Under the scorching heat of scrutiny from the press, the Legislature, the Attorney General, and a public still boggled at Governor Kristi Noem’s heavy-handed intervention in her daughter Kassidy Peters’s pursuit of a state certification to appraise real estate, our beleaguered Governor issued both a video and an official press release to take people’s attention off her nepotism.
In the video, Governor Noem repeats her assertion that “I never once asked for special treatment for Kassidy” and that “other appraisers went through the exact same process that Kassidy did.”
I see… so other appraisers got to come to the Governor’s Office to watch the Governor, her lawyer, her chief of staff, her Labor Secretary, and the Labor Secretary’s lawyer all gang up on the appraisal chief who was just trying to do appraisal certification fairly?
In the video and the Friday press release, Governor Noem insists she’s been working on “streamlining” the appraiser certification process “for years.”
Really? The only Legislative action on that front during Noem’s term was 2021 House Bill 1015, which came from the Department of Labor and Regulation, not the Governor’s Office, and which Sherry Bren, the appraiser certifier whom Noem fired and whom Noem implies in her video had been on the job too long and had failed to streamline the process, presented and promoted to both House and Senate Commerce and Energy last winter, even as her unfair firing was pending. We didn’t hear word one from Noem about appraiser certification until AP’s Stephen Groves broke this latest nepotism scandal Monday.
And all the talk of streamlining in the world does not explain why the Governor called Sherry Bren in to her office for a group chewing-out right after her daughter’s certification hit a rough spot, why the Governor’s daughter was present at that unusual meeting, why the Governor fired Bren right after her daughter got her certification, or why the Governor (er, we, the taxpayers) had to pay Bren $200,000 to settle her age discrimination complaint following the firing.
Blowing more smoke, the Governor quotes three appraisers in her press release to thank her for her streamlining. Nothing the three appraisers say addresses the special treatment the Governor’s daughter received or the firing of Sherry Bren.
The Governor does not quote Watertown appraiser Brad Johnson, who takes to the papers to say that, yes, there are frustrating delays in appraiser certification, but they aren’t the fault of the woman Noem fired or anything that Noem can fix at the state level:
Immediately on her dismissal, word spread through the appraisal industry about Noem’s intervention and Bren’s forced firing. Bren, who has managed the Appraiser Certification Program for nearly 30 years, is well respected statewide and nationally.
Most everyone who has been licensed as an appraiser in South Dakota since 1991 has worked with Bren. The licensing process is time consuming and sometimes difficult — but that is not Bren’s fault. It is driven by federal banking regulations and national appraisal standards [Brad Johnson, “Appraisers Furious with Gov. Kristi Noem’s Intervention on Daughter’s Behalf,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2021.10.01].
Johnson gets us back to the point: Noem’s intervention was rank nepotism. And the special treatment continues, as Noem’s Labor Department refuses to release public documents about her daughter’s certification application. Johnson says that’s a dangerous double standard that warrants investigation:
Appraisers can sympathize with Peters’ frustration. They’ve all gone through the process. But none had the advantage of a governor influencing their license application.
There always has been one set of rules that govern all of us appraisers. Now, apparently, there isn’t.
…If Noem has nothing to hide, she should release the state’s letters initially denying and later approving her daughter’s license.
It has been made clear to all appraisers that these are public documents. Now, apparently, they are not, which might be hard to explain to the national financial institutions that often request the documents.
Because of these mixed messages, the appraisal industry is strongly supporting investigations by the Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee, the Attorney General’s Office and potentially by the Appraisal Subcommittee , a federal organization governing the appraisal industry [Johnson, 2021.10.01].
Johnson also reminds us what KSFY pointed out right away Monday: Noem’s meddling in appraiser certification could trigger a federal audit that could shut down real estate appraisals and lending in South Dakota. No talk of “streamlining” can avert that dread prospect.
And none of Noem’s “streamlining” talk denies these three salient and damning facts: the Governor personally intervened in her daughter’s appraiser certification, favored her daughter with a special meeting in her office with the appraisal certifier who got her goat, and then fired that certifier in a way that cost the state a $200K settlement and may jeopardize real estate transactions across the state.
Related Relations: The three appraisers Noem quoted in her diversionary press release are Brian Gatzke of Brookings, Lisa Blake of Pierre, and Chase Kristensen of Mitchell.
- Brian Gatzke ran for Republican Committeeman in Brookings in 2014. OpenSecrets.org says Brian Gatzke donated $15,100 to Kristi Noem’s federal campaigns. Gatzke gave Noem at least $1,000 in 2018 for her gubernatorial campaign; his wife Carla (née Kurtenbach) chipped in another $150 to Noem in 2018.
- Chase Kristensen’s appraisal work in Mitchell likely brought him in contact with Kyle Peters when he worked as an ag/business banker at Plains Commerce Bank in Mitchell. Chase and Kyle both grew up in White Lake and were on the football team together in 2009. Kyle Peters married Kassidy Noem in 2019.