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Perry Says She Has No Conflict, But Here’s Exhibit A

17 Jun

The Missouri Attorney General, in response to a complaint, wrote to county council and Jefferson R7 school board member Tracey Perry stating that she has a conflict of interest in holding those two positions. Legally, the AG stated that she effectively resigned from the board when she joined the council. They gave her 30 days to respond to this, and Perry says she is going to fight the ruling.

Perry also claims in an interview that she has no conflict of interest. That would only arise, she says, if three or more R7 board vacancies arose at once and the county executive had to make appointments to fill them, as happened in Hillsboro R3 recently. She would recuse herself in that event, she says.

But I say she does have a conflict of interest, and here is Exhibit A to prove it.

Zoning Proposal

In March 2019, the county planning and zoning commission (P&Z) and subsequently the county council considered a rezoning request from an applicant wanting to build a mini-storage and RV storage business on Highway 61, across the road from Plattin Primary School in the R7 district. Here’s the location:

r7 storage proposed site

As a councilwoman, Perry participated in the final decision on whether this proposal would be allowed to proceed or not. And as a board member, she heard in detail what R7 leadership thought of the idea. This is from the complaint filed with the AG (emphases mine):

During the March 2019 Jefferson R-VII School Board Meeting, a discussion item was brought up by School Board Member Wayne Surratt, who noted that Ms. Perry could not comment due to her position on the County Council to avoid a conflict of interest. The discussion was the position of the Jefferson R-VII Board of Education and the upcoming County Council vote regarding the rezoning of the property directly across from Plattin Elementary. The recommendation of the Board was to support Ms. Perry and vote against the rezoning of the property directly across Plattin Elementary. Several points were made to the concern for student safety and traffic increase near the school.

Ms. Perry voted with the School Board’s recommendation to defeat the proposed rezoning. Ms. Perry was later publicly thanked by Mr. Wayne Surratt on his Facebook account named ‘Smart Development for R7.’ He posted, “Thank you councilwoman Tracey Harris Perry for representing our interests tonight at the county council meeting. The rezoning was defeated. It was slightly confusing as a positive, so the measure passed on a 5-1-1 vote, but the measure was a denial. There will not be a mini storage or RV storage on that site. Win one for the community!”

In addition to the discussion at that meeting, superintendent Clint Johnston (who Perry helped place on administrative leave) and Surratt (Perry’s crony in that matter) spoke out against this proposal at the March 14 P&Z meeting, as reported in the Leader. Surratt also voiced his disapproval for the project at the March 25 county council meeting. In addition, councilman Brian Haskins, the only person to vote for the rezoning, stated at the council meeting that he walked the property with Perry. At the council meeting, Perry introduced the resolution (page 5) to deny the rezoning request and moved to bring the resolution to a vote. And she voted against the project. So we know that Perry was involved in discussions about this project, knew the project well, knew full well how the school district felt about it, and helped vote it down.

Therein Lies the Conflict

What we don’t know, and what is impossible to tease out, is whether Perry voted against the zoning proposal with the county’s interests in mind or R7’s (or her own political concerns with each constituency). This is the definition of a conflict of interest.

She might argue that A) everyone else except Haskins voted against it too, or B) the county’s and school district’s interests were the same in this situation. But those points are irrelevant. I pulled this from Wikipedia:

“A conflict of interest is a set of circumstances that creates a risk that professional judgement or actions regarding a primary interest will be unduly influenced by a secondary interest.”

In this case, we don’t know if Perry’s primary interest (which in this case should have been her role as councilwoman) was unduly influenced by her secondary interest (her role as R7 board member) as it pertains to this issue. It is easy to make the argument that this project would be good for the county but bad for the school (from the administration’s perspective). I think the county needs this kind of business, especially the RV storage part of it. Haskins and the representative of the project, Dan Govero, made the points that the proximity of this site to the interstate is ideal for this type of business, that traffic going in and out of the business would not occur at the same times as school traffic, and that this use will generate less traffic than other uses, including even housing. I think R7 doesn’t like this business because 1) they’d rather have nice open land next to them, 2) barring that, they’d rather have expensive houses that would generate big property taxes, and/or 3) they think a storage business is trashy.

