Noem's little girl was there, too.
Kassidy Peters was 26 when she received the certification. This was four months after her meeting at her mother’s office. According to an age discrimination complaint Bren had filed against the department, Sherry Bren called Kassidy Peters, then 26, to request her retirement. Bren, 70 years old, resigned her position after Bren paid $200,000 by the state to withdraw her complaint.
It is unclear what exactly happened at the July 27, 2020 meeting in Governor's Office. Noem declined to interview and her office refused to answer any questions about the meeting.
Ian Fury, a spokesperson for the Associated Press, stated that the "Associated Press is disparaging Governor's daughter in an effort to attack Governor politically - it's no wonder Americans have lost faith in the media."
Despite this, the AP requested that government ethics experts review the events to determine if Noem's decision not to include her daughter at the meeting created a conflict regardless of the outcome.
Noem should not have been present during Peters' application for certification. This is especially true if the agency would apply to her daughter’s application. Richard Painter, a professor in the University of Minnesota Law School, was the chief ethics attorney for President George W. Bush.
He said, "It's clear that there is a conflict between interest and power abuse for the benefit of a relative."
Peters started her career as a state-registered appraiser - an entry-level position - in 2016. To obtain the necessary experience to become a residential appraiser, she worked under the guidance of a certified appraiser. It is not an easy task. Applicants must demonstrate that they are able to perform appraisals according to national standards. This requires a minimum of 200 hours of education and months of experience.
Although trainees may make $10 an hour, certified residential appraisers are able to launch their own businesses and make more than $50,000 per year.
Peters applied in September 2019 to be a certified residential appraiser. According to a July 27th letter obtained by AP from Peters' supervisor, the Appraiser certification Program denied Peters the license. According to the agency's update procedures , a certified applicant is denied certification if their work samples do not meet minimum standards.
Bren, who was the Appraiser Certification Program's Director for over three decades, said to the AP that her supervisor sent her a text on Jul 26 directing her to go to the governor's office to discuss "appraiser accreditation procedures".
Bren stated that Peters and Noem were present at the meeting. Bren also mentioned that Bren was the supervisor of Marcia Hultman, Labor Secretary; Bren's general counsel; and, via telephone, Noem’s chief of staff and a lawyer representing the state's Department of Labor and Regulation.
Bren recalled it taking close to an hour, with questions from Noem about certification.
Bren declined to meet with AP about any additional details. This included whether Peters' upgrade had been discussed. A clause in her settlement for her age discrimination case prohibits her from disparaging officials of the state.
Bren confirmed that Peters' supervisor Kristine Juelfs presented her with a letter at the meeting. Kristine wrote that she disagreed and accused Peters of an "inefficient" process.
Juelfs wrote that he was critical of the application evaluation because it failed to be "timely and professional" and that the examiner who reviewed Peters' work had "acted professionally when interacting with Kassidy."
Peters agreed to the criticism in a statement to AP.
She said, "My journey to becoming a Certified Residential Appraiser was long and I had to overcome many obstacles." "I am glad that I have it now, and that I get to serve my clients in South Dakota.
Bren refused to discuss certification of individual appraisers, such as Peters. She said that she hopes to help applicants succeed and ensure they meet federal requirements.
She said, "You also want fairness and consistency and treat all of your appraisers equally."
In response to questions from AP, Labor Secretary Hultman declined to go into detail about Peters' application. He also refused to explain the discrepancy in Juelfs letter that stated the upgrade was denied and department records which indicated that a denial wasn't issued.
"Kassidy was treated the same way as other appraisers. Hultman stated in a statement that there was no denial. "Mrs. Peters met all the requirements to be licensed and was certified in November.
Bren's problems began almost immediately after Peters Nov. 25 certification. Bren's age discrimination claim states that Hultman called Bren one day prior to Peters' Nov. 25 certification to discuss "concerns regarding the Appraiser Certification Program." According to the complaint, Hultman called Bren on Dec. 1 to demand her retirement. He claimed that she had shown "inability to change gears."
Bren was told by Hultman that she would keep the call secret from her supervisor in order to make it seem like Bren was choosing to retire, according to the complaint.
Hultman refused to accept a retirement date for several weeks, even when Bren asked if there was a way to keep her job. Emails obtained by the AP reveal that.
Bren filed her age discrimination claim at the end December. Three months later, she received the $200,000 settlement agreement to rescind the complaint and quit her job. Hultman declined the opportunity to answer questions about Bren.
Mark Miller, governor's current general attorney, stated in a statement that "Neither party admitted fault, nor did any agency affirm her claim." Kassidy Peters' sideshow speaks for itself.
Fury, Fury's spokesperson, referred to the episode as an example of Noem's "willingness not to allow bureaucratic red tape get in the way" of South Dakota's sustained economic development.
He stated that having more qualified appraisers on the market would help to keep the housing market in motion and lower home prices.
Bren sent an email to colleagues in the industry expressing concern about the program's future a few days before signing the agreement.
"I was forced to retire at the direction of the Administration by the Secretary of Labor and Regulation," she wrote. She then added that "I want you all to know that I did everything I could to avoid this sad circumstance."