South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem’s daughter was given an extra chance to obtain real estate license, former state employee testifies
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South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem’s daughter was given an extra chance to obtain real estate license, former state employee testifies

The former state employee who is at the center of the controversy over whether South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem intervened to help her daughter obtain a real estate appraiser license testified before state lawmakers on Tuesday that Noem’s daughter was given an extra chance to correct her work so that her application would not be denied and that the state’s process for handling her application was unusual.

Sherry Bren, the former executive director of the South Dakota Appraiser Certification Program, was called to a July 27, 2020, meeting with Noem and found that Noem’s daughter, Kassidy Peters, who was applying to become a state-certified real estate appraiser at that time, was also present along with other top state officials including the state’s Secretary of Labor.

Before that point, Peters had experienced difficulty meeting the state’s criteria to complete the process because of deficiencies in her work, documents obtained by CNN have shown.

Bren contends she was forced to retire several months later “at the behest of the Administration,” as first reported by the Associated Press. Still, during testimony before the South Dakota legislature’s Joint Government Operations and Audit Committee on Tuesday, Bren said that she could not speculate on the reasons why she was forced out of her job.

She filed an age discrimination complaint against the state and received a $200,000 settlement agreement.

Noem, a potential Republican contender for the White House, has insisted that she did not seek special treatment for her daughter and that Bren’s exit from state government was related to long-standing problems in the appraisers program that had contributed to a shortage of real estate appraisers in the state.

The Associated Press reported that Peters was facing a denial of her certification when the July 27, 2020, meeting took place, but state officials have told CNN there was no final denial of Peters’ application. South Dakota state officials provided CNN a stipulation agreement showing a mentoring plan that was outlined for Peters to complete her certification, which was dated August 5, 2020 — several days after Bren’s meeting with the governor and other state officials.

Bren testified Tuesday that Peters had been notified by mail before the July 27, 2020, meeting with the governor and her staff that her application was insufficient, circumstances that could have ultimately led to a denial.

During the Tuesday hearing, Bren testified for the first time about what had happened at the meeting with the governor in July 2020 — making it clear that the governor was upset about the “serious deficiencies” that had been identified in her daughter’s application.

Noem asked a series of specific questions about her daughter’s application during the meeting with Bren and other state officials while her daughter was present, Bren said Tuesday.

Bren said in her testimony that a stipulation agreement that was prepared for Kassidy Peters by state officials essentially gave her a third opportunity to correct problems with her application, which was unusual. Normally applicants are given two chances to address deficiencies in their work, which includes appraisals completed by the applicant that are reviewed by an outside reviewer, before their application is denied, she testified.

Noem’s spokesman Ian Fury said in a statement on Tuesday that the stipulation agreement laying out the steps that Peters needed to take to achieve her appraisers’ certification was worked out before the meeting with the governor, her daughter, Bren and other state officials.

“It is factually inaccurate that there was not a prior stipulation agreement,” Fury said, referring to the agreement that outlined steps Peters needed to take to correct her work and successfully complete her application for certification. “Governor Noem did not seek special treatment for her daughter, and the stipulation agreement that Ms. Peters released proves that there were additional requirements she had to meet in order to obtain her certification.”

In the course of her testimony on Tuesday, Bren said that as the executive director of the program, she would have been responsible for issuing the notice of denial to any applicant whose work did not meet the criteria for approval, but that the Secretary of Labor would have had the final say on the denial.

Bren testified Tuesday that she had never received negative evaluations of her work before she was forced to retire by state officials.

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