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Will Lawmakers Dig Into Kristi Noem?   10/24 13:26

   

   SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) -- South Dakota lawmakers will be taking a look at a 
state agency that has been at the center of questions about whether Gov. Kristi 
Noem used her influence to aid her daughter's application for a real estate 
appraiser license.

   At first glance, the first item of business for the Legislature's Government 
Operations and Audit Committee on Thursday appears routine: "Department of 
Labor and Regulation to discuss the Appraiser Certification Program."

   But it could have a big impact for the Republican governor, who has 
generated speculation about a possible 2024 White House bid. Noem has come 
under scrutiny after The Associated Press reported that she held a meeting in 
her office last year that included her daughter, Kassidy Peters, and the 
director of the Appraiser Certification Program, which had moved days earlier 
to deny Peters' application for a license. Peters received her certification 
four months later.

   Here's what to know about the committee's meeting:

   WHO WILL BE SPEAKING?

   Lawmakers have carved out a few hours in a packed schedule to hear from four 
people.

   One is the Appraiser Certification Program's former director, Sherry Bren. 
She was called into the July 2020 meeting in the governor's office and was 
pressured to retire shortly after Peters received her license that November.

   Another official slated to speak is Secretary of Labor and Regulation Marcia 
Hultman. She was also in the meeting and later pressured Bren to retire. 
Hultman has defended her actions by saying there have been positive changes at 
the agency since Bren left.

   Lawmakers have also called the president of the state's professional 
appraiser association, Sandra Gresh. She has raised concerns about the new 
direction of the state program.

   The director of the state's Office of Risk Management, Craig Ambach, also is 
expected to appear. His office helped negotiate a $200,000 payment to Bren for 
her to retire and withdraw an age discrimination complaint. Both Bren and 
Hultman are bound by a clause in that settlement that bans them from 
disparaging each other.

   WHAT EXACTLY HAPPENED AT THE MEETING IN NOEM'S OFFICE?

   It is not entirely clear. The governor hasn't answered detailed questions 
about the meeting. Bren told the AP it covered the procedures for appraiser 
certification and that she was presented with a letter from Peters' supervisor 
that criticized the agency's decision to deny the license.

   Noem has said she didn't ask for special treatment for her daughter. She has 
cast the episode as yet another way she has "cut the red tape" to solve a 
shortage of appraisers and smooth the homebuying process.

   In a YouTube video responding to the AP's report, Noem pointed out that Bren 
had been in her position for decades, and she charged that the system "was 
designed to benefit those who were already certified and to keep others out."

   IS THERE A SHORTAGE OF APPRAISERS?

   Yes. Industry experts have long said that's a problem, especially in rural 
states. In South Dakota, many experienced appraisers are nearing retirement age.

   However, the governor's ability to "streamline" requirements for a license 
would be limited because they are mostly set at the federal level.

   As governor, Noem has worked to ease licensing requirements for an array of 
professions. She said she had been working on appraiser regulations for years.

   Asked for examples of that work prior to last year, her spokesman Ian Fury 
pointed out that Noem, during her eight years in Congress, twice signed onto 
GOP-sponsored bills that would have, among other financial reforms, adjusted 
federal appraiser regulations.

   HOW CAN THE SHORTAGE BE SOLVED?

   Since Bren's departure, Noem's administration has moved to waive 
certification requirements that go beyond the federal standards, such as an 
exam for entry-level appraisers.

   But the leadership of the Professional Appraisers Association of South 
Dakota has raised concerns about those moves. The group says the biggest 
barrier to becoming an appraiser is a lack of supervisors who can train new 
appraisers.

   Before Bren left her job, she was working to launch a first-of-its-kind 
program that would allow appraiser trainees to take hands-on courses and avoid 
the traditional apprenticeship model that has become a bottleneck. Bren helped 
the state win a $120,000 annual federal grant and later testified in the 
Legislature in support of a bill to create the training program. Noem signed it 
into law this year.

   WHAT WILL THE COMMITTEE DO?

   It's not clear. Republican lawmakers said they will start by asking about 
the state agency and why there are difficulties to becoming an appraiser. But 
they also acknowledged that the meeting was an opportunity to question the 
governor's conduct. Just two Democrats sit on the 10-person committee.

   If lawmakers are satisfied, they could move on from the issue.

   They also could decide to delve deeper. The committee has the power to 
subpoena witnesses and records, but that would require approval from the 
Executive Board, a ranking committee of top legislators.

   Kathleen Clark, a law professor who specializes in government ethics at 
Washington University in St. Louis, said she would not be satisfied with the 
governor's explanation that she was simply trying to "cut the red tape."

   "It is conceivable that the agency processes needed improvement," she said. 
"But the presence of the daughter and the timing of the meeting suggest that 
this was not a meeting aimed at improving processes in general, but instead 
aimed at pressuring the agency to change its mind."




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