Questioning the Developer

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Geo

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May 26, 2010, 6:03:58 PM5/26/10
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Note: This post is very long. It is being submitted in 6 parts to allow
easier access to several referenced audio files.


Summary:

The developer of Harmony appears to do whatever it can to stifle dissent and
suppress the truth here. Bob Evans and Shad Tome both work for Harmony
Development Company or its parent company, Starwood Capital. This means that
these two figures are the public faces of Starwood Capital in Harmony, and
they have been so for several years now.

Starwood Capital's public face can get ugly at times as you will read and
hear (MP3 audio) in the details below.

What transpired at the April 29, 2010 Harmony CDD meeting is a typical
example of how power is abused when most residents don't take an active role
in their own local government.

Details:

Harmony Development and its parent Starwood Capitol are two companies that
don't like questions. And the folks running these companies apparently don't
like the people asking the questions either (or at least one of us). These
are also the people who have been primarily responsible for spending the
millions of CDD tax dollars collected from us over the years.

But if tax paying citizens of Harmony can't ask questions, who can?

Like many corporations, the developer chafes under close scrutiny. The
developer would much prefer that we all just go along with whatever it says
without question. As the largest investor out here, the developer believes
that it has a right to do whatever it likes while Harmony residents, the
people who must live here with the developer's choices day-in and day-out
are irrelevant.

But what the developer does affects the lives and the fortunes of every
resident who owns a home in Harmony. This is why we have every right to ask
honest questions of the developer and expect honest answers in return.

Of course the Harmony CDD will claim that it truly represents the residents
of Harmony, but everyone knows that as long as Bob Evans (the developer's
consultant in Harmony) is chairman of the CDD board and chairman of the HOA
board, the Harmony CDD and the Harmony HOA really represent Harmony
Development Company (Starwood), not Harmony residents. So we just keep
paying ridiculous amounts in CDD taxes year after year while Bob Evans
spends it.

Needless to say, I have quite a reputation for questioning Harmony
Development / Starwood. Yet I am not the only one. There are other residents
who also ask questions. One resident in particular comes to mind since he is
easy to find in the Harmony CDD meeting minutes.

David Leeman often asks questions at CDD meetings. I am sure that there are
also examples of other residents who have asked similar questions.

What follows are examples of what I mean.

On the night of October 29, 2009, during one of the latter sections of the
CDD meeting that evening ("FOURTH ORDER OF BUSINESS - Staff Reports: F.
Aquatic Plant"), David Leeman was in attendance and had a few questions
about aquatic plants. Just prior to Dave's questions, Bob Evans spoke:

Mr. Evans asked what is the film? It has the appearance
of an oily substance on top of the water. Does it
generate that?

This is typical. As a CDD supervisor, it is common for Bob Evans to ask
questions of vendors who come before the board. Other CDD supervisors also
often ask questions during the "Staff Reports" section of the CDD meetings
as well.

Occasionally, even audience members ask questions during the "Staff Reports"
section of these meetings. In this case, David Leeman (not a CDD supervisor)
interrupted with a few questions of his own:

Mr. Leeman asked have you noticed any difference in the
ponds that have a lot of plantings around them as
opposed to the ones that have none?

Mr. Gough stated yes.

Mr. Leeman asked is that a positive difference or a
negative difference?

After David Leeman asked his questions, Bob Evans had nothing more to say.

You will notice that Dave's questions proceeded uninterrupted, as proper
decorum would suggest. Although Dave did not wait for the "Audience
Comments" section of the meeting to ask his questions, he was not told that
it is improper for audience members to ask questions prior to that time. As
we all know, questions from the audience can often help to clarify the
discussion and to raise some valid points that perhaps the supervisors would
otherwise not consider prior to voting on something.

This is the essence and the value of public participation. I consider this
an important part of open and honest discourse for the benefit of all
concerned, even though it often results in longer meetings.

On the night of April 29, 2010, like David Leeman, I also attended a CDD
meeting.

Coincidentally and also like David Leeman, I had a comment about aquatic
plants. But this time our CDD supervisors were about to approve spending
more of our tax money to primarily benefit the developer rather than the
residents of Harmony.

