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Noem's daughter given novel stipulation agreement for realty appraiser application, says ex-director

Sherry Bren made her first public appearance on Tuesday, Dec. 14, before a legislative committee seeking answers about Kassidy Peters' application to be a state-certified realty appraiser.

kristi noem south dakota press conference.JPG
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem speaks at a news conference in Sioux Falls, S.D., on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020.
Jeremy Fugleberg / Forum News Service

PIERRE, S.D. — A former director of South Dakota's realty appraisal program says an application by Gov. Kristi Noem's daughter enjoyed various unprecedented interventions from state government higher-ups, including edits to an agreed disposition and the issuance of a novel stipulation agreement to ensure Kassidy Peters succeeded in her certification quest.

The stipulation agreement, which was released by Peters last month to stave off a subpoena request from legislators, differs from any previous arrangement worked out for a realty appraiser certification applicant, Sherry Bren testified to lawmakers on Tuesday, Dec. 14.

Bren, the former realty appraisal program executive director, said the stipulation agreement was effectively formed during a controversial meeting Bren attended at the governor's mansion on July 27, 2020 with Noem, Peters, Secretary of Labor Marcia Hultman and others.

"This meeting is a little bit of a fog to me," said Bren, speaking on Tuesday to the Government Operations & Audit Committee , about the July 27 meeting. "Once I got there, I was very nervous and quite frankly intimidated as you can imagine."

The GOAC committee appeared split on purposes of Tuesday's hearing, with Sens. Jean Hunhoff , R-Yankton, and Wayne Steinhauer, R-Hartford, redirecting Bren to talk in generalities about a realty appraisal certification process largely decried as a pipe-jam for realtors. Other members -- including the committee's two Democrats -- sought to put the spotlight on Bren's dealings with Peters' application.

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At various points, GOAC chair Sen. Kyle Schoenfish , R-Scotland, sought to gently steer questions away from Noem and Peters directly. But Bren appeared ready to share her side of the story, over a year after she'd been told by Hultman she'd be forced to retire, which ultimately resulted in a $200,000 settlement payment from the state to Bren over accusations of age discrimination.

On Tuesday, under questioning from Sen. Reynold Nesiba , D-Sioux Falls, Bren acknowledged that Peters had been mailed a proposed denial of her application on July 20, days before the governor's meeting and the creation of the so-called stipulation agreement.

"During my tenure, as the executive director, up until mid-summer last year, I'm unaware of the stipulation agreement," said Bren, doubling down on the claims that the document "would be not within the recognized upgrade procedures that I'm aware of."

Later, Bren told Sen. David Wheeler , R-Huron, that Hultman intervened in an early agreed disposition offered to Peters as she continually sought to pass an assessment involving a review of appraised properties. Bren said Hultman requested she remove details about recommended educational classes for Peters to take.

"Was it common for the secretary of labor to suggest recommendations like that?" asked Wheeler.

"No, it was not," responded Bren.

Bren also cast light on her leaving her role of 30-plus years, after questioning from Rep. Randy Gross , R-Elkton.

"No, I was forced to retire," said Bren, who sat next to her attorney, Timothy Rensch.

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After a short break in the morning hearing, Steinhauer provided a document from 2017 that he claimed was a stipulation agreement -- suggesting Bren had misspoken earlier -- but both she and Rensch noted the document came from the Office of Hearing Examiner, ostensibly an appeal's court for failed applications, which was not a role Bren oversaw.

"Once a case goes to hearing then these documents are outside of my authority or control," said Bren. "It would not be the same thing that we're talking about today."

Tuesday's hearing resulted from a subpoena request approved both by GOAC and the legislature's Executive Board in November, as Bren has been under the terms of a nondisparagement agreement with the state as part of the settlement. It's yet unclear whether Tuesday's revelations will bring additional political scrutiny for Noem.

In November, Peters issued a statement saying she'd been attacked by the media and legislators and would cease working as a realty appraiser at year's end.

Related Topics: KRISTI NOEMSOUTH DAKOTA
Christopher Vondracek covers South Dakota news for Forum News Service. Email him at cvondracek@forumcomm.com or follow him on Twitter at @ChrisVondracek.
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