Former State Agency Head Testifies She Felt Intimidated At Meeting Set Up By Gov

     The former director of South Dakota’s appraiser certification program says she felt intimidated at a meeting called last year at the governor’s mansion by Gov. Kristi Noem shortly after Noem’s daughter was told her upgrade application would be denied.  

       Sherry Bren’s testimony Tuesday morning before the legislature’s joint Government Operations and Audit Committee is the first time she’s spoken in depth in public about the meeting since The Associated Press first reported on it in September. 

     The meeting in July 2020 was a week after Bren’s agency notified Kassidy Peters that her application did not meet federal requirements and was headed for denial. Bren told the committee she expected Noem and Labor Secretary Marcia Hultman to be at the meeting, but not Peters or the governor’s top aides.

    Bren testified she was “very nervous and quite frankly intimidated” even before Noem began the meeting by saying South Dakota is the hardest state to be licensed as an appraiser and she “intended to get to the bottom of that.”

   Bren says Peters’ unsuccessful application was discussed in detail and a plan made to give her a rare third chance to pass a work review. Secretary Hulman had testified last month that Peters’ application was handled normally.

      Hultman had also testified the meeting didn’t influence the application because the plan had already been set up – although it was found after her testimony that the plan was approved a week after the meeting.

      Bren told lawmakers the discussion focused on crafting a second agreement that included requiring Peters to complete some related classes. Noem insisted at a Sioux Falls appearance Monday that she did nothing to help her daughter get licensed.

      Bren testified under a subpoena to get around a settlement agreement on an age disrimination suit that limited what she could say about state officials. She told the committee she was “forced to retire” after Peters got her license last November and sued because she felt it was age discrimination.

      Bren also said that guessing if there was another reason she was pressured to step down after 3 decades “would be strictly speculation on my part.” The state settled the lawsuit and paid Bren $200,000. 

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