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Sept. 28, 2021, 8:26 a.m. EDT

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem called 2020 meeting of top state officials after daughter was denied real-estate-appraiser certification

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Associated Press

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Just days after a South Dakota agency moved to deny her daughter’s application to become a certified real estate appraiser, Gov. Kristi Noem summoned to her office the state employee who ran the agency, the woman’s direct supervisor and the state labor secretary. Noem’s daughter attended, too.

Kassidy Peters, then 26, ultimately obtained the certification in November 2020, four months after the meeting at her mother’s office. A week after that, the labor secretary called the agency head, Sherry Bren, to demand her retirement, according to an age-discrimination complaint Bren filed against the department. Bren, 70, ultimately left her job this past March after the state paid her $200,000 to withdraw the complaint.

From the archives (July 2021): Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota targeting barbs at fellow Republicans viewed as mulling 2024 presidential bids

Exactly what transpired at the July 27, 2020, meeting in the governor’s office isn’t clear. Noem declined an interview request and her office declined to answer detailed questions about the meeting.

“The Associated Press is disparaging the Governor’s daughter in order to attack the Governor politically — no wonder Americans’ trust in the media is at an all-time low,” spokesman Ian Fury said.

Still, government ethics experts who reviewed the series of events at the AP’s request said Noem’s decision to include her daughter in the meeting created a conflict of interest regardless of what was discussed.

While Peters was applying for the certification, Noem should have recused herself from discussions on the agency, especially any that would apply to her daughter’s application, said Richard Painter, a professor at the University of Minnesota Law School who was the chief ethics lawyer for former President George W. Bush.

“It’s clearly a conflict of interest and an abuse of power for the benefit of a family member,” he said.

Peters began working as a state-registered appraiser in 2016. She worked under the supervision of a certified appraiser to get the experience necessary to apply for her own residential appraiser certification. It’s not an easy hurdle; applicants must show they can perform appraisals to national standards, putting to use 200 hours of classroom education and months of experience.

While trainees make as little as $10 an hour, certified residential appraisers can launch their own businesses and can make more than $50,000 a year.

In September 2019, Peters applied to become a certified residential appraiser. But in late July 2020, the Appraiser Certification Program moved to deny the license, according to a July 27 letter from Peters’s supervisor that was obtained by AP. The certification is denied when an applicant’s work samples don’t meet minimum compliance with national standards, according to the agency’s upgrade procedures.

Bren, who had directed the Appraiser Certification Program for three decades, told the AP that she received a text on July 26 from her supervisor telling her to be at the governor’s office the next morning, ready to discuss “appraiser certification procedures.”

Besides Noem and Peters, Bren said the meeting included Labor Secretary Marcia Hultman; Bren’s supervisor; the governor’s general counsel; and, participating by telephone, Noem’s chief of staff and a lawyer from the state’s Department of Labor and Regulation.

Bren remembered it lasting close to an hour and including questions from Noem on how certification works.

After consulting with her attorney, Bren declined to discuss with AP further meeting details, including whether Peters’s upgrade was discussed. The settlement of her age-discrimination complaint includes a clause barring her from disparaging state officials.

However, Bren did confirm that at the meeting she was presented with a letter from Peters’ supervisor, Kristine Juelfs, who wrote that she disagreed with the denial and charged that Peters had run up against an “inefficient process.”

“In the past week I was notified that my trainee, State Registered Appraiser Kassidy Peters, was denied upgrade of her license to State Certified Residential Appraiser,” Juelfs wrote. “This came as quite a shock to myself as she has represented the knowledge and skills necessary.”

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