South Dakota AG 'actively reviewing' governor's ethically dubious meeting with daughter, state officials

Kristi Noem
(Image credit: Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg (R) said Tuesday that at the request of "concerned citizens and legislators," he is "actively reviewing" Gov. Kristi Noem's (R) meeting with state officials and her daughter, days after one of the summoned officials moved to deny the daughter real estate appraiser certification. Ravnsborg added that he will be "following the steps prescribed in codified law," but did not say what those steps would be.

While Noem and Ravnsborg are both Republicans, they have been at odds since Noem called on Ravnsborg to step down after he was involved in a fatal hit-and-run. South Dakota's Legislature is scheduled to convene in November to decide whether to impeach Ravnsborg, who has pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor charges in connection with the accident.

Noem summoned Sherry Bren, who ran the state Appraiser Certification Program, to a meeting at her office on July 27, 2020, with state Labor Secretary Marcia Hultman, Bren's direct supervisor, the governor's general counsel, and Noem's 26-year-old daughter, Kassidy Peters, The Associated Press reported Monday. Days before the meeting, Bren's office had moved to reject Peters' application to become a certified real estate appraiser.

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Peters' license was approved in November 2020, and according to an age discrimination complaint Bren filed in December, Hultman called to demand her resignation soon after, telling Bren to keep the call a secret from her direct supervisor and make it seem she had chose to retire on her own. Bren, 70, did leave her job in March after South Dakota paid her $200,000 to withdraw her complaint, AP reports.

Government ethics experts said Noem's decision to include her daughter in the meeting was a red flag, even if the withheld license was not discussed — and Bren told AP that Peters' case did come up in the meeting. Noem should have recused herself from any discussion of the agency her daughter was seeking certification from, much less convene that meeting, Richard Painter, chief ethics lawyer for former President George W. Bush, told AP. "It's clearly a conflict of interest and an abuse of power for the benefit of a family member."

Noem's spokesman accused AP of using Peters to attack Noem and said the governor's wading into the real estate appraisal license process was an example of how Noem "won't allow bureaucratic red tape to get in the way of South Dakota's sustained economic growth."

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