The former director of a South Dakota appraiser agency says she was intimidated at a meeting Gov. Kristi Noem called where state officials discussed her daughter’s application for an upgraded real estate appraiser’s license.
Sherry Bren testified Tuesday before a joint legislative panel examining the state’s appraiser certification program in the wake of a report that Noem may have exerted influence on her daughter’s application. The inquiry 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.
Bren, the longtime director of the state’s Appraiser Certification Program, was summoned to a meeting at the governor’s mansion in July 2020 days after her agency moved to deny Noem’s daughter, Kassidy Peters, the upgraded license.
Bren said she expected to see the governor and her labor secretary at the meeting, but was surprised to see others, including Peters. 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 stipulated agreement, which she said was not typical.
Noem has denied wrongdoing, casting her actions as an effort to cut red tape to address a shortage of appraisers certified by the state.
Bren’s appearance on 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.
In October testimony, Noem’s secretary of labor, Marcia Hultman, described the meeting as innocuous — mostly a policy discussion aimed at changes to the application process for appraiser licenses. She acknowledged that it was uncommon to have an applicant in such a meeting and said there was a “brief discussion at the end” about a plan to allow Peters to fix problems with her application and try again. Hultman excused any appearance of impropriety by saying that details of the agreement with Peters were in place before that meeting.
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.”
The agreement was not signed until more than a week after the meeting.
Bren also has said she was presented with a letter at the meeting from Peters’ supervisor that slammed the agency’s decision to deny the license.
Bren helped start the state’s Appraiser Certification Program and was its director for nearly three decades. Appraisers describe her as a by-the-books regulator.
“It doesn’t matter who you are, she’s the same for everyone,” said Amy Frink, the vice president of the Professional Appraiser Association of South Dakota, a group that has been critical of changes to the agency since Bren’s departure.
But Noem has implied that Bren was getting in the way of changes she wanted to make amid a shortage of appraisers.