Monthly Archives: March 2018

Part Two: How Mayor Guthrie’s Great Wall of secrecy is locking us out

By Gerry Barker

March 24, 2018

In the past three years of his mayoralty, Cam Guthrie has consistently demonstrated adherence to the councillor’s Code of Conduct. In fact, there have been more closed-session meetings of council and it’s appointed Strategies and Option Committee (SOC) when Noah organized the Ark.

“ Hold it God, I need a little more time here. Still can’t find a pair of baboons.”

This is an affront to every citizen of Guelph. It’s a manipulated system to dumb down the electorate and cover-up mistakes from public exposure. The reason? What they don’t know won’t hurt them.

There is no shortage of information underlying doubt about this Guelph Hydro/Alectra merger,

City council, again in closed-session, approved spending $2.36 million to sell this deal to its own citizens. How many bus shelters would that pay for?

The plan was to create the illusion that most people in the area were in favour of the merger, employing leading questions to force a phony outcome in which the process involved some sparsely attended town hall meetings. A telephone survey used a carefully worded script to create approval of the recipient.

Example: Do you believe the merger will bring more jobs to Guelph?

Again in a closed-session meeting of the SOC, the sale of Guelph Hydro was removed from its options, Taken off the table in early 2017. Why was this decision made without public input? Because they knew it would not be accepted. The questions remains, why?

And it all happened right under our noses.

They produced a phony 245-page “Final Agreement” document just 12 days before the meeting that was only available online. I charge that fewer than 250 hard copies were distributed to selected members of the public.

In the Public Relations business, this is known as salting the minds of participants to obtain a specific result.

It worked and the people are the losers.

Here are a couple of communities where there was merging and privatizing proposals of city-own Hydro distribution systems with larger corporations, (Alectra and Hydro One) were either halted or turned down by people power.

Here is a report by the citizens activist group “We Own It:”

“The famed Conservative politician Sir Adam Beck would be ecstatic: public power has won two significant victories in recent weeks.

In Collingwood, a judicial review has been ordered to look into the murky details behind a scheme to privatize the town’s hydro system. And in Peterborough, citizens rallied behind their city-owned hydro system, forcing Hydro One to abandon its attempt to buy it for less than it is worth.”

Here’s more from the ::We Own It” website and I thank Keith McEwen for forwarding this info:

“The judicial review in Collingwood was sparked by a growing number of questions about the sell-off of the town’s hydro system to a private company called PowerStream (a subsidiary of Alectra). The town got $8 million when it sold 50 per cent of its hydro distribution system in 2012. But then it got $13 million when it sold the remaining 50 per cent last year. According to Deputy Mayor Brian Saunderson, that big price difference “makes you wonder.”

The review won’t likely take place until 2019, but Saunderson and his constituents hope the review will bring accountability and transparency to the controversial sell-off.

In Peterborough, meanwhile, fans of public services cheered when it was revealed that Hydro One abandoned its attempt to buy Peterborough Distribution Inc. (PDI) for cheap.

“Had the people of Peterborough not been so passionate in their resolve, I suspect the final offer would have been much lower and the conditions far more favourable for Hydro One,” said Save PDI volunteer and “We Own It” mobilizer Joel Usher in the Peterborough Examiner.”

When people speak up together, they can stop expensive and secretive privatizations! Invite your friends, family, and co-workers to join us!

Please Note: Guelphspeaks will be writing more about this so the people can stop this forced disposal of our Guelph Hydro for pennies on the dollar. Stay tuned.

We Own It!

In case you’ve been living in Bora Bora for the past year, council has approved giving away our Guelph Hydro with a value of $300 mllion. The price in exchange? It’s a tiny 4.36 per cent of Alectra Utilities’ profits but only 60 per cent of those unknown profits.

Is this not a great deal or what?

This contrived communications’ plan did not explain the deal through Guelph Hydro’s network of 55,000 customers except until the last days prior to the public council meeting. It was a tiny resume of the deal’s alleged advantages inserted in the Hydro/Water bills.

To top this cake with a cherry, the administration announced that it would receive a “special dividend” from Guelph Hydro of $18.5 million as part of the deal. That’s strange. In its 2016 financial statement, Guelph Hydro reported a cash surplus of $22 million. What happened to the rewmaining $3.5 million?

