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Explainer: Will lawmakers dig into Kristi Noem, appraisers?

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Explainer: Will lawmakers dig into Kristi Noem, appraisers?

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — South Dakota lawmakers will be taking a look at a state agency that has been at the center of questions about whether Gov. Kristi Noem used her influence to aid her daughter’s application for a real estate appraiser license.

At first glance, the first item of business for the Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee on Thursday appears routine: “Department of Labor and Regulation to discuss the Appraiser Certification Program.”

But it could have a big impact for the Republican governor, who has generated speculation about a possible 2024 White House bid. Noem has come under scrutiny after The Associated Press reported that she held a meeting in her office last year that included her daughter, Kassidy Peters, and the director of the Appraiser Certification Program, which had moved days earlier to deny Peters’ application for a license. Peters received her certification four months later.

Here’s what to know about the committee’s meeting:

WHO WILL BE SPEAKING?

Lawmakers have carved out a few hours in a packed schedule to hear from four people.

One is the Appraiser Certification Program’s former director, Sherry Bren. She was called into the July 2020 meeting in the governor’s office and was pressured to retire shortly after Peters received her license that November.

Another official slated to speak is Secretary of Labor and Regulation Marcia Hultman. She was also in the meeting and later pressured Bren to retire. Hultman has defended her actions by saying there have been positive changes at the agency since Bren left.

Lawmakers have also called the president of the state’s professional appraiser association, Sandra Gresh. She has raised concerns about the new direction of the state program.

The director of the state’s Office of Risk Management, Craig Ambach, also is expected to appear. His office helped negotiate a $200,000 payment to Bren for her to retire and withdraw an age discrimination complaint. Both Bren and Hultman are bound by a clause in that settlement that bans them from disparaging each other.

WHAT EXACTLY HAPPENED AT THE MEETING IN NOEM’S OFFICE?

It is not entirely clear. The governor hasn’t answered detailed questions about the meeting. Bren told the AP it covered the procedures for appraiser certification and that she was presented with a letter from Peters’ supervisor that criticized the agency’s decision to deny the license.

Noem has said she didn’t ask for special treatment for her daughter. She has cast the episode as yet another way she has “cut the red tape” to solve a shortage of appraisers and smooth the homebuying process.

In a YouTube video responding to the AP’s report, Noem pointed out that Bren had been in her position for decades, and she charged that the system “was designed to benefit those who were already certified and to keep others out.”

IS THERE A SHORTAGE OF APPRAISERS?

Yes. Industry experts have long said that’s a problem, especially in rural states. In South Dakota, many experienced appraisers are nearing retirement age.

However, the governor’s ability to “streamline” requirements for a license would be limited because they are mostly set at the federal level.

As governor, Noem has worked to ease licensing requirements for an array of professions. She said she had been working on appraiser regulations for years.

Asked for examples of that work prior to last year, her spokesman Ian Fury pointed out that Noem, during her eight years in Congress, twice signed onto GOP-sponsored bills that would have, among other financial reforms, adjusted federal appraiser regulations.

HOW CAN THE SHORTAGE BE SOLVED?

Since Bren’s departure, Noem’s administration has moved to waive certification requirements that go beyond the federal standards, such as an exam for entry-level appraisers.

But the leadership of the Professional Appraisers Association of South Dakota has raised concerns about those moves. The group says the biggest barrier to becoming an appraiser is a lack of supervisors who can train new appraisers.

Before Bren left her job, she was working to launch a first-of-its-kind program that would allow appraiser trainees to take hands-on courses and avoid the traditional apprenticeship model that has become a bottleneck. Bren helped the state win a $120,000 annual federal grant and later testified in the Legislature in support of a bill to create the training program. Noem signed it into law this year.

WHAT WILL THE COMMITTEE DO?

It’s not clear. Republican lawmakers said they will start by asking about the state agency and why there are difficulties to becoming an appraiser. But they also acknowledged that the meeting was an opportunity to question the governor’s conduct. Just two Democrats sit on the 10-person committee.

If lawmakers are satisfied, they could move on from the issue.

They also could decide to delve deeper. The committee has the power to subpoena witnesses and records, but that would require approval from the Executive Board, a ranking committee of top legislators.

Kathleen Clark, a law professor who specializes in government ethics at Washington University in St. Louis, said she would not be satisfied with the governor’s explanation that she was simply trying to “cut the red tape.”