The topic was a proposal made by Bio-Tech Consulting Inc., the company that
currently installs and maintains aquatic plants around the edges of the
various retention ponds in Harmony.

According to the map provided by Bio-Tech, there are 34 ponds in Harmony. Of
those, only 4 ponds are near currently occupied residential neighborhoods
(ponds that are not also on the developer owned golf course). 21 ponds are
on the golf course.

The Bio-Tech proposal suggests that plants be installed in 7 ponds to
control algae. 3119 plants are proposed to be installed around these 7
ponds:

Pond #10 (862 plants to be installed) - on developer's golf course
Pond #18 (217 plants to be installed) - on developer's golf course
Pond #19 (467 plants to be installed) - on developer's golf course
Pond #20 (260 plants to be installed) - on developer's golf course

Pond #24 (407 plants to be installed) - in established residential area
Note: Pond is my back yard view.

Pond #27 (572 plants to be installed) - in established residential area
Note: Pond is front yard view of half the resident CDD supervisors.

Pond #30 (334 plants to be installed) - in unpopulated residential area
Note: Pond is at Harmony entrance with significant sales traffic.

Of the 3119 new aquatic plants, 1806 (58%) will be installed around the golf
course while none (0%) will be installed around the only pond within the
most populous neighborhood of Harmony (pond #26).

Using the $1.20 price in Bio-Tech's proposal, this means that the residents
of Harmony will be donating another $2,167.20 of their CDD tax money to the
developer. This is just one small example of how Harmony residents have been
paying many tens of thousands of dollars over the years to maintain the
ponds on the developer owned golf course.

I am sure that other residents would have found this questionable, so did I.
Or at least I tried to question it.

I have been questioning the use of taxes to maintain developer ponds for
years:

Mar 2006: "Harmony Issues Noted After Moving-In"
http://tinyurl.com/32cyuox

Sep 2007: "Taxation Without Representation"
http://tinyurl.com/37z8za8

Aug 2008: "CDD Budget Meeting"
http://tinyurl.com/2uzgubt

Aug 2009: "Harmony Horse Amenity Q & A - Holding Developer Accountable"
http://tinyurl.com/2vyybus and http://tinyurl.com/2uqk2ox

Before continuing on this topic, you should be aware that I received a copy
of the audio recording produced for the April 29, 2010 Harmony CDD meeting.
The audio CD was obtained through a "public records request". If anyone
would like to hear the entire meeting, please feel free to borrow the CD.

The audio recording was so poor that I had it "cleaned up". You should be
able make out some of what was said. The poor quality of the audio recording
by the CDD manager (Moyer Management Group) is similar to the poor quality
of the previous CDD website (formerly produced by the CDD management
company, see notes on this below).

Here is a sample of Gary Moyer's recording (that's Gary's voice you hear
first):

(hear attachment 1 below)

Here is the same sample somewhat cleaned up:

(hear attachment 2 below)

As you can hear, the price paid for removing some of the background noise is
a lower overall volume. You may need to turn up your speakers all the way to
make anything out. Even then you will miss much without a transcription. So
I have also provided transcriptions for the parts relevant to this topic.

Harmony CDD 2010-04-29 - Bad Recording Sample.mp3
Harmony CDD 2010-04-29 - Better Bad Recording Sample.mp3

Geo

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May 26, 2010, 6:07:24 PM5/26/10
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This is 1 hour, 6 minutes and 35 seconds into the April 29th meeting:

01:06:35 (hear the attachment below)

Here is the transcription:

Bob Evans: "Do we have a motion for approval
authorizing ..."
(respectful tone) (interrupted by Me)


Note: These are my first words at this meeting.


Me: "May I suggest that before you ..."
(respectful tone) (cut off by Bob Evans)

Bob Evans: "No you may not! ... This is not an
(disrespectful, open meeting."
rude, angry tone,
voice raised)

Me: "There is something wrong with the
(respectful tone) proposal that we need to discuss ..."
(cut off by Bob Evans)

Bob Evans: "Excuse me. You're not part of this
(respectful tone) discussion."

