SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota lawmakers on Wednesday unanimously approved a report finding that Republican Gov. Kristi Noem's daughter got preferential treatment while she was applying for a real estate appraiser's license in 2020.
The findings of last year's legislative probe, which was conducted by a Republican-controlled Government Operations and Audit Committee, repudiate Noem's insistence that her daughter, Kassidy Peters, didn't receive special treatment with her application. An Associated Press report on Noem's actions surrounding her daughter's licensure sparked the investigation.
State lawmakers on Wednesday approved the committee’s findings by a voice vote and without discussion.
Noem, who is running for reelection and is positioned for a 2024 White House bid, has repeatedly denied wrongdoing, despite holding a meeting that included Peters and key decision-makers from the agency that was evaluating her license application just days after the agency moved to deny her the license. After the meeting, Peters received another opportunity to demonstrate she could meet federal standards and was ultimately awarded the license.
Noem's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The report says Peters received three opportunities to demonstrate to state regulators that she could meet federal standards with her appraisals, which deviated from the standard certification process that gives applicants two opportunities before their application is denied.
Even before the meeting at the governor's mansion where the third opportunity for Peters was discussed, Noem's labor secretary, Marcia Hultman, took an unusual, hands-on role that spring, the report states. After Peters failed to meet federal standards on her first try, the state's appraiser certification program entered a disposition agreement with her that allowed her to take additional training, fix errors and resubmit her work.
“Secretary Hultman changed the disposition agreement and removed the requirement for additional course training,” the report says. “This was the first time the (Department of Labor and Regulation) Secretary inserted herself into any disposition agreement.”
Peters failed to pass a work review for a second time, and lawmakers found that in July of 2020, she was sent a notice of a pending denial to her application. The report states that at that point, Peters should “have waited the required six months and reapplied.”
Instead, lawmakers found that a meeting was held at the governor's mansion a week later and the agency's director at the time, Sherry Bren, was asked to come prepared to discuss the next steps so that Peters could pass her certification.
Four months later, Peters received her license. And in the weeks after that, Bren was repeatedly pressured to retire by Noem's labor secretary. She eventually filed an age discrimination complaint and left her job in March of 2021 after receiving a $200,000 settlement agreement with the state.
Bren told the committee last year that she had been forced to retire.
The governor has implied that Bren, who directed the appraiser certification program since its inception in the 1990s, was getting in the way of new appraisers getting their certification. But the Legislature's report found that Bren did just the opposite, stating that she worked to “encourage efficiency and support changes that would ease entry into the appraisal industry.”
Amid scrutiny of her licensure, Peters has surrendered her license and quit her appraisal work. Last year, she wrote in a letter to Hultman that she was angry that her professional reputation was damaged.
The five-page report doesn't say whether Noem’s actions were appropriate, but government ethics experts have said Noem inappropriately interfered to help her daughter. A Republican-sponsored state House resolution to scold Noem was rejected earlier this year by most GOP members.
However, a separate government body, the Government Accountability Board, is considering whether to investigate Noem's actions.
Stephen Groves, The Associated Press