Perry’s Response

In an interview with KJFF Radio that contained hubris, diversions, and claims of victimhood, Perry addressed the zoning issue. I will transcribe her response for you (emphases mine):

For example, we had someone that wanted to come up and put some storage units in R7 area. The school board made a comment that they wanted to talk about it, well the school board is not in control of planning and zoning and changing and that property. If it was the school board’s property they wanted to put up a storage unit, that’d be a different story. The only problem in that situation is they cannot present to me any information about what they feel is right or wrong if it’s already gone up in front of a planning and zoning committee because I can’t hear evidence that they may present in a hearing that may come up in front of the county council so I would have to leave the room, and just let them know I can’t hear this information. I can only hear this information before any petition has been filed or before it goes up to planning and zoning, so it’s a matter really of education, so it’s not necessarily a conflict, it’s just that I have to abstain, they wouldn’t make any decisions at the school level to wanna change any of that stuff.

This is 100% BS, because Perry did hear what the superintendent and school board thought about the project. She was at the March school board meeting where this was discussed (which took place AFTER the P&Z meeting, by the way), and she didn’t leave the room. And it is highly likely that she knows about Johnston and Surratt speaking at the P&Z meeting. Furthermore, she says in the interview that if a conflict were to arise, she could just abstain. She didn’t abstain here. She voted. She failed her own ethical test.

This just shows her total lack of self-awareness as it related to the incompatibility of her two offices. She also explains in the interview that she’s going to explain to the AG why they are wrong to say she must leave the school board. She says in the interview that the ruling doesn’t apply because Jefferson County has a charter government now, and not the old county commission system. As if the AG doesn’t know that? As if she knows better than the experts in Missouri law?

Who knows how long this process will drag out, but I think it is safe to say that Perry will soon be off of the R7 school board, one way or another.

 

 

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Tax Hike Haskins and His Park Proposal

7 Jun

Jefferson County councilman Brian Haskins (1st District, GOP) has unveiled a plan to ask voters to raise taxes in the county to fund a 650% 550% increase in the budget of the county Parks Department, according to the May 16 Leader. This appears to be all in the name of building a recreation center in the lightly populated west part of the county (he talks about building other parks, but it is clear that the rec center is his main goal). His 3/8-cent sales tax would increase the county parks budget from $1 million per year to $6.5 million, with another $2.5 million going to JeffCo municipalities to use for their parks. Of note, Haskins did not ask the cities if they want this tax, although we know that JeffCo city politicians will never turn down a tax hike.

Haskins uses a bit of false equivalency and false math to argue for parks. First he compares expenditures by cities on their parks to what JeffCo, an unincorporated county, spends. He says Farmington spends $189 per person while JeffCo spends $4. Let’s compare:

Farmington population: 18,500

Unincorporated JeffCo population: 158,000 (approximate)

I’m not sure where he gets the $189 number, but presumably his park calculations for Farmington include expenditures on the Civic Complex there, which is projected to lose $1.4 million in 2019. The subject of unprofitability of rec centers came up at a council meeting when this topic was discussed (with Arnold getting a mention for its money loser), but Haskins rejected the idea that rec centers need to operate in the black, since we don’t ask roads or libraries to turn a profit.

If JeffCo spent $189 per person, our parks budget would be $30 million. Is that what Haskins wants?

How Many Parks?

Haskins also states the canard that JeffCo only has two playgrounds and 1.5 miles of trails. Anyone who lives here knows that is preposterous. I know what he is doing; he is citing only those playgrounds/trails that belong to the county government. But guess what? JeffCo also has the following:

  • Two state historic sites and a state park (not counting Dunklin’s grave)
  • Several state parks just outside our border
  • Parks in nearly every municipality in the county, with trails and playgrounds.
  • Several conservation areas (like Glassberg, Labarque Creek, Valley View)
  • Many schools with playgrounds

All of these are available to residents of unincorporated JeffCo. To say that these don’t count, and so we have to hike taxes to build county-operated parks, is bogus.

I will also note that Eureka has a rec center. It is 15 minutes away from High Ridge, 20 from Cedar Hill. A JeffCo family can join it for $65 per month. Fenton and Arnold also have rec centers that are not far away from the northwest area of the county where Haskins wants to build his own version.