For the record, Guelph Hydro is wholly owned by the City of Guelph. That being the case, we are being paid a dividend with our own money.

Is this a great deal or what?

So as city Communications General Manager, Tara Sprigs, described the process of informing all those Hydro customers who were being convinced with nothing to lose in return for a boatload of empty promises.

I would like to think that at least four councillors who voted for the merger would recant their vote for the sake of integrity and fiduciary responsibility. They voted for a deal in which the terms were still being negotiated.

This week I requested a status report of the merger negotiations from City Solicitor Christopher Cooper. I am still waiting for an answer.

How council manipulates the Municipal Act closed-session guidelines

It’s simple really; they made up their own closed-session guidelines.

Now topping Guthrie’s Great Wall of secrecy are the Municipal Act policies regarding closed-session meetings of council. The following are the legal reasons under the Municipal Act to hold a closed-session council or local boards meetings:

Section 270 of the Municipal Act provides that municipalities must develop and maintain various policies regarding the accountability and transparency of municipal government and its operations.

The key words are Accountability and Transparency

The following has been adopted by Council and has allowed it to go into closed-session:

  • Sale and Disposition of Land
  •  Number 1: Only covers the sale and disposition of land not the acquisition of the provincially-owned reformatory lands owned by the provice and designated the Guelph Innovation lands.
  • Hiring of Employees
  • Number 2 – Yes, hiring employees should be confidential but does not include             approving salary increases to staff and then not revealing it to the public.
  • Procurement of Goods and Services
  • Number 3 – This covers a lot of areas and there is evidence it has been used to             blackball certain contractors from bidding on city jobs.
  • Public Notice
  • Number 4 – This is an oxymoron; hold a meeting in closed-session to discuss a public notice? It’s a convenient method of calling a closed-session meeting to discuss almost anything in private.
  • Accountability and Transparency
  • Number 5 – Again, why is it necessary to call a closed-session meeting to discuss accountability and transparency? The previous administration has already paid an estimated $500,000 to a Toronto consultant to come up with an A&T plan. The result was a 47-page document. There was little or any public participation in the process.
  • Delegation of Authority
  • Number 6 – This dovetails with the administrations’ allowance such as giving $98,202 raises to four senior managers in 2015?
  • Delegation of Authority Bylaw (Office Consolidation)
  • Number 7 – This allows council, in closed-session, to discuss just about                                     anything because the terms are so broad that anything could be discussed                                     behind closed doors.

Oh! What a collection of excuses to escape the surly bounds of responsibility.

The Council adopted this collection of reasons to legally hold a closed-session meeting.

Seems it’s self-serving giving council and the boards absolute power and control of the public’s business. It’s like turning off a tap, shutting off any information they choose for whatever reason. These reasons would include political liability and criticism, personal benefit, alleged criminal or corruptive activity, to protect adherence to a political philosophy.

Is this not the action of an authorative government? To do as you are told or face the consequences if you don’t?

Why would any responsible persons who wanted to make a contribution to his or her city, ever consider running for city council under this system of controlling the message and the method?

The two Councillors who served for four years on the GMHI board of directors, the operators of Guelph Hydro, were paid over and above their regular salaries. Councillors June Hofland and Karl Wettstein still voted in favour of the merger. They not only benefited serving on the GMHI board but, in my opinion, were in a conflict of interest.

The Great Wall is intact and a barrier to the public interests

These “blocks” of the public’s business have been refined over the past 11 years to giving the administration unf=fettered control of the message. It denies the public’s access to its right to know and understand the corporation’s operations on their behalf.

In future posts, GS will provide specific reforms covering a widespread grouping of issues that the electorate should consider before entering the voting booth.

The most vital reform is to make the council and administration operate open and accountable.

This year, October 22 to be precise, citizens have the opportunity to return power to the people by electing councillors who understand their responsibility to the people who elected them. That means persuading civic-minded, experienced individuals possessing universal, mature backgrounds to turn this city into the jewel of Southern Ontario.

It means a sharp turn to the centre of the political spectrum, away from the left wing domination of our political management where there have been too many mistakes in judgment, losses of public money due to misguided projects that have set the city back in the past 11 years.