“It is conceivable that the agency processes needed improvement,” she said. “But the presence of the daughter and the timing of the meeting suggest that this was not a meeting aimed at improving processes in general, but instead aimed at pressuring the agency to change its mind.”

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101-year-old returns to Pearl Harbor to remember those lost

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101-year-old returns to Pearl Harbor to remember those lost

HONOLULU — When Japanese bombs began falling on Pearl Harbor, U.S. Navy Seaman 1st Class David Russell first sought refuge below deck on the USS Oklahoma.

But a split-second decision on that December morning 80 years ago changed his mind, and likely saved his life.

“They started closing that hatch. And I decided to get out of there,” Russell, now 101, said in a recent interview.

Within 12 minutes his battleship would capsize under a barrage of torpedoes. Altogether, 429 sailors and Marines from the Oklahoma would perish — the greatest death toll from any ship that day other than the USS Arizona, which lost 1,177.

Russell plans to return to Pearl Harbor on Tuesday for a ceremony in remembrance of the more than 2,300 American troops killed in the Dec. 7, 1941, attack that launched the U.S. into World War II.

About 30 survivors and 100 other veterans from the war are expected to observe a moment of silence at 7:55 a.m., the minute the attack began.

Survivors, now in their late 90s or older, stayed home last year due to the coronavirus pandemic and watched a livestream of the event instead.

Russell is traveling to Hawaii with the Best Defense Foundation, a nonprofit founded by former NFL Linebacker Donnie Edwards that helps World War II veterans revisit their old battlefields.

He recalls heading topside when the attack started because he was trained to load anti-aircraft guns and figured he could help if any other loader got hurt.

But Japanese planes dropped a series of torpedoes that pummeled the Oklahoma before he could get there. Within 12 minutes, the hulking battleship capsized.

“Those darn torpedoes, they just kept hitting us and kept hitting us. I thought they’d never stop,” Russell said. “That ship was dancing around.”

Russell clambered over and around toppled lockers while the battleship slowly rolled over.

“You had to walk sort of sideways,” he said.

Once he got to the main deck, he crawled over the ship’s side and eyed the USS Maryland moored next door. He didn’t want to swim because leaked oil was burning in the water below. Jumping, he caught a rope hanging from the Maryland and escaped to that battleship without injury.

He then helped pass ammunition to the Maryland’s anti-aircraft guns.

Russell still thinks about how lucky he was. He ponders why he decided to go topside on the Oklahoma, knowing most of the men who stayed behind likely were unable to get out after the hatch closed.

Russell remained in the Navy until retiring in 1960. He worked at Air Force bases for the next two decades and retired for good in 1980.

His wife, Violet, passed away 22 years ago, and he now lives alone in Albany, Ore.

For decades, Russell didn’t share much about his experiences in World War II because no one seemed to care. But the images from Pearl Harbor still haunt him, especially at night.

“When I was in the VA hospital there in San Francisco, they said, ‘We want you to talk about World War II.’ And I said, I told them, I said, ‘When we talk about it, people don’t believe us. They just walk away.’ So now people want to know more about it so we’re trying to talk about it. We’re trying to talk about it, and we’re just telling them what we saw,” he said. “You can’t forget it.”

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Celtics Notebook: Jayson Tatum on a run

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Celtics Notebook: Jayson Tatum on a run

In addition to rebounding at a career rate (10.2) over his last five games, Jayson Tatum has been finishing at the rim and getting to the free throw line with more regularity than at any point this season.

He’s averaged seven free throw attempts per game dating to a Nov. 15 game in Cleveland, when Tatum shot 7-for-7 from the line. He’s gone 30-for-31 over his last three games heading into Tuesday’s game against the Lakers.

Considering that Tatum has played some of his best basketball against the team he adored as a youngster, expect his best.

It’s all the result of attacking, and making adjustments to how the game is being called this season, with a wider margin of error for defenders.

“We’ve hit him quite a few times with not settling, making a quick decision and when he does that he can get to the basket or make plays for other guys,” said coach Ime Udoka. “He had some success quite a few games ago and saw himself getting to the free throw line. Saw he was missing shots earlier in the year that we love for him getting to the basket.

