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An unaccountable Sound Transit has begun to attract important critics

An unaccountable Sound Transit has begun to attract important critics

Unaccountability on the part of a public entity, no matter how well cloaked in good intentions or alleged importance of mission, inevitably leads to arrogance when there is no requirement to answer directly to anyone for decisions.

That, not surprisingly, leads to the kind of decisions that create a demand for accountability. Thus hangs the tale of Sound Transit, in the view a growing chorus of critics.

The sense is that the transportation agency officially known as the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority may suddenly be caught with its arrogance on display and feeling the pushback from a public and from lawmakers who are coming to sense a possible need to recast the organization.  

The goal of legislation that has now passed the Republican-controlled state Senate and is awaiting action in House would replace the 18 Sound Transit board members, now local elected officials from one of the three Sound Transit counties with 11 directors directly elected by voters in districts that would be created by the legislature.

The first broad perception of Sound Transit arrogance surfaced with the outcry from motor vehicle owners about the leap in the cost to renew their vehicle license after the excise tax this year had climbed dramatically, due in part to the vehicle valuation chart used by Sound Transit.

Geoff Patrick, who handles media relations and public information for Sound Transit, explained that part of the reason for the large jump in MVET fees was that, in approving ST-3, the $54 billion long-term transit package in November, voters said ok to a major increase in vehicle excise tax. 

The outcry would suggest that many voters weren't really aware of that.

Patrick was quoted earlier, as the MVET flap emerged, to the extent that Sound Transit could have used a vehicle depreciation schedule that would have meant a less expensive renewal fee but chose not to "for simplicity sake," to bring transportation relief quicker.

Then came the visibility surrounding Sound Transit's legal battle with Mercer Island over its effort to end the ability of solo drivers from the island to access I-90 high-occupancy-vehicle lanes when the existing HOV lanes are closed this summer for construction of light rail. That solo-driver access was part of an arrangement that amounted to a pledge from state transportation officials to Mercer Island residents in exchange for letting the state cut the trench for I90 across the island.

And finally, and perhaps defining for any battle to avoid accountability, came the flap over a political fundraiser for King County Executive Dow Constantine at the home of Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff for his boss and benefactor. As the flap unfolded, it became known that the planned event hosted at Rogoff's home for his boss might breach two clauses in the transit agency's own code of ethics, though it wouldn't violate any state fundraising laws, so it was moved elsewhere. But Rogoff made it clear he would still be one of the sponsors.

It might seem strange to many political observers that Constantine, who holds the most powerful position on the Sound Transit board and is seeking reelection, would stand silently in the wings, awaiting the outcome of a key fundraiser flap rather then step forward and say, "This is an inappropriate issue. I am cancelling this fundraiser."

Attendees for the party at its new location, it turns out, had to first RSVP online to learn the address. 

The disappointing thing about that is I was beginning to hope some newspaper photographer or television camera team would be on hand to document how many representatives of companies with multi-million-dollar contracts with Sound Transit would be on hand to pass some of the dollars back to the leader of the team.

A focus on those companies with multi-million contracts may soon provide more negative publicity for Sound Transit when all the details of documents detailing the breadth and depth of the value of contacts Sound Transit has signed with nearly 550 companies to provide a wide array of services begins getting close media scrutiny.

The documents were received by former King County Council member Maggie Fimia from Sound Transit in 2015 and detail all payments over $100,000 made to all entities, public and private, from 2007.

When I talked with Fimia to get copies of the array of contract documents and inquired of her thoughts upon digesting them, she said of the array of contracts: "The breadth of the take was unbelievable."

Touching on only one of the contract categories, Fimia offered "why do you need to spend $37 million on marketing and advertising if you have such a tremendous product?" And that didn't include any marketing costs for ST3.

Sound Transit's Patrick told me that a rigorous competitive-bidding process is in place for contracts with the agency, other than services like legal, accounting, marketing and others where expertise and reputation come into play, since you don't low-bid legal services, but may negotiate with the selected supplier for best price.

Fimia's 2001 defeat was allegedly aided by Sound Transit officials upset at her constant questioning of the agency's manner of operating and its dealing with the communities, questioning that clearly didn't end with her departure from the council.

Charles Collins, whose impeccable credentials as a critic of Sound Transit are even grudgingly acknowledged by the agency's board, told me Sound Transit went after Fimia because "she was a continuing thorn in their side."

"They are the 500-gorilla that no one wants to mess with and she kept messing with them, so they helped oust her," he said. She lost her reelection bid in 2001.

Collins has been a constant critic of Sound Transit's focus on high-cost rail service because all statistics, including the agency's own environmental impact statement, indicate trains won't come close to attracting enough riders to relieve congestion. More like attracting maybe 2 percent of riders.

Collins once told me that he and two former governors, Republican John Spellman and a Democrat, the late Booth Gardner, went to Sound Transit in the late '90s before the first vote embarking on rail as the key transportation underpinning with a novel new plan to provide a vehicles alternative that would carry far more passengers at far less cost.

"But they didn't even want to hear our idea because they were about building a train, not focusing on easing congestion," he said, except for Rob McKenna, then King County councilman and later the two-term Republican attorney general and unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate.

McKenna, incidentally, also lost his role on the Sound Transit board, bounced by then-King County Executive Ron Sims for his routine questioning of board decisions and priorities.

