Friday, March 9, 2018

Community Reactions, Concerns and Questions following Leaked Policy Bodycam Video

The City of Asheville held a community meeting Tuesday, March 6, 2018 to discuss the events surrounding the leaked video of the Asheville Police officer use of force against a jaywalker which was made public February 28, 2018.  Hundreds attended the event while it was also live streamed by local newstation, WLOS.  Since then the leaking of the video and the live stream community event, there have been numerous reactions across the community and nationally.

Here's a roundup of the events, reactions, questions and concerns so far:

APD were asked by City Council to take action against jaywalkers
Chad Nesbitt and reporter for Leicester Leader raises the issue that the APD were requested by Council and the Mayor back in 2014 to start taking action against jaywalkers due to the high number of pedestrian accidents in the City.  You can see the post below.  Does this justify the actions? Has the APD equally enforced this law? How many citations has it written for this?

Resign Resign Resign

Although City Police Chief has offered to resign if that's what the community wants, others feel that the City Manager, Gary Jackson, City Mayor Esther Manheimer, and the ADP Supervisor should also resign.   Some comments were wondering why Rush stayed quiet for so long. 

You can read the City Letter written and distributed by former councilman, Chris Peterson, on this website and the reactions there:

NextDoor Community chimes in

On the NextDoor community app, members also chimed in to the question posted, "Should the Mayor and Police Chief step down for the continued excuses? What does the community think and/or feel about the situation?"  Reactions went both ways with some saying the community shouldn't judge yet without all the details while others say the details have been released. 

Release of information - proper or improper? What are the boundaries?

Public but private personal information
March 8, 2018 - Joel Burgess, The Citizen-Times reporter who initially released the video incident also was at the jail when APD officer Chris Hickman, was released on March 8th  He obtained copies of the warrant and published those on the Citizen-Times website without redacting his personal information, including his address and social security number. Though the warrants are public information, should he have released those personal details?

Necessary but illegal release of Police Video 
March 9, 2018 - Carolina Public Press wrote an article addressing the concerns and legal issues surrounding the leaked policy bodycam video, noting it requires a court order to release such videos. You can read the article here: Restricted access to police beating video raises concerns about NC law

National Not-So-Positive Attention

While Asheville is known for its many accolades and top 10 listings in tourism publications, this is one story the City isn't proud of at it makes its way through national media.  Here are some of the headlines:

New York Times, "Outrage over footage of a police officer beating a black man in North Carolina."
CNN, "North Carolina police officer faces charges after beating, choking and tasing suspected jaywalker."
New York Daily News, "FBI now investigating North Carolina officer in jaywalking beating."

Thursday, March 8, 2018

City Letter #11

The Big Cover Up

For the last four years we have been reporting that our City Manager and current council have been steadily bankrupting our city. With this group leading our city we are headed for a train wreck on June 1, 2018. This is an important date to remember because the City budget will be presented and show that we are up to $40 million dollars in debt. Due to the bad council decisions RADTIP, Art Museum, Eagle Street, Transit System, Greenways, bike paths, stormwater, New Belgium, lawsuits, salaries and outside consultants.

We also reported that Gary Jackson ($280,000 salary) would be retiring in December which he did. What we did not know was that for the last six months our City Manager, the Mayor and his elitist staff have been covering up the brutal beating that took place in late August 2017 by a few police officers. It is our opinion that after the beating occurred the police chief alerted Gary Jackson knowing how explosive this issue would be. It is also our belief that within a few days Manheimer was also made aware. Jackson knew that he had to preserve his hefty retirement and passed the chief onto Assistant City Manager Dundas ($230,000 salary) knowing this could cost him his job. The Mayor ($55,000 salary) was also in the beginning of the re-election campaign and knew it would damage her chances and her candidates chances in the upcoming election. All the Mayor and Gary wanted was the issue to go away quietly and it was all about keeping their jobs and getting re-elected. After the incident Gary was going to do everything he could to keep his hefty retirement package. If this incident would have come out in August he would have been fired by Council.