The time has come to elect councillors ready to reform and employ critical thinking managing the people’s business.

Coming up on Guelph Speaks

There are a number of issues that are to be digested and reported in the next few weeks..Here are some of them:

* The 2017 provincial Sunshine list of those City of Guelph employees earning more tha $100K per year.

*   A review of the number of employees and increases awarded.

* A review and comment of the capital budgets for the next eight years.

*   The waste management review and the contracts that were entered into to spend money that created substantial losses over the past 7 years.

* The gushy announcement by the Mayor of the city receiving $100 million for Transit.

*   The internal battle over reviving the city’s debacle managing recuclables.

*   The growing exhoritant cost of overhead required to fulfill the promises of the former administration.

*   A review of the Mayor’s performace once iminations are received in May.

Guelpspeaks.ca – the voice of the people for the people

 

 

 

 

 

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Guthrie’s Great Wall blocks public participation using closed-sessions meetings

By Gerry Barker

March 22, 2018

Donald Trump is still trying to get his $18 billion wall proposal to be built between Mexico and the U.S. Cam Guthrie has succeeded in erecting a wall to protect his council and city staff from public participation in city business.

He does it by calling closed-sessions of council to discuss contentious subjects and make decisions that almost all of the people know any of the outcome.

Just ask the 22 delegates who opposed the merger during the open council meeting to approve the merger of Guelph Hydro and Alectra Utilities last December 10.

Each delegate outlined why this was not in the best interests of the community and many requested a deferment until all the facts were known, including the final documents pertaining to the agreement.

Council, by a 10-3 majority ignored those citizen delegates. Instead they agreed with the points raised by seven especially selected Alectra delegates who offered slanted reasons to merge or approve it as it appeared unconditionally.

The structure of Guthrie’s Wall of denial

We looked up how the wall was erected initially by the former administration, starting in 2008 when council appointed Amberlea Gravel, located in London, to investigate citizen’s complaints about closed-session meetings of council. The appointment was made when former Premier Dalton McGuinty’s government ordered all municipalities to appoint a closed-session investigator.

Since 2008, Amberlea Gravel, our Local Authority Services (LAS), has processed just three complaints, while being paid a retainer for nine years. The city has not revealed the cost of the retainer. Regardless, it has to be the best deal Amberlea Gravel made to bolster the privacy of council doing the public business.

Each complaint was denied or rejected.

A few years ago, the Ontario Ombudsman was given authority to act for municipalities in terms of special closed-session investigations. Today, more than half of Ontario’s 445 municipalotoes, have switched to the Ombudsman’s office to investigate closed-session council and local board meetings.

But not Guelph.

I was one of only three complainants requesting a closed-session investigation in early January 2016. I had plenty of reasons for obtaining the minutes of the December 10, 2015 closed council meeting that awarded $98,202 salary increases to the four senior managers of the city.

By now most people in the city know the decision was not revealed until publication of the 2015 Sunshine list which publoshed the salaries and taxable benefits of every city employee earning $100,000 or more.

Guelph Speaks published several posts that decried this blackout decision by city council. For my trouble, I was at first threatened by one of the recipients of our largess and subsequently sued for defamation. That case is before the courts and I cannot comment further.

Four months following my request for the December 10, 2015 minutes, the special closed-session investigator ruled in favour of the city to deny the minutes of that meeting.

That is just one brick in the Guthrie Great Wall to control the public’s business and rightful interest to suit the staff and council. It’s known as shaping the message to satisfy the administration’s interests.

The council code of conduct is the second barrier to open government

Here is an excerpt published on the city website under the title: “Council Code of Conduct/Integrity Commissioner:

The Code of Conduct was adopted by Council to:

  • Establish a common basis for the ethical behaviour of Members of Council and Local Boards.
  • Increase public confidence by making a commitment to operate with integrity, justice and courtesy.
  • Note the words transparency, accountability and operating an open government are not inclded in the C of C.

I can’t make this stuff up.

In 2011, Council appointed an Integrity Commissioner to address the application of the Code of Conduct for Members of Council and Local Boards. The Integrity Commissioner has the power to deal with requests to investigate suspected contraventions of the Code of Conduct. The record shows that all requests referred to the Integrity Commissioner origubated with members of council. Council recommended the following penalties:

  • A reprimand; or
  • Suspension of the remuneration of the Council or Local Board member for a period of up to 90 days.
  • In addition to conducting formal Code of Conduct investigations, the Integrity Commissioner also serves as an advisor on appropriate conduct to individual Members of Council or Council as a whole.

