Part-time Governor Kristi Noem told the Sioux Falls Rotary Club today that “those documents 100% prove” that her daughter Kassidy Peters got “no special treatment” in her application for real estate appraiser certification, even though the documents and testimony we’ve heard so far show the opposite. Amplifying her daughter’s tantrum, Noem raged that “they” (the press? GOAC? Communists?) “completely destroyed” her daughter’s business “and ended her career,” even though her daughter abandoned her own relatively new job, and even though the only career ended by Appraisergate was that of the appraiser certification chief whom Governor Noem fired, Sherry Bren.
The Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee plans to hear testimony from ousted appraiser chief Sherry Bren tomorrow (Tuesday) at 8:30 a.m. in the Capitol, just two floors up from the Governor’s office. GOAC has posed 24 pretty serious questions about the Noem nepotism scandal. Bren “politely” declined GOAC’s invitation to testify in October, but after conflicting public statements from her former boss, Secretary of Labor Marcia Hultman, and from the Governor, Bren agreed to answer GOAC’s question in person. Bren asked for a subpoena to give her some legal cover, likely because she is afraid our litigious Governor will look for some way to use the non-disparagement agreement Bren signed as a way to punish Bren and perhaps take back the $219,151.72 the Governor paid Bren and her lawyer to shut up about Bren’s ouster.
I maintain that Bren has nothing to fear in giving honest testimony to GOAC tomorrow (non-disparagement is not the same as non-disclosure, and the agreement itself says facts are not disparagement), but lawyer, legislator, and Republican gubernatorial candidate Steven Haugaard would like Noem to relieve Bren of all concern and rescind her attempted gag order:
“Next Tuesday the Government Operations and Audit Committee will continue to give attention to the potential ethics issue involving Governor Noem’s daughter, Kassidy Peters,” Haugaard said. “It’s my understanding that they will have Sherry Bren available to testify as to the meeting at the Governor’s Residence where Kassidy Peters was present. Ms. Bren’s Settlement Agreement for wrongful termination included a “non-disparagement” clause.
“I am calling on Governor Noem to release her from that agreement, for the sake of transparency and so that Ms. Bren can feel comfortable answering the questions of the committee to the fullest extent possible.”
Haugaard continued, “When Kristi Noem ran for governor of South Dakota in 2018, she ran on her ‘Four Pillars of Protection,’ and the fourth was ‘Protection from Government Secrecy.’ I would ask her to keep that campaign promise by being transparent about this potential ethics violation” [Steven Haugaard, campaign press release, 2021.12.13].
Releasing Bren from that curious non-disparagement clause at today’s Rotary lunch would have been a magnanimous gesture, consistent with Noem’s professions of transparency. Ripping up that document and saying, “Go ahead, Sherry, tell ’em what you know” would have far more effectively dissuaded the public from thinking Kristi Noem is guilty of nepotism than bitterly insisting that someone, maybe everyone, is out to get her family.