Me: "At the February meeting ..."
(respectful tone)

Bob Evans: "Don't interrupt this. George if you
(disrespectful disrupt this meeting you're gonna
tone) leave. You got me?"

Me: "I got it."
(neutral tone)


In addition to the facts detailed above about the aquatic plants being
installed on the golf course at residents' expense, I also tried to point
out how someone else (again David Leeman) was permitted to speak at the
February, 25 2010 CDD meeting prior to the audience comments section,
similar to what I just tried to do.

As a consequence of being quickly shouted-down by Bob Evans, the CDD board
unanimously voted to once again spend our tax money to help maintain the
developer's golf course ponds.

Harmony CDD 2010-04-29 - 01-06-35.mp3

Geo

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May 26, 2010, 6:11:55 PM5/26/10
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Similar to the October 29, 2009 CDD meeting, during the February 25, 2010
meeting David Leeman also had a comment and a question. But this time his
question was raised during the "Supervisor Requests" section of the meeting:

Mr. Dave Leeman stated there was a rule when the
Institute was in charge of the dog parks that
non-residents had to pay a fee to use the dog parks. Is
that rule no longer enforced?

At a similar point of the April 29th meeting, I wondered if it would be OK
for me to speak-up similarly during "Supervisor Requests":

01:59:37 (hear the attachment below)

Me: "May I ask a 'Supervisor Request'
comment?"

Bob Evans: "We're not ..."

Steve Berube: "No we're not there yet."

Me: "Will you allow 'Supervisor Request'
comments from the audience?"

Mark Lemenager: "No."

Kerul Kassel: "Audience are not supervisors."

Me: "Excuse me."

Kerul Kassel: "The audience are not supervisors."


This time CDD supervisor Kerul Kassel (David Leeman's wife) spoke up in lieu
of Bob Evans and volunteered that only supervisors are allowed to speak
during the "Supervisor Requests" section of meetings. Perhaps this privilege
depends on what time of the year it is. At the end of April it's already
getting pretty hot in Harmony.

Harmony CDD 2010-04-29 - 01-59-37.mp3

Geo

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May 26, 2010, 6:13:43 PM5/26/10
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The following "Supervisor Request" statement made by Kerul becomes relevant
near the end of the meeting. At that time Shad Tome gets very upset when I
suggest that the Harmony Horse Amenity (see http://tinyurl.com/mycnxh )
should be opened up to all residents (see below).

02:08:36 (hear attachment 1 below)

Bob Evans: "Are there any other supervisor's
requests?"

Kerul Kassel: "Yes."

Kerul Kassel: "Last month a resident brought up the
idea that the CDD should approach the
developer to request some kind of
agreement to have on developer land an
equestrian facility. Upon thinking
about that I thought that's a very,
very expensive proposition to be
proposing that the entire tax base of
Harmony pay. I thought I would bring it
before the CDD for the other
supervisors' opinions."


"Last month" was March 25th and "a resident" was me. Here's what I started
with near the end of the March 25th meeting (see attachment 2 below):

Mr. Schiro stated I just know that this company is
spending time maintaining golf course ponds and I would
like them to focus on residential ponds.

Three facts were established by Mr. Evans and Mr. Moyer
on the public record during the December 2009 meeting:
(1) the CDD has a license agreement with the developer
to utilize Buck Lake,, which is necessary since the
residents of Harmony do not own Buck Lake; the
developer owns Buck Lake; (2) under the provisions of
the Buck Lake license agreement, the developer has
given the residents permission to use developer land
where the dock is; and (3) this arrangement is possible
because there were two willing parties to the
agreement�the developer and the CDD.

...

After almost a year and a half as a CDD Supervisor, why
have you never made one statement as an official
Supervisor request for the CDD to consider licensing
that same area from the developer for use by all
residents for the use of their horses?

Ms. Kassel stated it never occurred to me to do so.

The point was that a precedent had already been set whereby the developer
allows residents to use developer land.

