PIERRE, S.D. — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem went on the offensive against nepotism charges last week, arguing her intervention in a realty appraiser certification sought by her adult daughter shows her dedication to removing regulatory burdens creating a shortage of appraisers.
But a longtime appraiser says that's bunk.
"You just don't cut red tape without going through the process of modifying the rules," Brad Johnson, a certified realty appraiser from Watertown, South Dakota, said in an interview on Friday, Oct. 1. "You have hearings, you have a comment period, and then you take all those comments together .... It doesn't get done the way the governor has seemingly gone about it."
A report last week from the Associated Press disclosed that Noem had intervened in her daughter's application to a state-regulated appraiser realty certification program. Noem condemned the report as an attack on her family.
On Friday, Oct. 1, her office released accolades from industry professionals about Noem's handling of the appraisers' situation.
"Something needs to change, and I'm glad Governor Noem is taking steps to fix the process," Chase Kristensen, a loan officer in Mitchell, South Dakota, said in the statement shared by the governor's office.
Lisa Blake, a real estate agent from Pierre, said only three appraisers worked in Pierre, delaying home loans up to two months.
"There's a definite shortage, and the restrictions need to be loosened, so that more folks have the opportunity to enter this industry," Blake said.
None defended specifically Noem's decision to hold a meeting with Sherry Bren, the former executive director of the South Dakota Appraiser Certification Program.
Moreover, Johnson argues the person most able to fix the system was Bren, saying she'd done this for years.
"Sherry Bren is well-respected in the national industry," said Johnson. "And she has done a very good job at having South Dakota being a leader in having a good clean appraisal program where there's no doubt about the integrity of it."
Johnson noted that the national governing body, the Appraisal Subcommittee, is currently reviewing the state's program, and he worries a "whole new level of scrutiny" will be applied.
It's still unclear how Noem's daughter, Kassidy Peters, obtained a license. According to the Associated Press, Peters was initially slated to be denied certification in the summer of 2020. However, days after the state moved to deny Peters, Bren was brought into a meeting with Noem, Peters, and others, including Secretary of the Department of Labor and Regulation Marcia Hultman.
By late November, Peters had her certification. By December, Hultman demanded Bren's early retirement, according to a complaint Bren filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The state labor department paid a $200,000 settlement to Bren.
According to reporting from Dakota News Now, Peters' license was sent out-of-state for processing. When reached by Forum News Service, real estate commissions in North Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Wyoming have all denied they have any application from Peters.
On Monday, Oct. 4, Dawn Dovre, Department of Labor and Regulation deputy secretary, wrote in an email to FNS that South Dakota's Appraiser Certification Program contracts with both in-state and out-of-state examiners and the appraisals submitted "for initial review are redacted."
"The identity of the applicant is not known to the examiner," wrote Dovre.
Dovre did not respond to a follow-up email asking for a copy of Peters' application.