So Many Taxes

Taxes are going up every year around here. There have been from 4 to 12 tax hike proposals on April ballots in recent years across the county. And most of these tax hikes pass because the people that benefit most (e.g. fire fighters and teachers) show up to vote while few others do. The county is talking about building a new jail and courthouse that will require funding. We can’t be passing giant tax hikes at the same time so Haskins can have a rec center in a lightly-populated part of the county.

In an editorial, the Leader took the predictable position that the council should just let the people vote. But we are not a direct democracy. We elect representatives to (hopefully) make good decisions for us. They should reject this bad idea, not punt it to the ballot. Besides, JeffCo voters have been making some poor decisions lately as it relates to tax hikes. Let’s not give them (us?) another chance.

County Purchasing Evidence Building; Could be Used by City PDs

16 Apr

On April 8 the Jefferson County Council approved the purchase of a building in Pevely to be used by the Sheriff’s Office for evidence storage. The Sheriff is running out of space for evidence storage, and new laws and litigation require police to keep evidence for longer time periods than before, while being sure to maintain the integrity of the evidence for use at trial. So the need for space to store evidence will only increase.

The building the county is buying is on Mason Circle Drive, off of Highway 61/67 just north of Highway Z. The purchase price was $780,000, and it is about 10,000 square feet on 3 acres.

new evidence bldg

Municipal Option

The Sheriff is considering the option of allowing municipal police departments in the county to use Sheriff services for evidence storage. Handling of evidence has been a major area of concern among local police agencies. The Sheriff investigated the police in Hillsboro and DeSoto within the past year after problems arose in both cities, and found problems such as unsecured, unlabeled, and missing evidence, lack of training, and water leaks and mold in evidence rooms.

When new police chief Frank Selvaggio took over in Byrnes Mill after poor practices were revealed there, he found drugs and weapons that were not packaged and labeled correctly, as well as a rape kit without a case number to identify it. He also discovered a lack of proper officer training in evidence procedures.

And this is just the police departments that have been investigated or released information on their own. Who knows what evidence situation we would find in other JeffCo police departments?

The Proposal

The Sheriff would charge a monthly fee to participating police departments, and require them to follow JeffCo policies and procedures. Selvaggio mentioned at the March 6 Byrnes Mill Board of Aldermen meeting that the proposal would cost that city an estimated $220 per month. The board indicated that it would be interested in participating.

Sheriff Dave Marshak indicates that the Sheriff’s Office would not pursue this plan unless it is cost-effective for his office and there is room for the additional evidence (the new property does have room for expansion). This idea is still in the phase of assessing the potential interest from the cities and the ability for the Sheriff’s Office to offer the service on top of its own responsibilities, and will move to the next phase later this year when the Sheriff takes possession of the new evidence building and completes necessary modifications.

If adopted, a shared evidence facility would be another great step forward in improving municipal policing in our county, along with the changes that have been forced in DeSoto, Byrnes Mill, and Hillsboro. This would contribute greatly to the ability of crime victims in the county to achieve justice by improving the ability to successfully prosecute criminals.

Waller’s Sunshine Scheme Falls Flat, but Cost Big Bucks

3 Mar

The Attorney General’s Sunshine Law lawsuit against Jefferson County councilwoman Renee Reuter, a stunt that appears to have been engineered by former county executive Ken Waller, has ended with a dismissal, meaning that Reuter has not been found to have done wrong. But Waller cost county taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars over (another) attack on his political enemies.

The suit began a year ago and alleged that Reuter told county council administrative assistant Pat Schlette to delete some emails containing legal invoices in violation of the Sunshine law. The legal invoices were for work to defend the council against frivolous lawsuits filed by, or joined by, Ken Waller, including the infamous politician pay raise lawsuit.

But the simple fact is that the documents were not destroyed and they were delivered to the requestor. How can you sue someone for a Sunshine violation under these circumstances? Even if the emails were removed from one person’s computer, anyone who uses email at work knows that deleting an email from your computer does not destroy it forever – it gets backed up in the system. Reuter did not want people going in and getting the legal bills off of the admin’s computer.