The reason that Gary and the Mayor’s story make no sense is that our City government is run strictly by the City Manager. He hires, he fires, he’s over the police and he has complete control over our 190 million dollar budget. The only person he answers to is council and if 4 members vote to fire, you are gone unless you elect to retire on your own. When I served on Council protocol on an event as explosive as this would have been that the police chief would call Gary first and make him aware. She knew full well if she had not done this she would have been immediately fired. Next Gary would have immediately alerted the City Attorney Robin Currin. Then he would have called the Mayor. The Mayor would have then called for a special closed session for council on personnel matters. The matter would have been discussed in closed session and Jackson and Currin would then have advised council which legal direction they should take and when they should alert media and the community. Gary and the Mayor are trying to say the chief went to Dundas, the Assistant City Manager. There is no way that Dundas, newly placed on the job a few months as assistant city manager would not have told Jackson. We feel this was a massive coverup to protect jobs and get re-elected (and if not, then this was complete gross negligence and mismanagement). And when Gary moves far away the Mayor was going to blame the beating and the high deficit all on him.

Dundas says that when he heard about it he went to City Attorney Currin’s office and reported it. By the way Curren ($230,000 salary) was brought to Asheville by Mayor Manheimer. With Currin and Manheimer being such good friends it’s hard to believe she didn’t tell her friend the Mayor. Then you may ask where was Cathy Ball, Assistant City Manager #2 ($220,000 salary). Do you really think the public believes that these people didn’t know especially with Gary’s reputation of being a micro-manager.

There is no doubt that this was a massive cover up and we feel that the City Manager, Dundas, Cathy Ball, Robin Curren and the police chief and the City Mayor should all be fired. If we the voters are fouled accepting this political hogwash then shame on us. It’s time to clean our house.

Chris Peterson


LASTFIRSTPOSITIONSALARY (pre2017 Increase)Salary (after FY2017-18 Increase)Est'd FY2017-18 Fringe BenefitsTOTAL FY2017-18 COMPENSATION
JACKSON,GARYCity Manager190,452.78195,214.0065,153.00260,367.00
CURRIN,ROBINCity Attorney177,700.14182,142.0058,809.00240,951.00
BALL,CATHYAssistant City Manager165,099.05169,226.0049,952.00219,178.00
HOOPER,TAMARAPolice Chief160,463.75164,475.0047,104.00211,579.00
ROWE,MARGARETHuman Resources Director – started Jan 4, 2017137,500.00140,937.0041,941.00182,878.00
DUNDAS,JADEInterim Assistant City Manager134,582.50164,226.0049,552.00219,178.00
WHITEHORN,BARBARAFinance Director129,654.71132,896.0041,638.00174,534.00
FELDMAN,JONATHANChief Information Officer127,576.51130,765.0043,522.00174,287.00
PUTNAM,KENNETHTransportation Director126,224.15129,379.0035,772.00165,151.00
BURNETTE,SCOTTFire Chief121,050.82124,077.0030,164.00154,241.00
POWERS,SAMUELComm & Econ Dev Director118,481.59121,433.0033,387.00154,820.00
BAUMSTARK,JAMESDeputy Police Chief113,877.50116,724.0047,583.00164,307.00
SHULER,GREGORYPublic Works Director112,276.44115,083.0043,109.00158,192.00
AYERS,JAMESGeneral Services Director111,807.00114,602.0033,518.00148,120.00
WOOD,WADEDeputy Police Chief110,428.79116,724.0039,445.00156,169.00
SIMMONS,RODERICKParks & Rec Director110,272.11113,028.0050,353.00163,381.00
OKOLICHANY,TODDPlanning & Urban Design Director108,701.25111,418.0042,425.00153,843.00
WHITLOCK,KELLYDeputy Attorney102,489.75105,052.0027,659.00132,711.00
BUDZINSKI,CHRISTOPHERDeputy Fire Chief98,695.63101,163.0026,474.00127,637.00
MELTON,DAVIDWater Resources – Assistant Director98,348.75100,807.0030,246.00131,053.00

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Asheville City begins budget discussions; proposing fees and charges to increase

The City held it's monthly Finance Committee meeting today, kicking off the budget work sessions to discuss the 2018-2019 city budget.   Essentially, new fees for events will be implemented and stormwater fees will increase for the 5th straight year:

Here's what they proposed for new fees and charges for the coming year:

Monday, November 6, 2017

Citizen-Times Declares Open Season on Dee Williams

Editorial displays paper’s antagonism

Late last week Asheville Unreported received separate but similar messages from two different sources: be on the lookout, they said, the Citizen-Times is going to do a very negative piece on city council candidate Dee Williams. It will be in the Sunday edition.

