SIOUX FALLS, SD (AP) – South Dakota lawmakers will review a state agency that has been at the center of questions about whether Gov. Kristi Noem used his influence to help his daughter apply for an assessor license immovable.
At first glance, the first item on the agenda of the Legislative Assembly Government Operations and Audit Committee on Thursday seems routine: “Ministry of Labor and Regulation to discuss assessor certification program.”
But it could have a big impact for the Republican governor, who has generated speculation about a possible White House candidacy in 2024. Noem has come under scrutiny after the Associated Press reported that she had held a meeting in his office last year with his daughter, Kassidy Peters, and the director of the assessor certification program, who had decided a few days earlier to deny Peters’ license application. . Peters received his certification four months later.
Here’s what to know about the committee meeting:
WHO WILL SPEAK?
Lawmakers carved out a few hours of a busy schedule to hear from four people.
One is the former director of the assessor certification program, Sherry Bren. She was called to the July 2020 meeting in the governor’s office and was forced to retire shortly after Peters received her license in November.
Labor and Regulatory Secretary Marcia Hultman is another official who should speak. She was also present at the meeting and then pressured Bren to step down. Hultman defended his actions, saying there have been positive changes at the agency since Bren left.
Lawmakers also called on the president of the state association of professional assessors, Sandra Gresh. She expressed her concerns about the new direction of the state program.
The director of the Office of State Risk Management, Craig Ambach, is also expected to appear. Her office helped negotiate a payment of $ 200,000 to Bren to retire and withdraw a complaint of age discrimination. Bren and Hultman are both bound by a clause in this settlement that prohibits them from disparaging each other.
WHAT EXACTLY HAPPENED AT THE MEETING IN NOEM’S OFFICE?
It is not entirely clear. The governor did not respond to detailed questions about the meeting. Bren told the AP she was covering assessor certification procedures and had received a letter from Peters’ supervisor criticizing the agency’s decision to deny the license.
Noem said she did not seek special treatment for her daughter. She touted the episode as another way to “cut the red tape” to address the lack of appraisers and make the home buying process easier.
In a YouTube video responding to the AP report, Noem pointed out that Bren had been in her job for decades, and she accused the system “of being designed to benefit those who were already certified and to prevent others from being certified. ‘enter”.
IS THERE A SHORTAGE OF ASSESSORS?
Yes. Industry experts have long said this is a problem, especially in rural states. In South Dakota, many experienced assessors are approaching retirement age.
However, the governor’s ability to “streamline” the requirements for a license would be limited as they are mostly set at the federal level.
As governor, Noem has worked to ease licensing requirements for a range of professions. She said she had been working on appraiser regulation for years.
When asked about examples of this work before last year, her spokesperson Ian Fury pointed out that Noem, during his eight years in Congress, had twice signed GOP-sponsored bills that would, between other financial reforms, adjusted federal appraiser regulations.
HOW TO SOLVE THE SHORTAGE?
Since Bren left, Noem’s administration has decided to forgo certification requirements that go beyond federal standards, such as an exam for novice assessors.
But the leadership of the Association of Professional Appraisers of South Dakota has raised concerns about the moves. The group says the biggest barrier to becoming an evaluator is the lack of supervisors who can train new evaluators.
Before Bren left her job, she was working to launch a one-of-a-kind program that would allow trainee evaluators to take hands-on lessons and avoid the traditional learning model that has become a bottleneck. Bren helped the state win an annual federal grant of $ 120,000 and then testified before the Legislature in support of a bill to create the training program. Noem signed it this year.
WHAT DO THE COMMITTEE DO?
It’s not clear. Republican lawmakers have said they will start by asking questions about the state agency and why it is difficult to become an evaluator. But they also recognized that the meeting was an opportunity to question the governor’s conduct. Only two Democrats sit on the 10-person committee.
If lawmakers are happy, they could move on.
They might also decide to dig deeper. The committee has the power to summon witnesses and cases, but that would require approval from the Executive Council, a ranking committee of key lawmakers.
Kathleen Clark, a law professor specializing in government ethics at Washington University in St. Louis, said she would not be happy with the governor’s explanation that she was simply trying to “cut red tape.”
“It is conceivable that the agency’s processes need to be improved,” she said. “But the girl’s presence and the timing of the meeting suggest that it was not a meeting to improve processes in general, but rather to pressure the agency to change its mind. opinion.”