Initial Instigator

Documents reveal that the party that filed the initial sunshine request in July 2017 was an attorney from the Thurman Law Firm. A different attorney from this law firm, Derrick Good, is Waller’s #1 crony and is representing the politicians who brought the politician pay case. So this request was probably an attempt to acquire information to gain an advantage in that lawsuit, in conjunction with Waller’s strategy to prevent the council from spending money to defend against Waller’s lawsuits so he could win by default. It appears that this request might have been the inception of Waller’s ploy to claim that he didn’t have to pay the bills because the law firm started work before the council passed the necessary ordinances. The city had to get its own attorney because the county counselor at the time, Tony Dorsett, whose job it was to represent the entire county, was a stooge of Waller and was antagonistic to the council.

There was a question over whether the county had to release the detailed legal bills, or whether they were closed records. But in November 2017, the bills were released to Thurman Law Firm and others who later requested them (Erin Kasten and a Leader reporter).

Then, on December 15, 2017, Waller wrote a letter to JeffCo prosecutor Forrest Wegge in which he requested an investigation and prosecution of Reuter for destruction of public records. Waller admitted in the January 3 Leader that he also contacted the AG but that his request was denied. It is not clear if Waller contacted the AG separately, or if Wegge passed Waller’s letter up to him. Waller says he had nothing to do with the subsequent sunshine lawsuit by the AG, but the Sunshine lawsuit was filed just one month after Waller wrote to Wegge. So it seems highly likely that the letter from Waller led directly to the lawsuit.

Who Should Pay

An article in the February 28 Leader says that is is not clear who will pay Reuter’s legal bills, which are over $92,000 for this case. However, the council has shown that it wants to pay them with tax money. The council voted on December 28 to approve a resolution to direct the county to pay. New county executive Dennis Gannon says he has not taken a stand on the issue. Since the lawsuit was bogus and was instigated by Waller, I see no reason that Reuter should have to pay out of her own pocket to defend herself. We can’t allow people like Waller to go after the finances of their enemies.

Should the executive and council decide to pay the bills, watch to see if Waller tries to block it. As county clerk, he has a role in the county’s bill-paying process, so I can see him trying to interfere.

The ideal situation would be for Waller to pay for Reuter’s legal fees from his campaign finance account, from which Waller spent $144,000 in 2018 to win the election for county clerk. Right now he only has about $9,000 on hand, but I’m sure that account will be replenished quickly.

November 2018 Election Notes

7 Nov

It was another big red GOP win in JeffCo, arguably even bigger than those of the previous eight years, despite the lopsided rejection of Right to Work by county voters in August that Democrat candidates thought would help carry them to some victories. Here are some notes:

-As STL Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum put it, “For the first time probably in Missouri history, Republicans now hold every single state legislative seat in Jefferson County.” This is thanks to Mary Elizabeth Coleman ending Mike Revis’ short tenure as the state rep for district 97 (he won the seat in February) and Mike McGirl breaking the Democrat (and JeffCo resident) stranglehold on the 118th district seat. A minority of the district resides in Washington County, as does McGirl, but JeffCo voters went for party over county in choosing him over DeSoto resident Barbara Marco. Also interesting – Marco’s treasurer was DeSoto city councilman Clay Henry.

-In countywide races, victorious GOP candidates averaged 58% of the vote. New county clerk Ken Waller, however, only squeaked by with a mere 51.5%. This suggests that a fair number of Republicans did not vote for him (approximately 7,000, it looks like), but not enough to help opponent and incumbent Randy Holman overcome the red wave.

-Her 32-year incumbency, Democrat affiliation, and pay increase lawsuit against the taxpayers were not enough to keep collector Beth Mahn from winning a 9th term with 52.7% of the vote, the only Democrat in the county to win yesterday.

-One race where money did not seem to matter was the county executive race, where Democrat Jeff Roorda outspent victorious Republican Dennis Gannon by about $46,000 to $21,000 (as of eight days before the election). Yet Gannon won the race by about the same margin as other countywide GOP candidates. I thought Roorda would have been more competitive. But I said the same thing in 2014 when he lost a Senate race to Paul Wieland.

-In another such race, Waller edged Holman while underperforming other Republicans even though he outspent his opponent by $128,000 (!) to $5,000 (again as of eight days out). That was almost a Beto O’Rourke-level of investment return for those who gave to Waller. Holman had about $10,000 in the bank as of that last report; perhaps he should have spent a little more of it.