One of the sources is very close to the Citizen-Times organization. That, coupled with the paper’s backhanded coverage of Williams’ candidacy to date, prompted AU to take the unusual – but not unheard-of – step of actually reaching out to the Citizen-Times.

AC-T editor Katie Wadington was out of town; calls to her were routed, instead of to an assistant editor, to Brian Ponder, who according to the paper’s masthead has the interesting title of “Writing Coach.”

“This is the part where I assure you that AU, as a news vehicle itself, doesn't care what you write about whom, as long as it's true (the same, of course, applies to us) nor are we in the business of second-guessing our colleagues' timing or motives,” AU’s Roger McCredie told Ponder in an e-mail. “But when multiple readers ask us to look into something, I think we owe it to them to do so.

“So the questions at hand seem to be:

(a) is AC-T in fact preparing a pre-election piece of some sort on Williams; 
(b) whether you're planning to do any similar reporting on any of the other candidates; and 
(c) if not, why Williams, and why now?

“Please also know that I fully understand you are not obligated to respond to any of this and in fact that you are perfectly within your rights to tell me to go to hell at my earliest convenience. But I hope you'll be kind enough to humor me and give me just a yea or nay -- which will be the extent of what I relay to the enquiring minds,” McCredie concluded.

Two days later Ponder replied.

“Thanks for your email and sorry for the late reply. Joel Burgess is covering Asheville city elections for us, and I know he talks with each of the candidates when he is writing about them and their campaigns. Thanks for reaching out,” Ponder said.
So McCredie forwarded his conversation with Ponder to Burgess. “ Brian Ponder has handed off to you, so I'm just going to put the same questions to you that I did to him (see below). I am aware that you included Williams in your recent candidate profile piece,” McCredie said to Burgess, who covers local government matters for the paper.

No reply.

Citizen-Times Editorial Snideness

But on Sunday, Nov. 5, the Citizen Times’ editorial board presented its evaluation of the six candidates who are looking to fill the three open council seats. The pundits had positive things to say about each one, even those who clearly had not earned the paper’s official stamp of approval.

Except for the editorial’s blurb about Williams. Among the other wrapups, which ranged in tone from courteous to fawning, Williams’ was startling in its snideness.

In its entirety the Williams entry read:
Dee Williams is a perennial candidate who stresses racial justice and fighting gentrification. Williams has no doubt been a force of good in our community with a sharp mind and a willingness to roll up her sleeves. The only candidate who has registered with every party imaginable, her supporters admire her for being beholden only to the issues, and not to any political force.
However, Williams’ tendency to focus more on lauding her own accomplishments and offering sometimes convoluted criticisms of past leadership, rather than offering ideas or solutions for the future, has made it difficult to glean what solutions she offers exactly. We hope if Williams is elected, she will shift her focus toward our shared future and away from oppositional rhetoric”
All newspapers have opinions and at least in this case the Citizen-Times managed to reserve theirs for the editorial page instead of weaving it into what passes for their news content; AC-T even managed to show more finesse than usual by alternating some damning-with-faint-praise (“a force of good in our community with a sharp mind and a willingness to roll up her sleeves”) with Facebook-caliber snarkiness (“a perennial candidate … who has registered with every party imaginable”, “lauding her own accomplishments and offering sometimes convoluted criticisms of past leadership”, oppositional rhetoric”. Among the bland comments on the other candidates, the paper’s savaging of Williams sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb.

Similarly, in his own candidate wrapup earlier, reporter Burgess carefully played up Williams’ endorsement by the Green Party in a nonpartisan election and pointedly referred to a history of “controversy” surrounding the candidate. This, again, among otherwise positive candidate profiles.

So why the AC-T laser target on Williams’ forehead?
The most obvious answer appears to be a combination of blatant dislike combined with visceral fear. Williams represents a black Asheville that has seen itself displaced in favor of rampant development and gentrification since the 1980’s. She has proved herself indeed “beholden only to the issues, and not to any political force,” and that could be downright inconvenient on a council known for its cronyism and its better aversion to transparency.