What Kerul failed to mention at the April 29th meeting (as well as the March
25th meeting) is that she herself helped to establish another precedent
whereby the developer allows Kerul and her husband David Leeman free use of
developer land to board their horses in Harmony (see
http://tinyurl.com/2vwm2b4 ).

As I wrote above, this all comes to a head near the end of the April 29th
meeting. Stay tuned.

Harmony CDD 2010-04-29 - 02-08-36.mp3
Harmony CDD Meeting Minutes 2010-03-25.pdf

Geo

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May 26, 2010, 9:21:50 PM5/26/10
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02:22:17 http://tinyurl.com/37utfg4 (too large as attachment)

Bob Evans: "Any other audience comments."
(respectful tone) (I raise my hand.)

Bob Evans: "Yes George."
(patronizing tone)

Me: "I was glad to see that there weren't
any time limits this evening."

Bob Evans: "There are."

Me: "There are?"

Bob Evans: "There are always time limits at our
discretion. So you're on the clock,
just like the NFL draft."


Note: This is false. "Robert's Rules of Order" (see
http://www.robertsrules.org/ ) does not allow for arbitrary time limits to
be applied per speaker. Any time limits must be applied equally to all
speakers and time limits must be announced at the beginning of the meeting.
Evans announced no limits prior to me speaking.


Me: "Oh. Ok. Roy thank you for assigning
me your minutes tonight."

Steve Berube: "OK. Hurry up. Come on."
(impatient)

Me: "Do different rules apply at different
meetings, different rules of order?"

Bob Evans: "What are your comments George?"
(getting angry)

Me: "Are the rules of order willy-nilly?"

Bob Evans: "What are your comments George? This is
(getting impatient) the comments section."

Me: "I'm asking a question. Do different
rules of order apply to different
meetings?"

Kerul Kassel: "Obviously George you think they do. My
(respectful) impression is that the same rules of
order apply at all meetings."

Me: "Good. Do different rules of order
apply to different residents who ask
questions?"

Bob Evans: "Nah, I think we're pretty fair and
(flippant) balanced."

Me: "'pretty fair and balanced', OK I just
wanted to clarify that. Thank you very
much for clearing that up."


Note: Clearly Bob Evans and Kerul Kassel are not telling the truth here. The
rules applied during this meeting limiting my right to speak were not
equally applied to others during previous meetings. Bob Evans' demeanor and
his arbitrary application of the rules strongly suggests that he is unfit to
chair the Harmony CDD board.


Me: "Earlier it was discussed that there
are problems with the website and
different people can't seem to access
the website. This problem with the
website was brought to the attention of
the management company 6 months to a
year ago. Yet nothing was done about
it, never talked about."


Note: Improvements to the website were first suggested on 3/28/2009 (see
http://tinyurl.com/dd6zhk ) when Gary Moyer indicated that he would "look
into it". At the following meeting, Gary left before I could follow-up and
Bob Evans summarily declared that the website was just fine as it is. "Mr.
Evans stated I think we are good with what we have." (from the 4/30/2009
meeting minutes). BTW, when it was pointed out at the same meeting that the
management company switched from posting meeting minutes as text to posting
meeting minutes as pictures of text (ie. minutes that could not be searched
or copied from): "Mr. Evans stated we are good with what we have." This is
just one of many examples demonstrating that Bob Evans appears to be a
luddite when it comes to information technology. This is another indication
that he is really not fit to chair a board that makes decisions about how a
community manages information in the 21st century.


Steve Berube: "Something was done about it. A
disclaimer was put on there that if you
are not using the Internet Explorer 5.0
or higher you can't get on the website.
And that's where it stopped. And now
that we recognize that it is a problem,
potential problem, that maybe
[unintelligible] you just heard us tell
them to look into this and try to fix
it."


Note: See "Something Funny on the Harmony CDD Website" (
http://tinyurl.com/376o6py ).


Me: "It should have been done a year ago."

Gary Moyer: "Now George let me tell you something -
with the permission of the board."

Bob Evans: "Absolutely."
(almost reverent)

Gary Moyer: "There used to be a website here in
Harmony for the CDD that was not
maintained. There were no records. I
volunteered to do this website - zero
cost to Harmony."

