Kristi Noem daughter received special consideration as she completed the real estate appraiser licensing program administered by the state.
One of the key findings from a five-page report unanimously approved Wednesday by a legislative panel that spent months investigating allegations of abuse of power against Republican governor Mike Rounds and bottlenecks in South Dakota’s Department of Labor Appraiser Certification Program.
“I am confident the information gathered by GOAC painted an accurate portrait of what occurred,” Government Audit and Operations Committee co-chairman Randy Gross, R-Elkton, told the Argus Leader on Tuesday.
The committee’s report presents the conclusions reached during a series of meetings that included formal testimony from Labor Secretary Marcia Hultman and Sherry Bren, former director of the appraiser program.
In December, Bren informed the committee she would have to retire in March 2021, four months after Noem’s daughter Kassidy Peters had become certified as a state appraiser.
According to the report, Peters had been unsuccessfully attempting to earn certification in spring 2020 when “an agreed disposition” had outlined additional training work necessary for her to acquire her appraiser license.
Peters’ path towards certification took an interesting turn when Noem’s cabinet decided to get involved.
“DLR Secretary Hultman intervened in the disposition agreement and removed the requirement for additional course training,” states the report. “This marked the first time that she had ever entered into any disposition agreement.”
On July 20, 2020, Peters was served a pending denial notice. A week later, Bren was ordered to attend the meeting at Governor’s Mansion and bring examples of specific errors found in Peters’ work product as well as criteria used to determine them. According to the report, specific training/next steps are recommended for Kassidy so she can pass muster, including attending the meeting.
Less than two weeks later, DLR and Peters reached a “stipulation agreement” outlining their next steps. The pending notice of denial was subsequently revoked.
“Kassidy Peters was granted a third opportunity to pass the level of certification she sought,” the report states. “However, this opportunity was outside the requirements. She should have waited the required six months and reapplied for this level.”
Bren, who received $200,000 in a wrongful termination settlement with the state before her formal retirement, testified to a committee in December that she was forced out of her job after 30 years with the organization.
Peters is no longer certified as a real estate appraiser in South Dakota.
The Department of Labor and Regulation did not respond to our request for comment.
The report, unanimously adopted by the Republican-controlled 10-member panel, completes GOAC’s investigation into nepotism claims. A subsequent investigation into allegations of power abuse and nepotism by the Government Accountability Board is still open for business.
Gross expressed his hope that the Government Accountability Board will use this report as a valuable tool in its deliberations, though he declined to speculate whether he thought the report was damaging for President Obama and his administration.
On Wednesday, Gov. Noem issued a statement to the Argus Leader disputing any wrongdoing in her administration’s handling of Peters’ appraisal certification process.
Kassy reiterated that she followed the same process as other applicants to obtain her license, noting that others enrolled in the appraiser certification program since summer 2020 have also been given a third opportunity to complete course work.
The governor maintains that, despite GOAC’s report highlighting breaches in protocol becoming final this week, “the Legislature found no wrongdoing during their review” which ended in December.