Now only Bren will be subpoenaed

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Only one subpoena will be issued by a legislative panel looking into South Dakota’s real-estate appraisers program.

Senator Kyle Schoenfish, by phone, told the Legislature’s Executive Board on Wednesday that a subpoena no longer is needed to obtain the plan between Kassidy Peters and the state Department of Labor and Regulation regarding her effort last year to gain certification as a residential appraiser.

Peters, a daughter of Governor Kristi Noem, volunteered the plan Tuesday, along with a letter saying Peters intends to shut down her appraisal business at year end. Schoenfish, who chairs the Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee, said he received the plan and distributed it to the other committee members.

“The report indicates the committee took action to request additional information on a specific application which was a subpoena for a document. I received the document in my state email and had it forwarded to all the members of the committee. That subpoena no longer will be necessary,” Schoenfish said.

Schoenfish said the committee still wanted the Executive Board to ratify a subpoena for Sherry Bren, the former head of the state’s appraisal program. Bren was paid $200,000 to drop an employment-rights claim against state government after she was pressed to retire this year.

The pressure for Bren to leave began shortly after a meeting at the governor’s mansion last year. Attending were Noem, Peters, Bren, and a variety of the governor’s top staff and several department officials, including Secretary Marcia Hultman.

Senator Lee Schoenbeck, the Executive Board vice chair, called for a 15-minute recess Wednesday after Schoenfish finished his report. When the board reconvened, the vote was 14-1 for Schoenbeck’s motion to ratify GOAC’s subpoena of Bren.

Schoenbeck said the senators on the board strongly urged that questions to Bren focus on improving the appraisers program.

“Let me express I think the opinion of the senators that I visited with that we feel strongly that this has a limited scope. It’s about the functionality of the appraisal program, of which there’s much discussion, probably in all of our districts, because of the critical role appraisers play in getting financing and dealing with the whole housing issues that we talk about,” Schoenbeck said.

“So it’s our strong opinion that when Miss Bren appears, that this should be about that and not about personalities or personnel issues or anything like that. That was a very strong opinion I believe of the senators. Having said that, let me say that the role of the Executive Board when we get these requests are, if the committee’s requests are within the scope of their work — and this one is — then we should approve that. I think it’s our job to support the work of committees. We appreciate the work that they do do.

“But at least the senators feel very strongly that this hearing when it takes place be focused on the challenges, operations and functionality of that appraiser program and not get into other matters,” Schoenbeck said.

Rep. Hugh Bartels, a retired banker, said there is a shortage of appraisers in South Dakota. Bartels suggested that GOAC might want to hear from others affected by the shortage.

“I think there’s a long-standing tradition among bankers, being a retired one, that this program has needed some oversight and some looking-at for several years just because we have a huge shortage of appraisers in our state, and it’s even more so in the rural areas,” Bartels said.

“Anything they can do to look at how that program functions I think is worthwhile. Maybe they should bring in some of the end users of the appraisers — the mortgage brokers, the bankers, the Realtors — to find out the problems we have with the shortage of appraisers. They’re really going to look at how the program works,” Bartels continued.

The board then voted 14-0 to accept GOAC’s year-end report.

Schoenbeck said he didn’t like GOAC focusing on a specific person. “I would have had reservations about whether that first subpoena was within the scope of the committee when it’s aimed at one person, as opposed to say every one of those reports for the last year. With that amendment that the committee has made, I think it’s within the scope,” Schoenbeck said.

Senate Republican leader Gary Cammack cast the nay. “I have some concern the committee will be able to stay focused on the process and the way that business is done in that department,” Cammack told KELOLAND News afterward.

Hultman sent a letter Tuesday to Schoenfish and House Speaker Spencer Gosch saying that Peters’ release of the plan made moot the subpoena of the document. Gosch chairs the Executive Board.

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