SD Ethics Board Keeping Action Against Noem “Confidential”

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    The South Dakota  Government Accountability Board is keeping secret what action it took after finding there was evidence Gov. Kristi Noem improperly intervened in her daughter’s application for a real estate appraiser license. 

     Mark Haigh, a lawyer hired by the board, responded to an open records request by telling the AP this week that the board’s “appropriate action” response would remain “confidential.” 

   The board appeared to let Noem decide whether to defend herself in a public hearing, known as a contested case hearing, or simply accept the “appropriate action” and let the matter quietly die. 

     The complaint sent to the board centered on a meeting Noem held in July 2020 just days after a state agency had moved to deny her daughter, Kassidy Peters, a license.

      At the meeting were the governor, her daughter, and key decision-makers in the licensure agency – including a member of Noem’s cabinet.

     After the meeting, Peters got a rare immediate opportunity to demonstrate she could meet federal standards rather than having to wait 6 months. She received her permit about 4 months later and the director of the licensing agency retired, only to file a discrimination suit against the state that was settled for $200,000. 

     The South Dakota Legislature conducted a multi-month investigation into the case after it was brought to light by an Associated Press story, and in May lawmakers by unanimous voice vote approved a final report that found Noem’s daughter did get preferential treatment 

     Then-Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, since impeached, sent a complaint about Noem’s actions to the Accountability Board, whose 3 retired judges voted unanimously last month that there was evidence Noem engaged in a conflict of interest and malfeasance when she

     Government ethics experts say the lack of transparency in the proceedings undermines public trust in the board. 

     Republican leaders in the legislature set up the Accountability Board after gutting an ethics initiative passed by the voters in 2016. They declared an emergency shortly after the 2017 session began and lawmakers repealed the initiated measure, eventually replacing it with legislation that, among other things, created the board.

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