S.D. panel wants subpoenas in appraisal probe

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A panel of South Dakota lawmakers decided Monday to proceed with a subpoena ordering the state Department of Labor and Regulation to turn over the plan and any other documents related to a daughter of Governor Kristi Noem seeking certification as a residential real-estate appraiser.

The department didn’t provide the document after a previous request.

The Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee also issued a subpoena to Sherry Bren to testify. Bren is the former executive director of the department’s real-estate appraisers program.

Both votes were 8-2, with nays coming from senators Jean Hunhoff and Wayne Steinhauer. The committee now waits for ratification from the Legislature’s Executive Board. The board previously had scheduled a meeting on various topics for Wednesday and Thursday.

The committee agreed to keep confidential the plan and other documents between the department and Kassidy Peters. She is the older daughter of Gov. Noem.

State Labor Secretary Marcia Hultman and one of her department’s lawyers testified recently at a GOAC hearing. Hultman said the department’s plan with Peters was already in place before a meeting at the governor’s mansion involving the governor, Peters, Hultman, a variety of the governor’s and department staff and Bren.

Hultman told lawmakers the purpose of the meeting was to find ways to get more real-estate appraisers certified in South Dakota. She said the plan for Peters was briefly discussed at the end of the meeting. Noem subsequently told reporters the plan wasn’t discussed.

Senator David Wheeler, a GOAC member, called for the subpoenas Monday. The three-part motion on the department subpoena would order Hultman to return to meet with the committee.

Wheeler said the purpose is to further the committee’s investigation of the program and the documents are relevant because they will refute or verify the testimony previously made. He said it was important that the committee follow through on its previous request for the plan and the document is important to the committee’s work.

Wheeler, an attorney, pointed out the committee has broad authority under state law to examine all documents of state government: “There’s no caveats to that. There’s no exceptions to that.”

He said an exception in state public-records law applies to public inspection of documents. He said that wouldn’t apply to the committee, especially given that the committee has vowed to keep the information confidential.

Hunhoff asked how the confidentiality process will work. Wheeler said it would be similar to the juvenile corrections reports that the committee keeps confidential and have been discussed only in closed-door executive session.

Wheeler said the document’s content will steer the committee’s future action and the committee would have to discuss what action to take. “So we would have to find our way forward,” Wheeler said.

Senator Reynold Nesiba said the committee’s handling of juvenile reports has demonstrated the committee’s ability to act in a responsible way.

On the Bren subpoena, Steinhauer asked where it would lead. He said the state Government Accountability Board already was looking into the appraisers certification issue.

Steinhauer said that on one hand people could think that “all kinds of nefarious things” happened in the meeting and on the other hand it might be that the governor was “really smart” to have someone present who had experience with the department. “Optics, when it’s a family member, politically maybe aren’t the best,” he said.

He also questioned the wisdom of giving someone such as Bren a public forum when she had signed a non-disparagement agreement.

Representative Linda Duba pointed out that the retired judges and justices on the accountability board didn’t publicly identify whether that matter was one the board was still pursuing and didn’t disclose when they might be done. “We don’t know if this is one of two items where they’re continuing their investigation,” she said.

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