Me: "How much does your company make every
year from the Harmony CDD?"

Gary Moyer: "No, no, it's not within the scope of
service. It doesn't matter how much
company makes every year."

Me: "$50,000?"

Gary Moyer: "This is an example of no good deed
goes unpunished. If you want me, if you
really feel seriously about it we'll go
hire a webmaster and pay good money to
do what you are asking me to do."

Me: "My 14 year old son could do a better
job for free. It doesn't really cost
that much to do a good job."


Note: At this point David Leeman chimed in from the audience to suggest that
I should volunteer to maintain the CDD website myself. Others were trying to
speak also. I responded that I did volunteer free website services years
ago. My offer was dismissed by Bob Evans.

Note: Since this April 29th meeting, the website has been finally (and
quickly) revamped. You can no longer see the old website referenced in
"Something Funny on the Harmony CDD Website" (
http://tinyurl.com/376o6py ), but a close approximation lives on in
Google's webpage cache (see the attachment below). It's missing several icon
links and the ugly brown background (similar to the navigation buttons on
the left), but you get the idea. At least now the website is accessible to
more than just Internet Explorer.


Bob Evans: "George! Listen. Alright.
(impatient, Hey, time out. Let me make something
louder) absolutely perfectly clear. You want to
get into a debate. There's the door."


Note: Bob Evans' stern warning about debating during the meeting was only
directed at me while several others were also "debating" with me. The
"debate" was actually started by David Leeman from the audience (see the
note above).


Me: "No I really don't want to do that."
(respectful)

Bob Evans: "You wanna have a civil comment, we're
(stern, more than happy to listen to you."
disrespectful)

Me: "I was being very civil."
(very civil)

Bob Evans: "I will not tolerate you trying to
(stern, angry, repeatedly disrupt this meeting. If you
disrespectful) do it one more time - you're out -
permanently. You understand?"

Me: "I understand."
(respectful)

Bob Evans: "I'll make sure there is no room for
(stern, angry, misunderstanding."
disrespectful)

Me: "OK. Bob can I ask you a personal
(respectful) question?"


Note: I was going to ask Bob Evans if he understands that he is the public
face of Barry Sternlicht and Starwood Capital Group in Harmony. But Bob
probably made the right choice by refusing to answer.


Bob Evans: "No. You can make a comment then you
(stern, angry, can sit down."
disrespectful)

Me: "You seem to be getting angry Bob."
(respectful)

Bob Evans: "I get very frustrated with you."
(angry,
disrespectful)

Me: "I can see why."
(respectful)

Bob Evans: "So can everybody else in the room."
(angry,
disrespectful)


The little nervous laugh at the end was from Kerul Kassel. Thereafter the
audio is mostly unintelligible until later.

I then proceeded to talk about how the CDD is not properly maintaining the
grass around the pond in my backyard. There is about 6 to 10 feet of grass
around the pond that most residents who live in that area have been cutting,
watering and fertilizing for years at their own expense. These folks even
paid their builders for the grass planted there! Why? Because neither their
builders nor the developer ever told them that the property there does not
actually belong to them. It belongs to the CDD. These residents have been
paying CDD taxes to maintain this area for many years and yet they have also
been unwittingly paying again to maintain it themselves. This kind of
volunteerism is certainly good for the community. But these folks should at
least be made aware of what they are doing rather than simply being taken
advantage of by their own local government.

Then I talked about how the CDD is once again paying good money from our
taxes to maintain ponds on the golf course (see the pond details in the
first segment on this topic).

The CDD supervisors just voted to approve a proposal to plant landscaping
around mostly developer owned ponds rather than ponds near residential
areas. This is what I tried to point out earlier in the meeting (just before
the vote) when I was shouted-down by Bob Evans for the first time this
evening.

FormerHarmonyCDDwebsite.jpg

Geo

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May 26, 2010, 9:25:49 PM5/26/10
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The last thing I spoke about was the equestrian facility brought up earlier
in the meeting by Kerul Kassel.

