Governor Kristi Noem said the state her daughter Kassidy Noem Peters no special treatment during her application to become a certified real estate appraiser. The former director of South Dakota’s Appraiser Certification Program, Sherry Bren, the woman Noem fired when Peters didn’t get her appraiser certification fast enough, testified to legislators yesterday that Peters did get special treatment.
With her lawyer Tim Rensch at her side, Bren took the stand in front of the Government Operations and Audit Committee and that Peters twice failed to meet standards for appraiser certification:
When an appraiser seeking licensure upgrade submits their application it must meet federal uniform standards. If it does not, they can enter into what’s called an agreed disposition. It’s like a second chance to resubmit their work.
Bren said an agreed disposition was offered to Peters in the spring of 2020. When Peters resubmitted the application, it did not meet federal uniform standards.
“A review was conducted in accordance to the agreed disposition,” Bren said. “On July 20th, or around that date, a proposed findings of fact, conclusions of law and order were provided to the applicant.”
That means Peters was issued a proposed denial. A week later, the meeting at the mansion took place [Lee Strubinger, “Bren Outlines ‘Third Opportunity’ for Governor’s Daughter on License Upgrade,” SDPB, 2021.12.14].
That second chance usually goes easy on applicants:
Applicants typically get two chances as they seek to “upgrade” their state credentials, Bren explained. First they submit appraisals for review and take a national exam. If the appraisals are not up to standard, the candidate can correct them and resubmit, and can also get help from a reviewer. But if those revised appraisals are still not acceptable, she said, then the applicant is denied — though they may elect to take their case further by requesting a hearing.
“I’d say that second review almost sounds like an open-book test,” said South Dakota Sen. Wayne Steinhauer (R). “Is that a fair assessment?”
“Yes,” Bren said [Hannah Knowles, “Ex-Official Says She Felt ‘Intimidated’ in Meeting with Kristi Noem That Led to Daughter’s Appraiser License,” Washington Post, 2021.12.14].
But Governor Noem’s Secretary of Labor Marcia Hultman evidently felt that second chance wasn’t easy enough for the Governor’s daughter. Within that standard second-chance agreed-disposition procedure, Peters received treatment that was not just special but, as far as Bren can recall, unique:
“Originally I had drafted an agreed disposition that included appraisal education classroom hours, and that provision or term of the agreed disposition, I was asked to remove that and to simply put in the letter of transmittal, that additional education might be beneficial and that was all that there was for the education, just a recommendation,” Bren said.
“Was it common for secretary of labor to suggest amendments like that,” said Sen. David Wheeler, a Republican from Huron.
“No, it was not,” Bren said.
“Had it ever happened in the past?” Wheeler asked.
“I do not recall that there’s been involvement by the secretary in this, the agreed disposition process,” Bren said [Dan Santella, “Bren Gives Testimony on Noem’s Daughter’s Pursuit of Appraisal Certification,” KELO-TV, 2021.12.14].
Even with that break, Peters still failed to fulfill the criteria of her second chance. That’s when Mom—Governor Noem—stepped in, summoning Bren to the Governor’s Mansion to face Noem, her daughter, her chief of staff, Bren’s direct boss the Secretary of Labor, and three administration lawyers. This unusual star-chamber meeting had the predictable intimidating effect on Bren:
Bren said she was taken aback to see Peters and a host of officials at the meeting, held on July 27, 2020, at the governor’s mansion, days after authorities moved to reject Peters’s application.
“I was very nervous and quite frankly, intimidated,” Bren testified. “As you can imagine. The governor started the meeting with essentially the statement, ‘I know for a fact that South Dakota is the hardest state to get licensed in as an appraiser, and I intend to get to the bottom of this’” [Knowles, 2021.12.14].
According to reporter Joe Sneve, Bren also told the committee “that she hadn’t anticipated Peters’ presence” at the meeting, which resulted in a third opportunity for Peters to get her certification. Bren testified that this third opportunity was unprecedented special treatment:
“It was outside of the recognized upgrade procedures,” Bren, 71, said of a stipulation agreement created for Peters in summer 2020 following a closed-door meeting at the Governor’s Mansion that she attended along with Noem, Peters and Labor Secretary Marcia Hultman.
…Bren… testified that she cannot recall an instance during her three-decades as executive director of the South Dakota Appraiser Certification Program, where an appraiser applicant struggling to obtain certification was provided a stipulation agreement.
And such a document amounts to a third opportunity to become certified, whereas the typical procedure only provides an applicant two chances to complete their appraiser training, she said [Joe Sneve, “Sherry Bren’s Testimony in Nepotism Hearing Contradicts Gov. Kristi Noem’s Statements,” Sioux Falls Argus Leader, 2021.12.14].
Senator Wayne Steinhauer (R-9/Hartford) attempted prove Bren wrong by producing a stipulation agreement reached with a frustrated appraiser certification applicant in 2017 (a document later posted to Twitter by Governor Noem’s furious office, which accused Bren of lying under oath). Bren explained why the document Steinhauer and Team Noem were touting to discredit her did not refute her statements:
As she testified, Noem spokesman Ian Fury posted on Twitter that the agreement showed that Peters had to meet additional requirements to get her license.
In an email, Fury also questioned Bren’s credibility, pointing out that the agency had previously entered into a “stipulation agreement” with an applicant in 2017.
But Bren said that 2017 agreement was reached as part of the proceedings of a third-party review board, called the Office of Hearing Examiners, to which appraisers can appeal if they believe the agency mishandled their license.
“Once our case goes to hearing, then these documents are outside of my authority or control, and it would not be the same thing as what we’re talking about today,” Bren told the committee.
The 2017 agreement laid out a plan for an applicant to withdraw his application and submit a new one; Peters’ agreement allowed her to complete her initial application [Stephen Groves, “Official: License for Noem’s Daughter Got Unusual Treatment,” AP, 2021.12.14].
Steinhauer appeared to retreat:
Steinhauer, the Republican lawmaker, also suggested he would not fault Bren for struggling to recall everything. “Your memory has been very good,” he said. “We appreciate your testimony and your straightforwardness” [Knowles, 2021.12.14].
Kassidy Peters, the Governor’s daughter, failed in her first attempt to obtain her real estate appraiser certification. When Appraiser Certification Program director Sherry Bren prepared the usual second chance, Secretary of Labor Marcia Hultman watered down the requirements Peters would have to fulfill. Peters failed that second chance. After that second failure, Peters got to have a meeting with Bren in Peters’s mom’s mansion with lots of Administration officials to intimidate Bren. Bren then had to give Peters a unique third chance.
“Were you asked to retire?” Asked State Rep. Randy Gross (R-Elkton). Gross will serve as the chair of GOAC in 2022.
“No, I was forced to retire,” Bren replied [Austin Goss, “Sherry Bren Contradicts Noem, Hultman During GOAC Hearing,” KEVN, 2021.12.14].
Bren said that to her knowledge, she had not received any “negative evaluations” during her decades-long tenure at the appraiser program [Knowles, 2021.12.14].
Bren’s testimony yesterday makes clear that the Governor’s daughter received special treatment in her appraiser certification process.