PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The South Dakota Legislature’s committee looking into state government’s program for licensing and certifying real-estate appraisers asked Tuesday for a report that could lead to changes during the 2022 legislative session.
The action by the Government Operations and Audit Committee came after the former head of the program testified under subpoena about the handling of an application last year from Kassidy Peters, a daughter of Governor Kristi Noem.
The committee unanimously called for the state Department of Labor and Regulation to prepare a report. Senator Wayne Steinhauer said it should cover five things:
How quickly the department processes applications for appraiser licensing and certifications.
The department’s response to concerns about liability costs for experienced appraisers who act as trainers for incoming appraisers and for appraisers seeking advanced certifications.
The department’s view on the pay level for experienced appraisers who review the test appraisals submitted by appraisers trying to advance.
The department’s position on former appraisers who let their certifications lapse and later want to return.
Whether a long-standing informal advisory committee that is currently inactive should be revived and given official status in state law.
“Obviously any individual can bring legislation,” Steinhauer said. “But I think the standing committees of Commerce and Energy both in the House and the Senate should have a report on this important issue.”
The former director, Sherry Bren, with her attorney at her side, told the lawmakers on Tuesday that she felt “intimidated” when she arrived at a meeting at the governor’s residence last year and found many more people participating than she had expected, including Peters, whose application was discussed there.
Months later Bren, now 71, accepted a $200,000 settlement in return for dropping an age-discrimination complaint against the state Department of Labor and Regulation. Bren, who had been with the program since its start in 1991 and signed a non-disparagement agreement as part of the settlement, said Tuesday she was “forced” out.
Representative Linda Duba said Bren showed “courage and bravery” in coming forward.
“This was her life’s work. She was very dedicated to the state of South Dakota and the appraisal process. She gave us some great insight into the entire process of how people become appraisers or step up. And yes, we’re going to see some good things come out of that,” Duba said.
Associated Press reporter Stephen Groves first broke the story about Noem, Peters and Bren earlier this year. Reporters from seven different news organizations were in the committee room Tuesday and at least one other news organization covered the meeting via internet.
Peters recently announced she was quitting the appraisal business and released a copy of the plan that led to her certification as a residential appraiser. The committee had issued a subpoena for the document. The committee previously heard from state Labor Secretary Marcia Hultman and one of her department’s lawyers, Amber Mulder.
Senator Reynold Nesiba said Tuesday the real reason the committee was looking into the matter was “a human resource issue.”
“This was a question about, was a long-time dedicated employee, was she wrongfully fired? Was she wrongfully fired on behalf of a relative of the governor? And did the state wind up paying $217,000 to cover that up? And we’re not going to know the answer to that question because of this non-disparagement clause,” Nesiba said.
Steinhauer said that the report was a one-time request. “This is a hot issue right now. I think it will get read,” he said.
The department has a program website, in addition to state laws and administrative rules regarding appraisers.
GOAC members Tuesday also voted unanimously for Duba’s suggestion that a letter be sent to the department and the certification program’s current director, Scott Amundson, recommending that the advisory council be consulted on developing the new Experience Training Program for appraiser trainees.
Bren presented the legislation for it in the 2021 session. The goals are to relieve appraisers of some responsibility for supervising trainees and to get more appraisers working in the field.