By Maeve Reston, CNN
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said in a new video Friday that she never asked for “special treatment” from the state for her daughter as she was seeking to become a state-certified real estate appraiser, and that her daughter completed the same requirements as every other applicant seeking that job. But Noem acknowledged that her administration has made changes to a process that she described as “way too difficult.”
Noem’s decision to address the controversy surrounding her daughter’s certification in more depth came as a South Dakota legislative committee and the state attorney general’s office said this week that they are reviewing the July 2020 meeting that Noem held with members of her staff and employees of the South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation as her daughter, Kassidy Noem Peters, was applying to be a real estate appraiser.
Peters was present at the gathering, and The Associated Press has reported that she was facing the denial of her certification when the meeting took place. Peters was subsequently approved for it several months later. CNN is unable to verify what happened in the meeting.
“There’s a lot of speculation and innuendo in the media, and I wanted to take a second to set the record straight,” Noem said in the new video, accusing the media of attacking her daughter to “score cheap political points against me.” “I never once asked for special treatment for Kassidy. She is my daughter, and I’m proud of her. I raised her to accomplish things on her own, just like my parents raised me.”
Noem said that other appraisers went through “the exact same process that Kassidy did” and that her administration “started fixing that process” over several years because “it was way too difficult.”
The South Dakota governor argued Friday that the system had been problematic for decades, designed to benefit “those who are already certified and to keep others out” — limiting the number of applicants who were getting certified and creating lengthier delays for home buyers in South Dakota than in other states. She said she has been focused on “making it easier for young South Dakotans to enter this field,” thereby making it easier for South Dakotans to purchase homes.
Applicants for a residential appraiser certification must complete 200 hours of appraisal education and meet certain experience requirements, including 1,500 hours working in the industry, according to the South Dakota Department of Labor & Regulation website. Noem said Friday that her daughter completed those requirements as well as a background check and many examinations, gaining the “knowledge and experience necessary so that South Dakotans can trust her work.”
By November 2020, Peters completed the licensing requirements and became certified, Dawn Dovre, deputy secretary of the Department of Labor and Regulation, said in an email to CNN.
The circumstances of Peters’ certification have come under scrutiny due to reporting by the Associated Press about the unusual gathering of officials with the governor and her daughter in July 2020 and the subsequent early retirement of a top official who led the certification program.
Sherry Bren, the former Executive Director of the South Dakota Appraiser Certification Program, told CNN she received a text message and an email from her supervisor asking her to show up in the governor’s office for a meeting on the morning of July 27, 2020, to discuss the state’s appraiser certification procedures.
In addition to aides from Noem’s office, Bren has said that South Dakota Labor Secretary Marcia Hultman and South Dakota Director of Labor and Management Amber Mulder — Bren’s supervisor — attended the July 2020 meeting. In a March 2021 letter to friends and colleagues shared with CNN, Bren said she was “forced to retire by the Secretary of the Department of Labor and Regulation at the behest of the Administration,” an action that led her to file an age discrimination complaint.
Bren left the agency after filing an age discrimination complaint at the end of December and receiving a $200,000 settlement agreement. Bren would not comment on what took place at the meeting or on Peters’ application when asked by CNN.
Noem alluded to Bren’s longtime service in the department in the video she released Friday while describing what she viewed as “a broken system” for real estate appraisers to get certified.
“The person in charge of the appraisal certification process had been in that role for 40 years,” Noem said. “There had been some efforts to streamline the process, but they were unsuccessful. I heard for years how difficult it is to become an appraiser in South Dakota. I had been working for years to fix it.”
Noem said her administration has taken a number of steps to streamline the process: “We’ve been working for three years now to eliminate barriers to licensure. We want to roll out the red carpet, and cut the red tape.”
South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, a Republican, said in a statement to CNN that he had been “contacted by concerned citizens and legislators” about the circumstances of the July 2020 meeting between the governor and employees with South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation. He said he was “actively reviewing their concerns and I will be following the steps prescribed in codified law in relation to those questions.”
South Dakota state Sen. Kyle Schoenfish, a Republican, told CNN via email that lawmakers will discuss the matter during the next joint Government Operations and Audit Committee meeting scheduled for October 27 and 28.
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