Past political targets of the Citizen-Times

It appears the Citizen-Times is in the habit of writing negative pieces just before elections as it did last October when it wrote a rather disparaging article about then running incumbent, Mike Fryar, Buncombe County Commissioner. In that piece it ran with an alleged claim (which was never proven) by then Buncombe County Manager, that Mr. Fryar tried to hit her on the head with a phone. That article also went into great detail about how Mr. Fryar absorbed way too much time asking questions, so much time that Ms. Greene was unable to do her job.  However, a year later, it turns out Mr. Fryar was onto something when Ms. Greene suddenly retired in June along with her high-earning son for whom no one knows exactly what he did for the County.  And now, the Citizen-Times has published a novel about Ms. Wanda Greene and her bonuses and pay, trying to make up for their earlier mistakes.

And next to the Asheville Chamber of Commerce, the city government’s biggest cheerleader is the Asheville Citizen-Times.

Related articles about the Citizen-Times

In April of this year, Asheville Unreported ran a two-part series entitled “The Late, Great Citizen-Times. You can read this mini-series here:

# # # # #

Monday, October 23, 2017

Gary Jackson names Cathy Ball, "Acting City Manager"

Cathy Deyton Ball
A Profile

In the October 24, 2017 council meeting agenda, there is an oddball resolution in the Consent Agenda designating an Acting City Manager. The resolution was put forth by City Manager Gary Jackson in which he goes through the legal requirements to designate an "Acting City Manager" and in this case, he is designating Assistant Manager Cathy Ball.  There will be no discussion of this as it is on the Consent Agenda.

Assistant City Manager Cathy  Ball has been the "Acting City Manager"  4 or 5 times in the last few years during such times Mr. Jackson was absent for those meetings.  Notably, she was the Acting City Manager when the RADTIP budget $26 million miscalculation was discussed with City Council.  However, according to our search, there has not ever been such a resolution put forth before (although Mr. Jackson has been City Manager for 12 years).

The resolution references N.C. General Statute 160A-149 which states:
§ 160A-149. Acting city manager. By letter filed with the city clerk, the manager may designate, subject to the approval of the council, a qualified person to exercise the powers and perform the duties of manager during his temporary absence or disability. During this absence or disability, the council may revoke that designation at any time and appoint another to serve until the manager returns or his disability ceases. (1971, c. 698, s. 1.)
Gary Jackson's letter dated October 16, 2017 makes such designation (click on each image to enlarge for viewing):

So, who is Cathy Ball?

In the event of a longer term absence, Cathy Ball would be the Acting City Manager.  She is the 3rd highest paid employee, earning $219,178 in salary and benefits.  She has been with the City since 1997. Prior to that she worked for the City of Greenville, SC.  She is married to Jeffrey Long who also works for the City in the Facility Maintenance department. Her niece, Amy Deyton, works in the Stormwater Services department as Interim Stormwater Services Manager.

According to her Linkedin profile, Mrs. Ball has had two main roles - Public Works and Assistant City Manager:
  • She began working for the City in 1997 as a City Engineer.  
  • She became the City's Director of Public Works and Engineering in 2009.  
  • At some point she became the Executive Director of Strategic Planning and Multimodal Development
  • In July 2013, that position title was changed to "Assistant City Manager." However, those two roles were still being performed by Mrs. Ball, "She’ll continue to oversee the planning, development services, economic development/U.S. Cellular Center, transportation and public works departments."  (Source: Mountain Express, July 31, 2013, "As Richardson departs, more changes in city management"). She held this dual position until May 2014 when the City hired a new Public Works Director, Greg Shuler.
  • It does appear she continued on as the Executive Director of Strategic Planning and Multimodal Development until July 2016. 
Mrs. Ball holds a bachelor's degree in Civil Engineering from Tennessee Technological University and a Masters of Public Affairs from WCU (2003).

The City Manager's Office - Turnover and Control Issues
Asheville operates on a Manager-Council format. The City Manager position is hired and fired by the City Council only, an elected body.  Mr. Jackson has been with the City since 2005. His starting pay was $140,000. Today he is the top earner in the City, making $260,367 in salary and benefits. Prior to his hiring the City had one Assistant City Manager.  Mr. Jackson has added a second Assistant City Manager but it's been a rough ride due to turn over.

