Part-time Governor Kristi Noem and largely idle First Gent Bryon Noem are handing out treats at the Governor’s Mansion this evening from 5 to 6:30. “It may be a bit chilly out, so be sure to dress warmly,” the Governor warns.
Imagine how chilly Appraiser Certification Program chief Sherry Bren found the Governor’s Mansion when she was summoned there on July 27, 2020, to be chastised for getting in the way of the Governor’s daughter’s real estate appraiser certification.
The Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee met Thursday to hear about that scandalous meeting and the Governor’s audacious intervention in her daughter’s struggle to meet federal appraiser standards. We learned that the meeting took place in the Governor’s residence, not in her Capitol office as the original September 27 AP reporting indicated. We learned that the meeting involved not one but two lawyers from the Department of Labor and Regulation, along with the Governor, her chief of staff, her lawyer, her Labor Secretary, and, most alarmingly, her daughter, Kassidy Peters.
And we learned that the Republicans on GOAC will continue to strive mightily to avoid holding Republicans accountable for abuses of power.
DLR Secretary Marcia Hultman told GOAC that she and the Governor brought Bren before the Governor and her unhappy daughter at the Governor’s Mansion to “talk about the current licensing process to become an appraiser in South Dakota and potential changes to that process.” Secretary Hultman said a plan was already in place to help the struggling Peters complete her appraiser certification, so a meeting at which a lonely Bren faced her boss the Secretary, three lawyers, the Governor, the Governor’s daughter, and the Governor’s chief of staff while she was presented with a letter blasting the denial of Peters’s certification, calling the evaluation process “inefficient”, and calling Peters’s examiner “unprofessional” couldn’t have been an effort to put any pressure on Bren to treat Peters’s application more favorably.
And Republican Senator David Wheeler (R-22/Huron) bought that ruse:
Regarding the application for Kassidy Peters, is that the conversations that she had to get her license with Sherry Bren occurred before the meeting at the residence. And that after that point, her license was no longer in Sherry Bren’s hands. It was in the hands of her, Kassidy herself, to complete her education, and in the hands of the independent reviewers who were then going to review her work product as part of her examination.
And to me that is important to point out as something I learned new today. There’s two ways of looking in that. One is that the governor had a family member who was going through the process and maybe there’s an insight there you can have easy access to learn about. On the other hand, she had a pending application for a licensure, and it does create the appearance of conflict that generated all the controversy that brought us here today… But when we get down to the facts of what actually happened, the evidence that we have today indicates that there was at no point pressure brought on Sherry Bren to have any effect on Kassidy Peters’ license [Sen. David Wheeler, quoted in Bob Mercer, “Governor’s Daughter Had Appraisal Plan in Place Prior to Meeting, Hultman Tells S.D. Legislators,” KELO-TV, updated 2021.10.29].
Republican Senator Jean Hunhoff (R-18/Yankton) also semantically stumbled toward excuses, because, you know, all of us in management at some point call our underlings in for a gang-browbeating when they fail to treat our offspring as God’s gift to the organization:
What we did here is a plan was prior made, that there was an agreement, alright, so that was in place. Again, we don’t know all the details, but we do know that a plan was put into place. So, I think that says, you know, that was, and that’s open to anyone, we did hear that other people can have mentoring… I think that unfortunately there maybe was an action or behavior that was done, and we all in management in our own businesses or whatever, sometimes we do faux pas, and we learn from that. So, I’m just hoping that is. But I don’t believe it was out of context in the sense that the plan was in place for this individual to move on [Sen. Jean Hunhoff, in Mercer, 2021.10.29].
Unbound by partisan fealty to the Snow Queen, GOAC’s only Democratic Senators were able to speak more intelligibly about what Hultman was telling them:
We invited an individual to that meeting who had, who was having difficulty getting certified. And clearly the secretary said that is not a normal process, that it hadn’t happened. We need to understand why that happened… [Sen. Linda Duba (D-15/Sioux Falls), in Mercer, 2021.10.29].
“It continues to look bad, but we can’t clear the air because we can’t ask the rest of the questions,” said Sen. Reynold Nesiba [D-15/Sioux Falls] after Hultman and an attorney at her side repeatedly declined to get into specifics about what transpired at the meeting that’s raised allegations of nepotism and abuse of power. “It seems to me like there’s still a lot of questions that remain unanswered and I’ll leave it at that” [Joe Sneve, “Nepotism Probe into Gov. Noem, South Dakota Labor Office Leaves Questions Unanswered,” that Sioux Falls paper, updated 2021.10.29].
Helping leave Senator Nesiba’s questions unanswered is ousted appraiser certification chief Bren, who still hasn’t figured out that the non-disparagement clause the state made her sign in order to finalize its costly settlement of her age-discrimination claim doesn’t stop her from telling the facts about what happened at that July 27, 2020, meeting. Senator Wheeler and GOAC chair Kyle Schoenfish (R-19/Scotland) said exactly that during Thursday’s hearing. Unfortunately, Bren’s lawyer, Timothy Rensch of Rapid City (who has helped killer Republican Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg avoid accountability for his own crimes), advised her to keep quiet and notified Senator Schoenfish Wednesday afternoon that his client was “politely” declining GOAC’s invitation to testify. Following the hearing, Bren let the press know that she is working with Rensch “to achieve an opportunity to provide relevant facts to members of the Government Operations and Audit Committee and to correct any factual inaccuracies that were provided to them by Sec. Hultman in her testimony today.”
The primary factual inaccuracy that requires correcting is the idea that the Governor can leap over the chain of command, drag a subordinate into the Mansion for a chewing out in front of lawyers and her own dissatisfied daughter, and then pretend that’s not special treatment for her daughter or an abuse of her executive authority.
Another major inaccuracy lies with citizens who think Republican legislators like Senators Wheeler and Hunhoff will ever hold their Republican Governor accountable for such abuses of power. Republicans’ swallowing of Secretary Hultman’s great dollops of horsehockey Thursday demonstrate the inability of South Dakota’s one-party regime to deal soberly with genuine and blatant corruption. If you want accountability, don’t expect it from GOAC; your only reliable option is to turn out in force on November 8, 2022, and vote Noem out of office for good.