Once they recover from this week’s Special Sessions, legislators on the Government Operations and Audit Committee will reassemble on Monday, November 15 at 8 a.m. in Capitol Room 413 for a meeting that appears focus entirely on Governor Kristi Noem’s unusual intervention into her daughter Kassidy Peters’s application for real estate appraiser certification. So far, the agenda lists two discussion items:
- Committee discussion of follow-up information requested from the Department of Labor and Regulation
- Committee discussion of follow-up information requested from Ms. Bren
Ms. Bren is Sherry Bren, the creator and 30-year director of the Department of Labor and Regulation’s Appraiser Certification Program whom the Noem Administration forced to quit after Peters struggled to qualify for her certification. Sources told KSFY News that Bren had sent Peters’s appraiser test out of state for scoring to avoid any conflict of interest, but four months after calling Bren onto the carpet (the Governor’s mansion carpet) for unprofessional and slow performance, and just one day after Peters finally received her certification, the Noem Administration told Bren the state no longer wanted her services. The state had to spend $219,151.72, the second-largest settlement payout by the state in the last three years, to settle Bren’s age discrimination complaint and impose a non-disparagement clause to keep her quiet about her forced departure.
Apparently in deference to that non-disparagement clause, Bren’s lawyer, Tim Rensch of Rapid City, advised Bren not to testify at GOAC’s first hearing on this nepotism scandal. However, multiple GOAC members stated at the October 28 meeting that the non-disparagement clause was not a non-disclosure agreement and should not prevent Bren from disclosing facts about her work in the Appraiser Certification Program, the unusual bullying meeting to which the Governor summoned her at the Governor’s mansion on July 27, 2020, or her ouster from her position, which the Secretary of Labor set in motion in November 2020 and which was finally effected along with the age-discrimination settlement in March 2021.
As of breakfast this morning, GOAC has not posted any documents for Monday’s meeting yet. But we should watch closely to see what follow-up information both Bren and her former supervisor, Labor and Regulation Secretary Marcia Hultman, may submit to the committee. Bren’s testimony, written and/or live before the committee on Monday, is crucial to resolving the contradiction between Secretary Hultman’s October 28 GOAC testimony that the officials assembled for the July 27, 2020, mansion meeting did discuss Peters’s appraiser certification application and Governor Noem’s November 4 public statement that “We didn’t even talk about that.” Bren’s testimony is also vital to understanding how she handled Peters’s application, how Peters’s mom and her mom’s administration responded, and whether by any stretch of non-partisan imagination that response was appropriate.
Since Bren’s departure, the replacement chosen by the Noem Administration, Scott Amundson, has trashed the constructive relationships the Appraiser Certification Program had with the Professional Appraisers Association of South Dakota and infuriated appraisers with a premature and likely illegal weakening of standards for appraiser-trainees to enter the field. The Legislature’s Interim Rules Review Committee is meeting one door down from GOAC on Monday to discuss that weakening and two other rule changes from Amundson’s office. Rules Review starts at 9 a.m., but it won’t get to the appraiser rules, listed under South Dakota Real Estate Commission, until dealing with rule changes from eight other agencies. Appraisers and other parties keenly interested in the Appraiser Certification Program should thus have plenty of time to hear GOAC’s discussion of the ACP and Noem’s meddling therein before moving to Room 414 to testify on the contested appraiser rules.