SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Hundreds of pages of confidential documents in an ethics investigation into Governor Kristi Noem are now public and they’re giving us a better idea of what happened behind the scenes.
The question at the center of this case is whether Noem acted inappropriately in connection with her daughter’s real estate appraisal certification. Noem’s attorneys repeatedly called the allegations “nonsensical” and asked the board to dismiss the complaint without a public hearing and that some information be redacted and removed from the record.
The Government Accountability Board dismissed that motion and last month decided there was enough evidence for them to believe that Noem violated two statutes: malfeasance and conflict of interest.
The retired judges then voted to close the case, with the option to re-open it in the future.
On November 22nd, 2021, then-Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg sent a letter to the Government Accountability Board spelling out his concerns over conflicting statements about a meeting at the governor’s mansion involving several people — including her daughter Kassidy Peters.
One statement came from the Secretary of Labor.
“At the very end of the meeting, we discussed a possible plan forward for Ms. Peters, which had been determined prior to the meeting, and it was a brief discussion, but that plan had already been settled and in place.” October 28, 2021 testimony from Macia Hultman
Ravnsborg says those comments conflict with an exchange between the Governor and an Associated Press reporter during a news conference.
“She went through the exact same process as other appraisers did in the state of SD. She at no time received special treatment,” Noem said during that exchange.
The former attorney general also accused the Governor of conspiring with state officials to retaliate against Sherry Bren, the former director of the South Dakota appraiser certification program. Bren appeared before a legislative committee looking into the matter last year.
“I was very nervous and quite frankly intimidated, as you can imagine,” Bren told a panel of lawmakers.
Noem’s attorney’s responded to that claim, saying: “The Attorney General’s claim that the Governor exerted influence over Ms. Bren to facilitate the Stipulation Agreement that benefited Ms. Peters is nonsensical. Secretary of Labor Marcia Hultman, who did make the decision to enter into the Stipulation Agreement, made it clear in her testimony to GOAC that she was not influenced by the Governor in any way.”
The state gave Bren $200,000 to settle an age discrimination lawsuit. Details of that settlement were also released today. The documents were posted on the state boards and commissions site.
We reached out to the governor today for her reaction.
A spokesperson responded saying Noem followed the law in both instances.
Jamie Smith, Democratic candidate for governor, says the retired judges on the Accountability Board did what they were supposed to do.
“They found malfeasance and the wrongdoing by the Governor. It’s not becoming of a Governor to use their power to to do something for their own personal gain and that’s what this definitely found,” Smith said.