-In addition to the county legislative delegation being entirely GOP, the county council is now entirely GOP, with lone Dem Dan Darian losing his race. With Waller’s divisive presence out of the way, it will be interesting to see what Gannon and the new council can do. Hopefully they will deliver on measures to improve economic growth and the business climate in our county.

Local Lawyer and GOP Fixture Involved in Three Big Lawsuits

23 Aug

Update 10-14: Good has withdrawn from the opioid case, which was transferred to federal court.

Derrick Good is a JeffCo lawyer with the Thurman law firm in Hillsboro and a fixture on the county GOP Central Committee, whose revenge play I wrote about recently. He is a friend of county executive Ken Waller, who appointed Good to seats on the Hillsboro school board and the county Port Authority. Good has donated $500 to Waller during the current election cycle, and the Leader in 2016 quoted Waller saying that Good was one of his campaign managers. Good is currently involved as an attorney in three major lawsuits that I would like to outline today.

Hillsboro Sand Mine

In April 2018, a proposal to build a sand mine near Hillsboro caused great alarm among area residents, who were concerned about the impact of the 259-acre project on the largely residential area. Opposition quickly mobilized, packing the county planning and zoning hearing on the project. The P&Z board voted 7-0 in June to recommend denial of rezoning for the project. At another packed meeting, the county council voted 6-0 to deny the proposal.

But now, the companies behind the sand mine are suing the county (case 18JE-CC00529, St. Peter Sand Company et al vs. JeffCo). The lawsuit is pursuant to the companies’ rights under Chapter 536 of state law, which allows for judicial review of decisions like this one. The companies can argue that the county’s denial of the project was arbitrary and not based on solid evidence. I wrote here about a lawsuit in which a man sued the county successfully, partially on Chapter 536 grounds, after his proposal to build a mini-storage and boat/RV storage facility was denied. The judge ordered the county to approve the zoning changes for the project. So the possibility exists that the sand mine could be approved by the judge and go forward despite huge public opposition.

Good is the sole attorney for the companies bringing this lawsuit. As I mentioned above, he serves on the county Port Authority, as president no less. The sand from this mine, intended for use in fracking as part of oil and gas drilling, would almost certainly be shipped through the port on its way to the oil and gas fields. I think that’s an interesting connection.

Multi-County Opioid Lawsuit

Jefferson County joined a lawsuit against 49 opioid manufacturers and distributors this month, along with nine other counties, accusing them of causing the opioid crisis and demanding money to pay for the costs of battling it (case 1822-CC10883, JeffCo et al vs. Purdue Pharma et al). The law firm leading the suit – Carey, Danis, and Lowe out of Clayton – says they approached Good about having JeffCo participate because they saw him in court one day and were impressed. I suspect, though, that they knew he had the right political connections.

So Good set up a meeting between Waller and the law firm, as Waller tells the Leader. Waller then decided on his own accord, without consulting the county council, that the county would join the lawsuit. Now Good stands to receive attorney fees if the lawsuit is successful. It is likely that lots of money will be handed over here, either by verdict or settlement, so Waller’s unilateral decision stands to be profitable for Good.

Politician Pay Lawsuit

I have written about this one extensively (case 16JE-CC00004, King vs JeffCo). Good was co-chairman of the charter committee that wrote the county charter and presented it to voters in 2008, ushering in our current form of government. But on the last day of 2015, Good filed a lawsuit against the county on behalf of former Democrat elected official Bruce King, saying that the charter was unclear and being interpreted incorrectly in a way that caused county elected officials to be underpaid and asking for that to be remedied retroactively. A few weeks later the plaintiff added another attorney, Kevin Roberts of the Roberts Wooten Zimmer firm in Hillsboro. The two are naturally seeking attorneys’ fees as part of the suit.

In a Leader article at the time, King says the suit was not his idea, and that he was recruited by Good and Roberts to be the named plaintiff.  A couple of weeks after the suit was filed, a flood of local officials, including Waller, joined the quest for additional salary and benefits. The suit could cost the county $1.2 million dollars in extra pay if successful.

