PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Partially redacted documents have been released by the South Dakota Government Accountability Board regarding a complaint filed against Governor Kristi Noem.
Why the documents were posted on the state boards and commissions site wasn’t clear.
The complaint was initially sent by now impeached Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg in September 2021. The complaint centered around Noem’s alleged deviation from the standard process in getting a higher real-estate appraisal certification for her daughter Kassidy Peters.
The board on August 22 dismissed two of the claims that Ravnsborg made against Noem — that the $200,000 settlement with Sherry Bren was a misappropriation of public funds and that use of the public money for the settlement was in violation of state law or the South Dakota Constitution — but that two other allegations — conflict of interest and malfeasance — were sufficient to move forward.
However, the board also decided “that appropriate action pursuant to Rule A.(c) has been taken” and voted to close the file on those two points, subject to reopening it in the future, according to the draft minutes. The minutes don’t explain what that “appropriate action” was.
KELOLAND News asked an attorney who assists the board why the documents were released and what the “appropriate action” was. Katie Mallery responded to the email, “I will forward your information request on to the Board.”
Mark Haigh, a Sioux Falls attorney in private practice who was specially hired to advise the board, issued the following statement for the board Friday afternoon: “The Government Accountability Board (“GAB”) has released information related to Complaint No. 2021-03 on September 9, 2022. This information has been downloaded to the South Dakota Boards and Commission Website at Boards and Commissions (sd.gov). The GAB has acted in accordance with SDCL Chapter 3-24 to resolve this complaint and released the information allowed under the laws governing the GAB.”
Haigh added, “I am not authorized to comment further due to confidentiality laws contained in SDCL Chapter 3-23.”
Ravnsborg’s complaint stated that “The day after Peters’ application was approved, Bren (then head of the appraiser program) was ‘forced to retire — The evidence suggests that Sherry Bren was subjected to inappropriate and possibly illegal influence in the performance of her official duties.”
The most recent document in the release Friday was a motion for dismissal filed by Noem’s attorneys, on the grounds that Ravsnborg brought the complaint against her as retaliation because she called for his impeachment.
Noem also claimed the GAB lacked authority to investigate her, due to “separation of powers.”
“Ultimately, if the judiciary is constitutionally barred from adjudicating the propriety of the Governor’s conduct and is instead limited to the question whether she has exceeded her constitutional authority, then it follows that this Board is likewise barred from such an incursion into executive authority, and the Attorney General’s Complaint should therefore be dismissed,” wrote Noem’s attorney, Lisa Prostrollo.
Noem’s lawyers, who also included former lawmaker Matthew McCaulley and Christopher Sommers, are from the Redstone firm in Sioux Falls.
They also represented the governor in overturning Amendment A that would have legalized adult-use marijuana in South Dakota.
The board on August 3 voted to dismiss the governor’s motion. She had also filed it regarding a second complaint that she illegally used state aircraft for non-public purposes. The board has since forwarded the aircraft complaint to the state attorney general’s office for further investigation.
In an emailed statement, Tony Mangan, spokesman for the governor’s office, said Noem denies any wrongdoing.
“As the Governor has said many times, she followed the law in both of these instances,” Mangan said, adding he’ll defer to Noem’s gubernatorial campaign statements on the issue.
Noem appointed Mark Vargo as attorney general after the state Senate removed Ravnsborg from office in June. She earlier endorsed Marty Jackley, who is uncontested in his November election bid to return as attorney general. Noem defeated then-AG Jackley for the Republican nomination for governor in 2018.
Meanwhile, Vargo’s office issued a statement at mid-day Friday saying he wouldn’t be involved in the aircraft investigation.
“In order to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, Attorney General Mark Vargo has requested that the supervision of the investigation and any charging decisions will be undertaken by Jessica LaMie, Hughes County State’s Attorney. LaMie has agreed to oversee the investigation. Because the investigation is on-going, the A.G.’s office will have no further comment and will not release any reports or evidence concerning the complaint until the investigation is completed.”
You can view the appraiser documents released by the GAB here.