It’s the ultimate muzzle on the very people we trust to serve the public’s interests. It’s yet another brick in the Guthrie Wall of denying public participation in the business of stakeholders in the community.

So, now in his sixth year as Integrity Commissioner, Robert Swazey of Caledon, is judge, jury and prosecutor in cases involving elected officials who may be accused of breaking the Code of Conduct.

It is an implied threat to any councillor who reveals the contents of a closed-session meeting. It threatens their reputation for protecting the public interests.

In just a few words, this policy was approved by council in, we believe, another closed- session. The commissioner, since 2011 has investigated three cases. His annual retainer is $5,000 and he is paid an hourly fee conducting his investigation and preparing his report.

The one case involved then Coun. Cam Guthrie, who received none of the punishment listed above. It cost the citizens $10,000. The irony of this event is suffocating in tracking the performance of the Mayor and his council.

Part two of this post follows March 24: Mayor Guthrie;s Great Wall that is locking us up.

 

 

 

 

 

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We have an administration more interested in protecting the staff than the interests of the citizens

By Gerry Barker

March 19, 2018

Thanks to a Municipal Freedom of Information document obtained by Tony Saxon of Guelph Today, in the past five years the city spent $4.6 million to fire or dismiss some 44 employees for a variety of reasons.

As Mr. Saxon asked: “Is it part of doing business?” General Manager of Human Resources, David Godwaldt, replied: “Yes.”

But is this only the tip of the payoff picture?

For example, it does not reflect the costs of bonuses paid to managerial staff some of whom resigned or retired. This information is still locked up in the Human Resources vault. The city takes the position that it is protecting the privacy of those former employees who left or were pushed out of their jobs.

Here is one employee, former CAO Ann Pappert, who resigned May 26, 2016. The 2016

Provincial Sunshine list reported that she received more than $263,000 plus a $6,300 taxable benefit. This was slightly more than she received in 2015 but she only worked five months in 2016.

The 2016 Sunshine List revealed her package 10 months after the fact in March 2017.

Eight months later after her May resignation, the case for wrongful dismissal of former Chief Building Inspector, Bruce Poole, was settled between the city and Mr. Poole. He originally sued the city for $1 million in damages and the settlement remains confidential. Chief Administrative Officer, Ms. Pappert originally approved firing him.

What was Poole’s terrible error after 20 years as Chief Building Inspector? Only doing his job informing the CAO that some 50 city building projects had no building permits.

It would appear that some people take their severance and disappear but only if they are earning less than $100K a year. They are able to escape any revelation of their discharge or voluntary leaving.

A cloak of secrecy

So, behind this cloak of secrecy, do the city authorities mask the reasons for the payout or the identity of who received it?

The trouble is these people receiving termination funds and benefits are public employees paid by the people and businesses. Should the public have the right to know about these payouts?

Not all terminated employees receive compensation packages.

Godwaldt said when an employee is terminated with cause, “where an employee has engaged in serious wrongdoing” such as fraud, they would not receive a severance package.

Compensation packages are accounted for financially as a contingency in the annual city budget, Godwaldt said.

He did not have any information that would compare Guelph’s totals to those of similar-sized municipalities.

Let’s examine the 2017 payout of $1,123,332 paid to nine employees. Dividing the payout by nine results in an average payout of $124,814. That seems like a large amount paid to non-identified employees.

But why those figures don’t mean spit

They all didn’t receive the $124,814. Because of the secrecy and privacy rules adapted by the administration, only those fired employees earning more than $100,000 will make the 2017 Sunshine List to be published this month.

Those citizens paying their share of taxes and user fees have only the Sunshine lists for information. Will they discover who and how much the terminated employees received for 2017? For those terminated employees who do not make the $100K public employee listing, no one will be able to access the information.

The two levels of employment complicate the process. Some 80 per cent of all city employees (excluding Police, Fire and EMS) are unionized and collectively bargain with management to determine their contracts and benefits.