While Waller and other elected officials have failed to coherently defend the lawsuit when confronted on camera by Fox 2’s Elliott Davis, Good has put forward at least a plausible defense of the lawsuit online. It is long, and you can read it here. An excerpt:

Despite discussions and attempts to reach a resolution, nothing happened. There is a simple question that needs an answer, what does the language mean. I as a Charter Commission member believe that the language was written as it is to make sure our officeholders did not take a pay cut, were paid at least what someone in an equivalent office in a first class non-charter county made. However, in order to keep salaries from running away we capped it at no greater than 10% more than the equivalent position. There was a desire to pay those positions well so that quality people would be attracted to running.

 

 

August Primary Election Vignettes

30 Jul

Here are some notes I would like to put out there before election day on August 7.

How Much Harmony?

The ability of county government to function harmoniously will increase greatly in 2019, when a new county executive takes the helm and Ken Waller’s reign is over. However, if elected county clerk I still think he could cause havoc, since the clerk is in the chain of approval for government payments. He could decide to gum up payments he doesn’t like, for example payments to lawyers trying to defend the county against the politician pay raise lawsuit. Never mind the hurdles he could place in front of candidates he opposes as county election authority. Given his poor record as executive, I see no reason to entrust Waller with another county office.

This paragraph from the Post-Dispatch’s endorsement in the St. Louis county executive race is eerily, wholly applicable to Waller (minus the energy and enthusiasm part):

Rarely before has regional politics witnessed the levels of vitriol and dysfunction that seem to follow St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger wherever he goes. His admirable energy and enthusiasm too often come packaged with an off-putting, confrontational demeanor. The county and region can no longer afford the abrasive style and questionable ethics that Stenger brings to the table.

Prosecutor Candidate’s DeSoto Role

From what I have seen and heard, GOP prosecutor candidate Mark Bishop, who is city attorney for DeSoto, is involved to a high degree in what happens there, more so than one would expect a city attorney to be. City attorney is supposed to be an advisory role, but my discussions indicate that he had a hand the departure of multiple police personnel. This lawsuit by former officer Mike McMunn sheds some light. This involvement probably explains why a number of former DeSoto officers openly support Bishop’s opponent in the primary, Trisha Stefanski. Given that DeSoto has been embroiled in chaos in the past few months, Bishop’s association with the city might give voters pause.

Some have also criticized Bishop for Facebook posts he has made from local courts, sometimes in his role as city prosecutor, making fun of the attire of defendants, some of whom may lack the time or money to dress up nicely for court. His personal Facebook page has recently been made largely private, so you can’t look them up, but here’s a screenshot of one post:

bishop-court

Late Bloomer

Jason Fulbright joined the GOP race for county collector in May (along with Lisa Brewer Short) during the late enrollment period made necessary when the sole GOP candidate dropped out after filing had closed. But he’s been rather slow to kick off his campaign:

  • He updated his “office sought” with the Missouri Ethics Commission in late June.
  • He wrote a Facebook post kicking off his campaign about two weeks ago.
  • His signs have started to pop up around the county only in the past 1-2 weeks, that I have seen.
  • His April-June campaign finance report shows that he raised or spent less than $500. He did spend money in mid-to-late July on signs and mailers.

It may be true that most people don’t start paying attention to elections until the last few weeks, but then again, others have already sent in their absentee ballots. Part of a campaign’s purpose is to show voters that you are a committed candidate, and in the primary, to prove that you are the person best suited to beat the candidate of the other party. In this case, that person is 32-year Democrat incumbent Beth Mahn, who has recently sued the taxpayers and hired an insider to a job in her office in record speed. I think GOP voters want to know that their candidate will go all out to win this particular race in November. Short, his opponent, started campaigning over a year ago.

We will see how Fulbright’s late campaign works out. He does have name recognition in the high-population northern part of the county due to his service on the Arnold city council and previous bid for state representative.

Interesting House Race

The race for the GOP nomination for the House seat in the 97th district is worth watching. Democrat Mike Revis won the seat in a February special election and will defend it in November against the winner of this primary. Two of the candidates, Mary Elizabeth Coleman and Phil Amato, are former Arnold city council members, and the third, David Linton, is the guy who Revis beat in February. Coleman has the most money, as well as endorsements from state senator Paul Wieland, congresswoman Ann Wagner, and…Arnold mayor Ron Counts.

In a uniony district such as this, here is how the candidates have declared on Prop A (the right to work ballot item, where a yes vote is for RTW):

 

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