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Politics

Committee wants former state official to testify about meeting with Governor Noem

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SDPB

A legislative committee is summoning the former head of the appraiser certification program to testify on a meeting she attended in 2020.

That meeting also included Gov. Kristi Noem, her daughter and several top administration officials and lawyers.

The Government Operations and Audit Committee wants to hear from Sherry Bren, who led the appraiser certification program for 30 years.

Months following the meeting, Gov. Noem's daughter, Kassidy Peters, received her appraiser license despite Associated Press reports that she was slated for a denial. Bren has not spoken publicly since those reports.

In the spring of 2021, Bren filed a workplace discrimination complaint and settled with the state for $200,000.

Now a majority of the legislative committee wants to hear from Bren.

Republican senators Jean Hunhoff and Wayne Steinhauer voted against the subpoena. Steinhauer says a government ethics board is already looking into the issue.

"On one hand you can think there was all kinds of nefarious things that happened in this meeting and the fact that we had a private citizen, Kassidy, involved," Steinhauer says. "On the other hand, it might be really smart that the governor had someone with experience with the department in the meeting. So, it depends, I guess, maybe, on your position."

Other legislators are not satisfied with the ethics board inquiry. Democratic Rep. Linda Duba says it's happening behind closed doors.

"And when they were asked, in terms of timing or information, they could not give a definitive answer, nor date, on when they would receive additional information," Duba says.

A time and date has not been set for Bren to testify to the legislative committee.

Gov. Noem has acknowledged her daughter attended the meeting, but says her daughter did not receive special treatment.

Lawmakers also want to see a document called an "agreed disposition" that Peters may have signed with the state. The committee voted on similar lines on whether to pursue those documents.

Agreed dispositions are like a second chance for state-registered appraisers whose license applications don't meet federal or state standards.

Applicants must pass a national exam and submit a work sample of an appraisal they've completed. The agreement gives applicants an opportunity to correct their work sample and resubmit their work.

The last line in an agreed disposition says the document is open to public inspection pursuant to South Dakota Codified Law 1-26-2.

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Lee Strubinger
Sample of an Agreed Disposition

However, the Department of Labor and Regulation has denied press requests to see the documents, citing SDCL 1-27-1.5(5).

In their denial, one lawyer for the Department of Labor and Regulation says, "Agreed dispositions, and any related documents, are developed by the Program as part of its duties of examination of individuals who are seeking to achieve certain levels of appraiser licensure, and therefore are not open to inspection.”

The Executive Board — a committee comprised of legislative leaders — must approve the subpoenas before they are issued. That committee meets later this week.

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