Mr. Jackson used to have 2 full-time assistant city  managers. But this past June 2017, Paul Fetherston, the other Assistant City Manager left for a job in Illinois.  He seemed quite eager to leave his position as he had been aggressively seeking other positions across the nation for at least a year. Shortly thereafter, in June 2017, Jade Dundas was named "Interim Assistant City Manager."  Looks like the Public Works department is a popular track for City Manager positions. Mr. Dundas had been hired in June 2015 as the City's Water Resources Director. Prior to that he had been the Assistant City Manager and Public Works Director in Iowa.

The turnover hasn't been the only problem.  According to the Asheville Blade, over the years, the City Manager's office has been steadily consolidating control.  In their article, "March of the Bureaucrats" (March 3, 2017 by David Forbes), he notes:
Jackson asserted that Council’s policy-making in the last year had caused difficulties for senior staff “making the trains run on time.” He later changed trains to buses. Ironically enough, buses failing to run on time was actually a major controversy last year, though advocates put the blame on staff for ignoring community concerns.
Jackson wasn’t through, saying that he wanted to remind boards that they didn’t get to decide.
In short, Mr. Forbes noted:
The results of the retreat potentially transfer a large amount of power to senior city staff, a group that already has an outsize influence.
For those interested, Mr. Jackson's original Employment Agreement (click on each image to enlarge for viewing):

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Will the City of Asheville learn from the lessons of Buncombe County?

It was only this past June that the City Council were “shocked” and “surprised” by the City staff’s notification of a $26 million budgeting miscalculation.

Oversight issues don't just plague Buncombe County government but also the City of Asheville.

The RADTIP, a $50 million project covering 2.2 miles along the French Broad River in the River Arts District was now going to cost $76 million.  This budget miscalculation forced the City to cut back on the original plans - $20 million worth.  Having just passed the new City budget for FY17-18 only weeks earlier, the City Council were instructed by staff that had to approve $6 million of debt, bringing the total cost to $56 million in order to save the $14 million grant from the Federal Government.  

The RADTIP is the largest city funded municipal development project Asheville has seen in decades. With millions involved, there is opportunity for people (contractors, staff, consultants, etc.) to take advantage of all that money swirling around.  It requires strong leadership and oversight to ensure that the $31 million to be paid by taxpayer dollars is not misused or misappropriated. With the announcement of this massive budget miscalculation one would think City staff would have been more than merely reprimanded but that was not the case.

As with Buncombe County, people tried to alert the City of the impending financial disaster, but as in the case with Buncombe County, these warnings were dismissed, and actually even put down by other leaders and our local media.

Parallel Stories

Payroll Issues
Wanda Greene
Buncombe County Manager
$26 Million RADTIP Budget Over Run
Gary Jackson
City of Asheville
The Questioning Begins

In 2012 Mike Fryar was elected to the Buncombe County Commission. He immediately began doing what he had always been doing, asking questions especially about the budget and salaries.“From his early days in office, he acted differently from other commissioners, coming into staff offices and talking for hours, Greene said” (Citizen-Times, October 9, 2016 article, “Grievances, political discord simmer in Buncombe County”).
The Questioning Begins

In 2015, Chris Peterson (also well known for questioning the City’s budget and salaries). As a property owner losing his property through eminent domain to the City, he started to do some digging into the City’s riverfront project responsible for the property taking.

“In February 2012, Gary Jackson stated that the construction funds needed for the RADTIP section of the RiverWay could cost $50 million dollars, whereas all of the City’s capital improvement fund availability for the next 5 years is about $40 million dollars.”*

*He startedwww.AshevilleRivergate.comquestioning the then budgeted $50 million project now known as RADTIP.
A Year Ago

Citizen-Times writes negative article about commission, Mike Fryar

In October 2016, just before the Buncombe County Commission Election (Nov 2016), The Citizen Times ran a story that ran negatively against then incumbent, MIke Fryar.

They described an alleged encounter where Ms. Greene accused Mr. Fryar of almost hitting her in the head with a phone. The incident was supposedly submitted as an HR complaint. Mr. Fryar was not aware of the complaint until asked about it by the paper.

The phone story came out as part of an article written by the paper about Ms. Greene giving herself a compensation boost of $34,000 in that year’s budget. Ms. Greene explained that this was due to all the overtime hours she spent answering Mike Fryar’s questions.