The management belongs to a managerial association. This group manages terms of the compensation packages for new management employees when hired, during their employment and upon exiting the staff.

The only oversight of these compensation packages lies with the Mayor and members of council.

It has not been in the public interest to conceal and deny public participation in determining the compensation of managers.

If it weren’t for the annual Sunshine list, we would never know what our managers are earning, including salaries, promotions, and bonuses based on performance and employment benefits enhancements.

Even then we have to perform some financial Ju Jitsu by comparingn the differences of remuneration of the Sunshine employees between say, 2016 and 2917 to discover the increase.

And I have yet to see a Sunshine salary comparison decrease instead of increasing..

Looking to the civic election in October

Let’s hope the next council will include liberating information that, for too long, has been concealed from the public.

Dropping the Integrity Commissioner and the Special Investigator of closed-session meeting of council would be a good first step.

Replace them with an Auditor General who would report to the DCAO of Finance and City Council. The A-G would investigate all city operations with the aim to create efficiencies, clarity and improved performance in all city departments.

Most important, rationalize operations with a view to reduce operational overhead and rebuild the capital funding budget.

 

 

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Ontario PC’s elect Doug Ford their new leader, or did they?

By Gerry Barker

March 12, 2018

The six-week campaign by the provincial Tories to replace Patrick brown as leader turned out to be a marathon of several hours to process the result. It was Ford by a hair.

The party head honchos who created this system that included using proportional voting in which delegates had to grade each of the leadership candidates on their electronic ballot.

They allocated a points system to determine the order in which candidate received the most first choices and so on down the line. Apparently while Christine Elliott received more votes the crazy quilt system gave Doug Ford a small margin and the party executing accepted the result.

After monitoring the TV news outlets much of the afternoon, I switched to watch the hockey game and missed the final-final of this exercise in proportional voting. Why on earth did the party adopted this to select a leaders is mind-boggling.

The New Democratic Party has promoted proportional voting for some three years. Under the banner “Fair Vote,” Guelph’s NDP activist, Susan Watson, was very much involved to persuade the provincial government to adopt it in future elections.

About a year ago the Trudeau federal government that had promised election reform following its huge 2015 victory, walked away from that promise that included proportional voting.

It’s a good thing they did because we’d still be waiting for the results of the 2015 Federal Election if the proportional voting system had been in place.

So the Ontario Conservatives decided to adopt it for the Leadership Campaign.

So now we are faced with another Ford experience in the political wars. He certainly wasn’t my choice but the Tories are now stuck with him to carry the PC banner to the June 7 provincial election.

While Premier Kathleen Wynne’s poll ratings are below 20 per cent, they had to be sipping Champagne in Liberal headquarters Saturday night following the Ford victory.

Despite the absence of Patrick Brown, the PC’s are ten points ahead of the Liberals. Depending on Mr. Ford’s election agenda, plus the fact that there are many candidate vacancies in the ridings, including Guelph, there are only 11 weeks remaining to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Well, the PC’s campaign under Brown to “ Take back our Party” got their wish Saturday night.

Just think, no policies, promises, denials or positions that will effectively drop kick the Wynne Liberals out of government.

The Ford-led Tories have opportunity but the party is no Phoenix rising out of the ashes of party discord. And there is a lot of it floating among the faithful. Doubt about the outcome remains as Ms. Elliott’s team ponders a court decision as to the legitimacy of the Saturday night result.

That means that party unity may be a myth, as the divisions remain deep and disturbing.

The issue of unity was vamped by the TV folk’s ad nauseum during the long delay in announcing the outcome. You had to feel sorry for those TV news people who groped for angles while on the air waiting, waiting, waiting.

The remaining campaign with an 11 week time line will disappear fast as the three Ontario parties drive to the June 7 election day.

Pending a huge scandal, and the Grits are good at that, my prediction is a minority Liberal government that may cling to power for a year and then, away we go again to elect a new government.

Mr. Ford has to gain the approval of the PC caucus of which only two supported his candidacy. Christine Elliott on the other hand had the support of 20 members of the caucus.

Also Mr. Ford’s political experience is as a member of Toronto city council and a former candidate for Mayor. He has a steep learning curve to be effective in the Legislature and understand the rules and regulations surrounding the government of Ontario.

