First off, I totally support Rapid City Mayor Sam Kooiker's assertion that he has the responsibility to look after the public's interest in pursuit of information about federal tax credits that Rapid City developer Hani Shafai says are needed in order to get the multi-million dollar Presidents Plaza off the ground. I understand that Rapid City is tossing almost $3 million into the project. This is public money and my Mayor is rightfully charged with the task of looking after our civic resources. Though I consider Hani a good friend (I'll never forget the great time we had when traveling through pre-civil war Syria together on a trip arranged by our mutual good friend former U.S. Senator Jim Abourezk in '07.), I think his reaction to Mayor Kooiker's decision to look into the status of those tax credits by going directly to the facilitator instead of going through Hani first is probably off base. Sending the Mayor a "cease and desist" letter is over the top and certainly opens any disagreements he's had with the Mayor and the City of Rapid City to a public airing. This kind of spat doesn't merit that much attention and only adds to the hold-up on this long-delayed project, which I support wholeheartedly.
However, I don't like the tone and the inferences of the letter sent a few days ago by Rapid City's Attorney Joel Landeen to Hani's lawyer Ed Carpenter, responding to Hani's "cease and desist" request. (Here's the letter on PDF from the RC Journal website: http://rapidcityjournal.com/city-response-to-demand-by-president-s-plaza-llc/pdf_d2a74ad7-14c6-54d2-9c78-b5ab7cd7b7b9.html). Asserting that the Mayor is fully within his rights and responsibilities to seek information about the tax credits independently is one thing. Calling Hani's character and integrity into question is another. On those two fronts, I will support my friend Hani unequivocally.
Two utterly gratuitous sentences in Landeen's letter stand out and have an accusatory implication in them. The first? "The Mayor is concerned that the information he has been receiving (my note: from Hani, presumably) is less than accurate." In purely rhetorical terms, this isn't the same as calling Hani a liar, but it does raise the question as to why Hani would be passing along inaccurate information about the progress of those critical tax credits. In my book, the sentence suggests that Hani has a reason for supplying "less than accurate" information regarding a matter that Hani is probably more conversant and knowledgeable about than any other participant in this deal. If the Mayor has some reason to believe that the information is inaccurate, he should just come right out and give us the reason why he "is concerned."
The second assertion in Landeen's letter that raises eyebrows--and gets my dander up--contains a code word that is quite disturbing as it is applied. That word is "honest," and its application to the situation is less than favorable to Hani. Here's the sentence: "If the Mayor has questions regarding the funding he will continue to ask them and if he believes he will get a more honest appraisal of the situation from someone other than your client he reserves the right to ask them" The compelling question raised here is, what has led Mayor Kooiker to believe that under some circumstances "he will get a more honest appraisal of the situation from someone other than" Hani? As with the statement referenced above, I think the Mayor owes it to us Rapid Citians to tell why he has reasons to question Hani's honesty.
To me, the letter reads like a none-too-subtly-worded smear. As one of Kooiker's and Landeen's employers I would like to know why they are "concerned" that Hani's information might sometimes be "less than accurate" and why they think there are circumstances when they might "get a more honest appraisal of the situation" from sources other than Hani. Until then, I wish the Mayor and our lawyer would stick to their legitimate contention that city officials have a right and responsibility to seek this information directly from the source and spare us the unsupported innuendoes on the character of a very good man, Hani Shafai.