Needless to say, the phone complaint never went anywhere as it was unfounded but the article, written just before election time, painted Mr. Fryar in a very negative light.
A Year Ago

Mayor Manheimer ejects citizen Chris Peterson from City Council Meeting following his warnings about construction costs

In May 2016, during the public comment meeting to discuss the City’s proposed budget, local citizen and former Councilman, Mr. Chris Peterson, warned the City Council and Mr. Gary Jackson of the impending construction costs.

“You also, Gary, in your CIP, you say 60 million that you’re gonna spend on the River. I might add a river that floods. Makes no sense. But you have got to be a genius as far as construction. Now I’m in the construction business. If you think your number 60 million is going to hold up in a construction business that annually goes up 10%”...

Instead of saying they would look into it, the Mayor, Esther Manheimer, threw him out of the meeting. The first and only time a person has been ejected from a public city council meeting by Ms. Manheimer.
A Year Later...

A year later and Ms. Greene, having suddenly retired as Buncombe County Manager is now under FBI investigation. Her sister demoted herself and her son also resigned.

Ms. Wanda Greene’s pay, acts of nepotism, bonuses, retention incentives paid paid out in lump sums to herself, a family member and other top county leaders have dominated headlines in recent weeks.

The latest article by the Citizen-Times, having made an about-face, released an article just this week questioning the oversight of the Buncombe County commissioners. They have yet to retract or apologize to Mr. Fryar.
A Year Later….

The City of Asheville passed its coming year budget this past summer - June 16, 2017. Not before or during the budget discussions was any mention made of budget problems concerning RADTIP.

Within days, however and just a little over a year after Mr. Peterson’s ejection from City Council meeting, top City staff announced that the construction bids for the RADTIP project were $26 million over estimated. The new cost would be $76 million. The City was forced to cut back many of the project’s plans infuriating cycling and greenway groups. On top of that, the City would need $6 million from debt in order to save the $14 million Federal Grant.

Buncombe County and the City of Asheville both have the same kind of management - the County Manager and the City Manager are only accountable to their elected leadership The County Commissioners and City Council are the only ones that can fire the County Manager or City Manager. Yet, in both cases, the Council and Commissioners are a part-time elected body. It is therefore incumbent upon the leadership to ask questions, dive into issues and hold their managers accountable.  Longevity in a position does not imbue trust and it should not be assumed by leadership.

In both of these examples, when hard questions were being asked, there was pushback instead of praise which were both backed up by local media. Ms. Greene is gone and Buncombe County is making dramatic, sweeping changes in its organizational structure, compensation and oversight. Will the City follow their example or allow its City staff to continue going unchecked?

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Bond Lawsuit Update: Lawsuit moves forward, a portion dismissed

Partial Dismissal

The request that the Court set aside the referendum results because the City used the term "may" instead of "shall" on the ballot as to whether property tax increases would be required to pay for the $76 million bond issue was denied.

Other Legal Challenges Move Forward

However, the Court held that the plaintiffs, Chris Peterson and Sidney Bach have the legal right to challenge the proposed $76 million bond indebtedness and the means by which the bonds are to be financed (i.e. the new property taxes imposed in June by the City Council). There remains at issue before the Court a very important financial issue that impacts the City's ability to issue and pay for the proposed bonds:

A required public notice was given by the City prior to the November 2016 referendum to the effect that a new property tax would be levied only IF the November 2016 referendum bonds are issued. Although none of the referendum bonds have been issued, the City Council nevertheless went ahead and imposed a new property tax to pay for the principal and interest on the yet-to-be issued referendum bonds. The new tax levied is also being challenged in the pending lawsuit and the Court has been asked to declare that the new tax levied is illegal based upon the City's public notice to the contrary as to whether and when new property taxes would be levied to pay for the bonds.

The financial underwriters and potential investors in municipal bonds require that the City and its legal counsel sign off on a "Certificate of Non-Litigation" which states that there is no litigation pending that could affect the bonds' validity or any tax levied for the annual interest and principle payments due on the bonds. Without such a certification, the bonds cannot be issued and marketed and as long as there are pending unresolved legal challenges to the bonds or the taxes imposed to finance them.

So, any crowing at this time by City Hall would at best be rather premature for as Yogi Berra
once famously said: "It ain't over 'til its over!"

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