opportunities to demonstrate to state regulators that she could meet federal standards with her assessments, a departure from the standard certification process that gives applicants two opportunities before their application. not be refused.
Even before the meeting at the governor’s mansion where the third opportunity for Peters was discussed, Noem’s labor secretary, Marcia Hultman, played an unusual and practical role that spring, the report said. After Peters failed to meet federal standards on her first attempt, the state’s appraiser certification program entered into a disposition agreement with her that allowed her to take additional training, correct mistakes and resubmit their work.
“Secretary Hultman amended the disposition agreement and removed the requirement for additional training,” the report said. “It was the first time the secretary (of the Department of Labor and Regulation) entered into a disposition agreement.”
Peters failed to pass a labor exam for the second time, and lawmakers found that in July 2020 she received a notice of denial pending her application. The report says that at this point Peters should have “waited the required six months and reapplyed.”
Instead, lawmakers found a meeting was held at the governor’s mansion a week later and then-agency director Sherry Bren was asked to come prepared to discuss the next steps. steps so that Peters can pass his certification.
Four months later, Peters received his license. And in the weeks that followed, Bren was repeatedly forced into retirement by Noem’s secretary of labor. She eventually filed an age discrimination lawsuit and quit her job in March 2021 after receiving a $200,000 settlement agreement with the state.
Bren told the committee last year that she was forced into retirement.
The governor suggested that Bren, who had run the appraiser certification program since its inception in the 1990s, was preventing new appraisers from getting certified. But the Legislature report found Bren had done the exact opposite, saying she was working to “encourage efficiency and support changes that would make it easier to enter the appraisal industry.”
Midway through his license review, Peters surrendered his license and quit his appraisal job. Last year, she wrote in a letter to Hultman that she was angry that her professional reputation had been damaged.
The five-page report does not say whether Noem’s actions were appropriate, and Noem said lawmakers found no wrongdoing. However, government ethics experts said Noem inappropriately intervened to help his daughter. In addition, three of the five House members of the Government Operations and Audit Committee earlier this year voted in favor of a failed House resolution that sought to call his actions “unacceptable.” One Republican on the committee, Representative Sue Peterson, was excused from the House vote and another voted against.
The governor also argued again that she was trying to “fix the broken assessor program in South Dakota,” claiming a decade of action as a congresswoman and governor. During her eight years in Congress, Noem twice joined more than 100 other Republicans in signing bills that would, among other financial reforms, adjust federal regulations on appraisers.
While lawmakers have no plans to pursue their investigation, the state’s Government Accountability Board plans to investigate Noem’s actions.
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