PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Governor Kristi Noem struck back hard Tuesday as Sherry Bren related her account of what happened with an application from one of Noem’s daughters for an upgrade of a real-estate appraiser certification.
Noem’s communication director, Ian Fury, used Twitter to attempt to discredit a key point made to the Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee by Bren, the former executive director for state government’s appraiser certification program.
Fury later sent an email to news outlets statewide asking whether Bren was lying.
Bren testified about Kassidy Peters, the governor’s older daughter, failing a federally-required review of Peters’ appraisal work last year.
Bren said her office in July 2020 sent a transmittal letter and a proposed plan to Peters. But before it went out, Bren said, the proposed plan was changed by Secretary Marcia Hultman, the head of the state Department of Labor and Regulation that oversees the appraiser certification program,
Bren said the additional education courses Bren had proposed no longer were included.
“Originally I had drafted an agreed disposition that included appraisal education classroom hours, and that provision or term of the agreed disposition, I was asked to remove that and to simply put in the letter of transmittal, that additional education might be beneficial and that was all that there was for the education, just a recommendation,” Bren said.
“Was it common for a secretary of labor to suggest amendments like that?” asked Sen. David Wheeler.
“No, it was not,” Bren said.
“Had it ever happened in the past?” Wheeler asked.
“I do not recall that there’s been involvement by the secretary in this, the agreed disposition process,” Bren said.
On, or shortly after, the day that Peters had received the letter and proposed plan, Bren was told she was to attend a meeting the next day at the governor’s residence.
Bren said Tuesday that she went expecting to meet with Hultman and the governor. Instead there was a much larger group of participants, including two department lawyers, the governor’s then-chief of staff and the governor’s then-chief legal counsel.
“I would like to clarify that this meeting’s a little bit of a fog to me, I was very, once I got there, I was very nervous and quite frankly intimidated as you can imagine,” Bren told legislators Tuesday.
On August 5, 2020, about one week after the meeting, Peters and another department official, Amber Mulder, signed a stipulation agreement regarding Peters’ application. The stipulation agreement called for Peters to fulfill a variety of conditions, including additional education courses, in order to get the upgraded certification.
The document came to public light when Peters’ lawyer released it last month to the committee, after the panel had sent letters to the department and Bren, and then issued subpoenas for the document and to Bren.
Peters received the upgrade in November 2020.
Bren, who had directed the state program since its 1991 start, told lawmakers Tuesday that her office had never before issued a stipulation agreement.
Fury, the governor’s communications director, wasn’t in the meeting room Tuesday but was tracking Bren’s testimony. Fury quickly responded on Twitter:
It is factually inaccurate that there was not a prior stipulation agreement. Governor Noem did not seek special treatment for her daughter, and the stipulation agreement that Ms. Peters released proves that there were additional requirements she had to meet.Ian Fury on Twitter
Meanwhile, during a break in the meeting, Senator Wayne Steinhauer had a document in hand that he showed to Bren and her attorney, Timothy Rensch of Rapid City. It was a stipulation agreement from 2017 by the state Office of Hearing Examiners, from an unrelated case, that Mulder and an attorney for the applicant had signed, and on which Bren was copied.
When the committee resumed the meeting, Steinhauer asked Bren about the earlier stipulation agreement. She said she was unfamiliar with it. She said it came from a separate dispute that was unrelated to the Peters’ matter, and that she couldn’t recall it, in part because the applicant’s name was blacked out.
Then Fury followed up with an email to newsrooms and reporters statewide that accused Bren of dishonesty. Fury’s email read:
Truth matters. Today, the media breathlessly ran with a claim by Ms. Sherry Bren that there had never been a “stipulation agreement” prior to Ms. Kassidy Peters’ case.
The only problem? That claim was false. Worse, Ms. Bren uttered this false claim under oath. Worse yet, when given an opportunity to clarify, Ms. Bren doubled down on the falsehood.
The committee was presented with an example of a previous stipulation agreement with another appraiser upgrade candidate from 2017. Who was courtesy copied on that previous agreement?
Ms. Sherry Bren.
Those are the facts.
Moreover, she wasn’t just copied on the agreement. Ms. Bren had a direct hand in shaping the specific stipulation agreement in question. She edited the document before it was approved. That is another fact.
Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus is a Latin phrase meaning “false in one thing, false in everything.” It is the legal principle that a witness who testifies falsely about one matter is not credible to testify about any matter.
Whether that applies to Ms. Bren is for others to judge.
Bren, now 71, left the director’s job earlier this year. After the July 2020 meeting at the governor’s mansion, Bren began receiving messages suggesting she set a retirement date. Eventually Bren filed an age-discrimination complaint against the department. She withdrew the complaint after receiving a $200,000 settlement that included a non-disparagement clause.
On Monday, a legislator who isn’t on the committee called for Noem to release Bren from the non-disparagement clause. The legislator, Representative Steven Haugaard, plans to challenge Noem for the Republican nomination for governor next year.
On Tuesday, after Bren’s testimony, Haugaard urged the committee to subpoena Noem and Peters. In a news release, Haugaard stated:
The intimidation of a public employee for the purposes of nepotism—in this case, special treatment for a family member—is a very serious charge. Ms. Bren’s testimony directly contradicts statements from Governor Noem and her spokesman. In light of this, I think it only appropriate that the Committee subpoena Governor Noem and her daughter to testify under oath as to what really took place at the Governor’s Residence, the actions of Marcia Hultman, and why Sherry Bren was forced out of the position she held for three decades.
On Wednesday morning, the South Dakota Republican Party issued two tweets. One was a retweet of Fury’s tweet and, in the overline, said: “Sherry Bren lied. Fact.” A second retweet carried the overline: “Sherry Bren lied – she will lie again – she is not being honest and there are facts that show it.”
David Volk, a long-time Republican who won elections as state treasurer and later was a member of then-Governor Bill Janklow’s administration, took a different view. He wrote on Facebook: “I knew and worked with Sherry Bren for over 20 years when I was State Treasurer and in Janklow’s cabinet. During all that time I never knew Sherry to be anything but an honest, dedicated and hard working official. The very idea that a governor would have such a meeting involving her daughter is unbelievable. For Noem then to have one of her lackeys smear the good name of Sherry Bren is despicable.”
Noem re-election campaign manager Joe Desilets retweeted one of the South Dakota Republican Party tweets Wednesday morning with the overline: “This circus ended the second Sherry Bren lied in the GOAC hearing yesterday.”