Official: Felt intimidated at meeting with Noem, daughter

The former director of a South Dakota appraiser agency told lawmakers Tuesday that she felt “intimidated” at a meeting that Gov. Kristi Noem called where state officials discussed her daughter’s application for an upgraded real estate appraiser’s license.

Sherry Bren’s testimony before a legislative panel was the first time that she has spoken in depth in public about a meeting in the governor’s mansion last year since The Associated Press first reported on it in September. The panel’s inquiry into the state’s Appraiser Certification Program comes as Noem has positioned herself as a prospect for the GOP presidential ticket in 2024 and shown a willingness to jab at potential rivals.

The meeting occurred in July 2020 a week after the agency notified Noem’s daughter, Kassidy Peters, that her application did not meet federal requirements and was headed for denial.

Bren, the longtime director of the Appraiser Certification Program, said she expected to see the governor and her labor secretary at the meeting, but was surprised to see others, including Peters and the governor’s top aides. She testified that she was “very nervous and quite frankly intimidated.” She said Noem began the meeting by saying she knew that South Dakota is the hardest state to be licensed as an appraiser and she intended “to get the bottom of that.”

Bren said Peters’ unsuccessful application was discussed in detail and a plan made to give her another chance to apply. Bren said that plan took the form of a stipulation agreement, which she said was not typical because Peters was given a third chance to pass a work review.

Noem has denied wrongdoing, casting her actions as an effort to cut red tape to address a shortage of appraisers certified by the state.

“There’s been a continual narrative that I did something to help her get licensed, which is absolutely false,” Noem told the crowd at an event Monday.

Noem’s Secretary of Labor, Marcia Hultman, previously told the committee that Peters’ application was handled in the same way as many other applicants. Although she acknowledged it was uncommon to have an applicant like Peters in a meeting with top administration officials, Hultman said last year’s meeting in the governor’s mansion did not influence how the department handled Peters’ application because regulators had already set up a plan to let her fix shortcomings and try again.

Noem had echoed a similar defense to reporters, saying that “the decision was already made on her path forward.” She insisted the agreement was not even broached at the meeting and Peters had only given “her personal experiences through the program.”

But Bren told lawmakers that at the meeting, “I recall the discussion focused on crafting a second agreement, requiring Peters to complete the classes. Peters agreed to complete the classes, correct and rewrite the appraisal reports and submit them for review to the examiner.”

The agreement signed more than a week after the meeting.

Bren’s appearance Tuesday was compelled by subpoena. She was pressed to retire after Peters got her license in November 2020, filed an age discrimination lawsuit and accepted a $200,000 settlement that bars her from disparaging state officials.

Bren testified that she was “forced to retire.” Asked later to say why, she said: “I believe that it was age discrimination and beyond that would be strictly speculation on my part.”

The committee’s inquiry has been going on for nearly two months.

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