“I think he just saw the success of getting to the basket, getting to the free throw line, and how that opened everything up for himself and has carried that over,” he said. “We love the balance  and the fact that he can score in the post, pick-and-roll and iso — anywhere on the court. But we love him getting downhill and being aggressive there, and driving and kicking for his teammates for sure.”

Udoka would like to keep Tatum at his current 36.5-minute level, especially now that Jaylen Brown is a day-to-day consideration with his healing right hamstring.

“I don’t necessarily think 36 is a big thing for him,” he said. “Given that Jaylen’s been out the amount he has and we’ve had to rely on (Tatum) more, that obviously was ramped up a little bit beside the extra overtimes, the six extra periods there tacking on some minutes.

“But he’s a guy that’s coped well,” said Udoka. “He’s finding his rhythm and as I’ve mentioned, I’ve never seen a guy his age take care of himself and prepare the way he does with treatment, getting the shots he needs, in the weight room. He’s living in the gym, so he takes care of himself and it’s not a coincidence that he’s been able to play those high minutes and play at a high level.”

Especially now that Tatum is attacking the basket, with his paint attempts and kick-outs on the rise.

“He’s picking his spots, understanding what he has to do every night for other guys, as well as himself,” said Udoka. “We just say make the right play, basically, and he’s done that all year for the most part. There’s still going to be times when he goes to his natural tendency of looking to score at times, but he does it at a high level, so you can’t knock him on that or take that away. But, as I’ve stressed over and over, he’s learning on the fly what he has to do to become a more well-rounded player offensively and defensively and he picks his spots well. I’m thinking he’s making the right play for the most part and teams are going to try to take the ball out of his hands. So the more he loosens everybody else up, the easier it becomes for him in the second half of games.”

And as Tatum’s performances even out, his confidence will build.

“Stay confident. Stay consistent in his process of what he does,” said Udoka. “He doesn’t waiver from that, whether he scores 40 or has a bad shooting night. He comes in and does what he does every day like I just mentioned. So his professionalism is off the charts, especially for a guy his age, like I said. I’ve been around a long time and never seen a guy at that age and focus on taking care of himself to the extent that he does. It’s a credit to him that he’s able to play those minutes. Thirty-six isn’t a crazy high number. Like I said, we’ve had to rely on him probably more than we would have liked to early with guys being out. But he’s taken on a heavy load and stays consistent with what he does every game, every practice, every day.”

‘Being cautious’ with Brown

No Celtic benefited more from the team’s two-day stay in Los Angeles than Brown, who is once again listed as questionable as he slowly returns from a strained right hamstring. His workout intensified during Monday’s practice.

“Jaylen is listed as questionable, and will be questionable going forward,” said Udoka. “Had a good session today, ramped it up a little bit and with him we want to be patient and wait for him to get to 100 percent. Whenever that is, we’ll see how he feels tomorrow after going harder today than he has in awhile, since he played in the games, and like I said, big picture approach, being cautious with it and getting him back at 100, not 85, 90, so it doesn’t linger, and we’ll see how he feels tomorrow.”

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Patriots-Bills inactives: Kyle Dugger out, all 8 questionable Pats active in Buffalo

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Patriots-Bills inactives: Kyle Dugger out, all 8 questionable Pats active in Buffalo

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Questionable? Ha.

For the third straight week, every Patriot listed as questionable on the team’s injury report is active. Starting right tackle Trent Brown and defensive tackle Christian Barmore were among the eight supposed question marks, but both will play in windy Buffalo. Backup quarterback Jarrett Stidham, cornerback Shaun Wade and linebacker Jahlani Tavai are the Pats’ most notable inactives.

The Patriots also activated linebacker Jamie Collins off injured reserve and elevated defensive lineman Daniel Ekulale and safety Sean Davis from the practice squad.  They are without starting safety Kyle Dugger, who remains on COVID-19 reserve.

For the Bills, run-stuffing defensive tackle Star Lotulelei is active after returning from injured reserve. Wide receivers WR Marquez Stevenson and Isaiah McKenzie are both out.

Both teams’ complete inactive lists are below.

PATRIOTS

QB Jarrett Stidham

LB Ronnie Perkins

TE Devin Asiasi

OL Yasir Durant

BILLS

WR Marquez Stevenson

WR Isaiah McKenzie

FB Reggie Gilliam

OL Jamil Douglas

DT Vernon Butler

DE Efe Obada

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