Kerul and Steve Berube had a little discussion about how expensive an
equestrian facility would be for Harmony tax payers. Mark Lemenager and Bob
Evans also chimed in about how this isn't even a CDD issue anyway since the
suggested equestrian facility would be in an area currently owned by the
developer.

I then reminded Kerul that she was not telling the whole story when she
brought up this issue in the first place (only after I prompted her at the
previous CDD meeting, see the end of the first attachment). Instead of
frightening everyone about how expensive an equestrian facility would be,
she should have talked about how she, her husband and 4 others have been
exclusively boarding their horses free of charge in Harmony (and free of
cost to the CDD or the developer) for the past 4 years (see
http://tinyurl.com/of79bd ).

Kerul should have suggested that the CDD could enter into an agreement with
the developer to allow other Harmony residents to use these same facilities
which are currently provided to Kerul and Dave for free. This agreement
would be similar to the current Buck Lake agreement allowing residents free
access to the developer owned Buck Lake Amenity.

I then suggested that Mark Lemenager was being disingenuous when he
dismisses this idea on the grounds that it is not a CDD issue. I pointed out
that by the same rationale Buck Lake is not a CDD issue either since it is
also owned by the developer.

At this point Shad Tome gets very angry. The audio is poor but you can hear
some of it.

02:31:00 (hear the attachment below)

Me: "Kerul should have suggested that the
current equestrian facility be opened
up to everyone. But she didn't make
that suggestion. That's all. I just
wanted to make the comment that that's
what should have been suggested. And
I'm sorry but I think Mr. Lemenager is
being a little disingenuous when you
say this has nothing to do with the
CDD."

Mark Lemenager: "It doesn't Mr. George."

Me: "Buck Lake has nothing to do with the
CDD either, right?"

Shad Tome: "Yes it does. There's a use agreement
that's in place ... [unintelligible]
..."

Me: "Right! That's what I've been saying
should be done for the horses.

Shad Tome: "There's no use agreement George!
{angry, yells, Anybody else would not be
slams table) ... [unintelligible] ..."


Note: Notice how Bob Evans, the "pretty fair and balanced" chairman of the
board remained silent as his developer buddy lays into me. Apparently in
Starwood's book any civil attempts to ask probing questions of the developer
in public is disruptive while verbal and physical outbursts by Starwood
people are not.


Me: "Why are you yelling?"

Shad Tome: "Because you know why ..."

Me: "I'm trying to talk."

Shad Tome: "I'm tired of wasting my time."

Me: "But you're yelling at me and I'm not
done ... [unintelligible] ..."

Shad Tome: "Yes! No ... [unintelligible] ... If
you want to issue an appeal to the
developer you can go outside. We're not
going to be doing this here."


Note: Shad Tome, president of Harmony Development Company, is not even a
member of the CDD board. Yet he seems to be running the meeting now.


Me: "Shad you're using up my time. That's
not fair."

Shad Tome: "... [unintelligible] ..."

Me: "You're not being fair Shad."

Mark Lemenager: "Alright enough."
(loud, impatient)

Steve Berube: "Pipe down."

Me: "My final comment is ..."

Mark Lemenager: "Works for us."
(disrespectful)

Brenda Burgess: "Don't say it."
(to Mark)

Me: "Kerul should have suggested the same
agreement that currently exists for
Buck Lake be applied to the equestrian
facility. That's not the suggestion
that she made. I think that's a
perfectly valid and reasonable
suggestion."


I think that the last two flippant remarks (made just before my final
comment) were spoken by the folks identified, but I can't be sure since I
didn't actually hear them while I was speaking. If I am in error, I
apologize. FYI, Brenda Burgess works for Gary Moyer and I believe that she
is responsible for accurately transcribing Harmony CDD meeting minutes.

According to Bob Evans, he is a fair and balanced chairman of the public
boards in Harmony. This means that current and future residents with serious
questions can expect similar treatment, especially if the questions are
about issues that the developer would prefer to remain - how shall we say -
out of the sunshine.

So if you have questions for the developer of Harmony - Good luck! But
always remember the old Florida slogan: "The rules are different here."

Harmony CDD 2010-04-29 - 02-31-00.mp3
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