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Committee investigating Noem nepotism allegation approves subpoenas for record, testimony

A legislative oversight committee looking into Gov. Kristi Noem's daughter's realty appraisal certification approved on a bipartisan, 8-2 vote on Monday, Nov. 15, two motions seeking subpoenas. One requests document with the Department of Labor and Regulation, another for testimony of ex-realty appraiser director.

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Gov. Kristi Noem carries the flag past the people in attendance prior to joining the other riders for the roundup during the 56th annual Custer State Park buffalo roundup on Friday morning. (Matt Gade / Mitchell Republic)
Matt Gade

PIERRE, S.D. — South Dakota lawmakers investigating nepotism allegations against Gov. Kristi Noem flexed their subpoena power on Monday, Nov. 15, in seeking testimony and documents related to Kassidy Peters ' realty appraiser certification.

The bipartisan Government Operations and Audit Committee voted 8-2 on two separate measures Monday morning. One measure seeks an agreed disposition between the Department of Labor and Regulations and Noem's adult daughter, Peters. The other seeks the in-person testimony from Sherry Bren , a former executive director of the realty appraisal certification program. Bren heretofore has remained quiet in keeping with a non-disclosure agreement with the state.

But Monday's motions, brought by Sen. David Wheeler , mark a dramatic escalation in the legislative oversight committee's attempts to find out more details about a July 2020 meeting Noem held in the governor's mansion with Bren, labor department Secretary Marcia Hultman, and Peters. Until now, lawmakers have been stonewalled in their request for information, including for a document that could show whether Peters' ultimate certification came as a result of political pressure from the governor.

"The information sought is not otherwise practically available," said Wheeler, in making his motion on Monday. "And the secretary has declined [to provide a] copy of the document to the committee."

Wheeler characterized subpoenaing the agreed disposition -- a document held by the labor department that would've laid out any details between Peters and the agency about her approval process -- as part of a larger inquiry GOAC is making into the realty appraiser certification program.

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On Thursday, Nov. 4, Noem told reporters in Sioux Falls that "we didn't even talk about that," referring to whether the subject of Peters' application was broached at a meeting she admits she had at the July meeting.

However, those comments contradicted remarks made on Oct. 28 when Hultman disclosed to GOAC that Noem had discussed Peters' application at the July 2020 meeting in the governor's mansion.

After standing up the GOAC committee last month, Bren's attorney Timothy Rensch wrote last week to GOAC Chair Sen. Kyle Schoenfish , R-Scotland, indicating his client would answer two dozen questions submitted by the committee in person if by order of a subpoena.

On Monday, the committee eagerly complied. Wheeler refuted the state government's stance that the records sought were private.

"That does not apply to this committee's authority to get documents," said Wheeler.

Earlier this fall, the Associated Press and South Dakota Public Broadcasting reported that Bren had been forced into retirement shortly after Peters achieved her realty appraiser certification in December 2020. Bren was later paid $200,000 by the state to withdraw an age discrimination lawsuit.

Sen. Wayne Steinhauer , R-Hartford, one of two dissenting voices on Monday (along with Sen. Jean Hunhoff , R-Yankton), argued the governor's meeting has been misunderstood and that an investigation should be finished by the Government Accountability Board before legislators act.

"You can think lots of nefarious things happened in this meeting," said Steinhauer. "On the other hand, it might be the governor was really smart in having a private person ... involved in the meeting."

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Rep. Linda Duba , D-Sioux Falls, responded that she'd attended the Government Accountability Board meeting in Sioux Falls earlier this month, maintained the deliberations were almost entirely in secret -- as is required by law -- and it's unknown whether the board might have already dismissed the charge.

Both subpoenas will need to be ratified by the legislature's executive board, which meets later this week.

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State Sen. Wayne Steinhauer, a Republican, represents District 9, including Hartford and southwestern Minnehaha County, in the South Dakota legislature. South Dakota Legislative Research Council

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