Lawmakers want to know when South Dakota cuts settlement checks to disgruntled employees

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Sherry Bren, the former director of the South Dakota Appraiser Certification Program who received a $200,00 settlement to withdraw a wrongful termination complaint against the state, testifies Tuesday before the Legislature's Government Operations and Audit Committee.
Sherry Bren, the former director of the South Dakota Appraiser Certification Program who received a $200,00 settlement to withdraw a wrongful termination complaint against the state, testifies Tuesday before the Legislature's Government Operations and Audit Committee.

PIERRE — The South Dakota House of Representatives wants to know when the state of South Dakota cuts settlement checks to disgruntled employees.

Last year, the state of South Dakota paid out $200,000 to the former director of the state appraiser certification program, Sherry Bren, after she levied a wrongful termination complaint against her employer of more than three decades.

And when that settlement came to light following an Associated Press investigation into alleged misuse of power by Gov. Kristi Noem regarding the appraisers program in which one of her children had been enrolled, lawmakers on the Legislature's Government Operations and Accountability Committee began investigating the allegations facing Noem as well as the process by which settlements are paid out.

More: South Dakota agency head resigns amid scrutiny of Gov. Kristi Noem

"I don't believe bureaucrats should be making a lot of these decisions without an elected official involved," said Rep. Ernie Otten, R-Tea, Monday while speaking on the House floor in favor of House Bill 1041, which would require that the Legislature's executive branch be kept privy to settlements with state employees.

Following the revelation of the Bren settlement in September, GOAC, which Otten is a member of, determined through its work that the settlement to Bren was the largest single payout from the state's risk pool in the three years prior. But what led to the payout isn't known as state officials with both the Office of Risk Management, which operates under the umbrella of the Bureau of Administration, as well as Bren apprehensive to share details given a "non-disparagement" clause in the settlement agreement.

That's why Otten's bill, which earned support from the House Monday with a 64-6 vote, also provides that any such stipulation in future settlements involving the state and its employees will not preclude the executive board of the Legislature from being apprised of those agreements.

Sen. David Wheeler, R-Huron, asks a series of questions during testimony of Sherry Bren, the former executive director of the South Dakota Appraiser Certification Program.
Sen. David Wheeler, R-Huron, asks a series of questions during testimony of Sherry Bren, the former executive director of the South Dakota Appraiser Certification Program.

Otten's measure isn't the only legislative fallout from the allegations Noem and the Department of Labor and Regulation, the state agency that oversees the appraiser certification program. During GOAC’s proceedings this fall, it was determined that an advisory board composed of state-certified appraisers that’d been meeting and consulting with Bren for nearly 30 years was no longer being consulted.

GOAC members Rep. Linda Duba, D-Sioux Falls, and Sen. Kyle Schoenfish, are bringing legislation to codify that board, which now has operated on a voluntary basis. That bill is slated to be heard in the House Commerce and Energy Committee Wednesday.

The governor's office did not provide comment for this article other than Ian Fury, a spokesman for Noem, saying these bills would be considered on a case by case basis like every bill that earns passage in the Legislature.

Duba, however, told the Argus Leader that she anticipates opposition from the Department of Labor.

This article originally appeared on Sioux Falls Argus Leader: South Dakota's employee settlement bill a result of appraiser scandal

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