But this you can bet on, it will be a short-lived hot time in the Legislature between now and the dropping of the election writ in May.

Fasten your seat belts!

 

 

 

 

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Mayor Guthrie will campaign for re-election on giving away our $300 million Guelph Hydro for peanuts

By Gerry Barker

March 5, 2018

Mayor Cam Guthrie has announced he is running for mayor next October. This one time, true-blue conservative, has taken a leaf out of Premier Kathleen Wynne’s power playbook and thinks he has dumped Guelph Hydro for a few pieces of eight.

More on the “peanuts” later.

The owners of Guelph Hydro, some 55,000 customers are told the brand name “Guelph Hydro” will vanish by the end of the year.

The takeover by Alectra Utilities will present the so-called merger agreement to the Ontario Energy Board for approval later this year.

But wait! The ink isn’t dry on the two documents that ten councillors approved last December 13. True to form we still don’t know the details of the completed agreements because The Guthrie administration doesn’t like to do our business in public.

The joke is on us people. That proposal to have Guelph Hydro pay a special dividend to the city of $18.5 million is public money. It’s not Cam Guthrie’s money or his partners CAO Derrick Thomson and Hydro chair Jane Armstrong. It’s our money.

The story is that the Guthrie administration offered Alectra the money but it declined. Why endanger the deal of the century with a mere sweetener of $18.5 million when you have the whole enchilada?

Why did the Strategic Options Committee remove selling Guelph Hydro six months before the Mayor gushed that a deal was made to link up with Alectra.

At Alectra’s head office, they must have broken out the Champagne the day after the ten members of city council approved the incomplete deal. Only three members of city council were brave enough to vote against the motion. Who among this group of 13 elected comuncillors, actually listened to the 22 citizens. Most of who articulated several reasons that the deal as manufactured by city staff communications General Manager, Tara Spriggs, was not in the best interests of the citizens.

Some pleaded to delay the vote so that the public who were directly affected by the decision could more carefully consider the details.

It was clear that meeting was a set-up to guarantee council would approve it despite what the people said or expressed their opinions.

It was a well-planned ram job that I charge decided the outcome before the public meeting ever began.

The strange part is that two of the naysayer councillors, James Gordon and Phil Allt, were not favourites of mine but when the chips were on the line they and Coun. Bob Bell had the guts to say no.

The corporation taking over Guelph Hydro has a track record of buying the municipally owned hydro distribution systems including the Brampton Hydro One system, Orillia, Aurora to name a few.

So, why didn’t Alectra buy Guelph Hydro?

Because they didn’t have to. We gave it to them in return for those peanuts mentioned earlier.

Alectra promised to pay a dividend representing 60 per cent of it corporate profits with Guelph receiving a 4.36 share.

Well, it is reported that the city of Hamilton, an18 per cent shareholder in Alectra, received a dividend last year of $1.5 million. Logic will tell you that Guelph’s 4.36 per cent share of Alectra won’t pay for the postage to deliver the cheque.

Yet our city council went ahead despite the dividends of some $3.5 million sent to the city by Guelph Hydro.

Mayor Guthrie worked hard to sell this deal that was essentially smoke and mirrors. Alectra has made premises including curbing power rate increases over which it has no control. It has admitted that some 30 to 50 Hydro Staff will be severed or reassigned to another city in the Alectra system. Oh, and they promise to set up a Green Power Technology unit in Guelph that would employ 10 people.

The sad and unforgiving effect of this has yet to occur as the lawyers prepare their arguments before the Ontario Energy Board to approve the deal.

This consolidation of small to medium sized municipally-owned power distribution systems is another blunder by the Wynne Government’s attempts to increase power costs at the expense of the people who pay the bills.

Experts who agree to this terrible deal that is lop-sided, inconsiderate and just plain stupid have suckered Guelph’s council.

The worst part is that in five years, the councillorts making this decision won’t be around to witness the total loss of control of our hydro distribution system and the resulting higher operational costs.

The only creative part of this deal was the way they did it and conned a compliant council to agree to it.

The 55,000 power customers deserved better but the majority of their council didn’t care.

The fallout of this decision will instill voters with determination to vote those supporting the Alectra deal out of office, if they decide to run on this issue and their misguided support.

 

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