Real Estate

Appraisal Licensing Controversy Engulfs South Dakota Governor

The governor of South Dakota is facing accusations that she committed an “abuse of power” thanks to a meeting she held with state officials as her daughter was trying to become a certified appraiser.

The meeting in question took place in July 2020 and involved Gov. Kristi Noem as well as several other state officials, according to the Associated Press. Among those officials was Sherry Bren, who at the time worked as the executive director of South Dakota’s appraisal certification program.

Gov. Kristi Noem on February 27 in Florida. Credit: Joe Raedle and Getty Images

The meeting probably wouldn’t have raised any eyebrows, except for three things: First, it came just days after Noem’s daughter Kassidy Peters had her application to become a certified appraiser denied. Second, Peters actually attended the meeting. And third, four months later, Peters’ application was then approved.

The actual topics discussed at the meeting have not been made public. But the fact that Noem included her daughter in a meeting with officials who were in charge of that daughter’s professional licensing has generated criticism.

Richard Painter, a law professor at the University of Minnesota and former chief ethics lawyer for George W. Bush, told the AP that the meeting was “clearly a conflict of interest and an abuse of power for the benefit of a family member.”

Painter also said the governor should have instead recused herself from discussions about the agency that was overseeing her daughter’s appraiser certification.

The controversy also reportedly did not end with Peters’ certification. Instead, the AP reported, just a week after Peters’ application was approved Labor Secretary Marcia Hultman called Bren and demanded her resignation. Hultman was reportedly one of the officials who attended the meeting in question.

Bren, who is 70, then filed an age discrimination complaint, the AP reported. According to the complaint, Hultman told Bren she had an “inability to change gears.” Hultman also allegedly pressured Bren to keep the call a secret from her immediate supervisor in an effort to make it look like her departure was a voluntary retirement.

Emails that the AP obtained reportedly show that Hultman continued to pressure Bren to leave the department over a period of weeks.

In March, Bren ultimately did retire. She also withdrew her discrimination complaint after the state agreed to pay her $200,000. The settlement includes a clause that prevents her from publicly disparaging state officials, according to the AP.

For the time being, it’s unclear what ramifications the controversy may have. But the governor’s office has cast the episode as a political attack.

“The Associated Press is disparaging the Governor’s daughter in order to attack the Governor politically — no wonder Americans’ trust in the media is at an all-time low,” Noam’s spokesman Ian Fury said in a statement to the AP.

Noem’s office did not immediately respond to Inman’s request for comment Monday.

In the meantime, the case highlights the escalating stakes of the appraisal industry. According to the AP, prior to the incident Peters had been working as a state-registered appraiser. The position was entry-level, and the AP reported that appraisers-in-training can make just $10.

However, recruiting website Glassdoor has reported that the average U.S. salary for appraisers is currently  $61,233 per year. In South Dakota, the AP reported that salaries can rise to more than $50,000 per year.

Those numbers are likely rising as well. The real estate industry has been grappling with a shortage of appraisers for years, and that problem became even more acute during the coronavirus pandemic when a competitive market sent home prices soaring.

Email Jim Dalrymple II

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