Collins, Fimia and McKenna are among those, a list which now obviously includes some legislators, who have urged that spending and policy decisions in the future should relate to relieving congestion rather than focusing only on building a rail network.

"Nothing has changed," said Collins, whose credentials include having been Spellman's Chief King County Adminstrator, Director of Metro Transit and chair of the Northwest Power Planning Council, the State Higher Education Coordinating Board and the State Commission on Student Learning. 

Indeed while Sound Transit operates some of the nation's most successful express bus services in addition to rail and light rail service to the region, there has been little doubt in the community that members of the board view themselves as creators of the region's light rail system. 

And the fact that the mode of transportation in the region's future has unfortunately become ideological, or maybe was from the start, is the reaction of a liberal commentator on Senate passage of SB5001 and that four Democrats joined the Republican majority in passing the measure to the House.

The columnist said the four Democrats" betrayed Sound Transit and the progressive movement," and urged that "every activist and every organization who was involved in helping to pass Sound Transit 3 last year needs to pitch in to ensure that this bill gets a burial in the House of Representatives."

Rogoff is an intriguing case, having been a strong supporter of bus rapid transit and critic of the "enormous expense to build and maintain rail" while head of the Federal Transit Administration. "Busways are cheap."

Almost amusingly, now that he heads an agency dedicated to rail, he said in a speech back in 2010 that riders often want rails, "but you can entice diehard rail riders onto a 'special' bus sometimes by just painting the bus a different color than the rest of the fleet."

He hasn't yet explained at what point between then and his joining Sound Transit that he changed his position of bus over rail, which he viewed as enormously expensive to build and maintain.

If the idea of an elected board to replace the current appointed board is approved by the legislature, a new board might find it could dramatically reduce current and future expenditures by focusing on bus rapid transit and a much more zealous process of contract oversight for other than actual infrastructure expenses.

Only contracts specifically relating to construction bond covenants have been held by the court as illegal to change. That doesn't likely apply to things like contracts with law and accounting firms and advertising and marketing agencies. or construction contracts that won't have been signed when an elected board might replace the current board. 

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GOP "mainstream" leaders seek to energize new generation to recreate past successes

The grand old men of Washington State's Grand Old Party, who brought about the closest thing to a Republican Golden Era in their state back in the '60s, are seeking to help attract and energize a new generation of young people to what they tout as the GOP "mainstream."

 

Their vehicle for renewal is Action for Washington, created in 1968 by Sam Reed and Chris Bayley, then a couple of young newcomers to the Republican political scene, and recreated several years ago by Reed, who retired this year after three terms as Secretary of State.

 

sam reed
Sam Reed

The organization had its first fund-raising breakfast last week in Bellevue and a group of those young people who have been attracted as "mainstream" (meaning politically moderate) messengers for the future was in evidence, along with Reed, Action for Washington President Alex Hays and Republican party icons Dan Evans and Slade Gorton.

 

All are aware that the image being created by Republicans nationally on a number of social issues is making it a more daunting task to create a Republican revival in states like Washington, which has grown increasingly "blue" in the past couple of decades.

 

That's particularly felt by Republican moderates coming off a gubernatorial election in which the positions of the party nationally may have been the biggest contributor to the defeat of GOP gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna.

 

"Clearly what is happening nationally is hurting us," Reed conceded. "But the Northwest, both Washington and Oregon, has traditionally been a place where a different breed of Republicans has operated. And we need to renew that image, and begin to find a way to have an impact nationally."

 

The graduates of the Action for Washington program are seen as a starting point. The young men and women, many recruited from college campuses, are enrolled in a leadership conference that provides weekly exposure for three to four months of discussion in areas like public policy, public relations and other issues that Hays sees leading them, once they're "alumni," to "vitalize the center-right" with their future involvements.

 

In a sense, the past-and-present leaders envisioning renewal may hope there's a flip side to George Santayana's oft quoted (usually inaccurately) admonition about "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." The reverse would be that those who remember the past may be able to help repeat it.

 

In fact, the events that unfolded in the decade of the '60s that Reed, Evans and Gorton helped bring about may offer lessons for today, and tomorrow. Those include pushback by Republican moderates against the party's more high-visibility conservative wing, legislative coalitions that both Reed and Hays refer to as the ultimate example of political bipartisanship, and possible looming rifts among Democrats, potentially reminiscent of the divisions of the late '60s and early '70s.

 

All of those were part of the historical background for what happened in Washington in the '60s that believers in a renewed GOP mainstream would like to recreate.

 

It was in 1963, when an over-reach by Seattle-area Democrats on the issue of public vs. private power drove angry conservative Spokane Democrats who were believers in protecting Spokane-based and investor-owned Washington Water Power Co. into a coalition with Republicans.

 

The result was Spokane Democratic Rep. Bill (Big Daddy) Day became speaker and Republican Dan Evans became majority leader, setting the stage for his victory a year later in the gubernatorial race in which he ousted Al Rosellini. Young Seattle city councilman A. Ludlow Kramer, a Republican, rode along to victory in the race for Secretary of State, both bucking a Democratic landslide nationally.

 

It was their victory, and the emergence of young newcomers like Reed, then fresh out of graduate school at WSU where he was president of the campus young republicans, and Bayley, just back from Harvard and destined to be King County prosecutor, that helped push back the growing role of conservatives in Washington State. In those days, the conservative wing of the party, which helped propel Sen. Barry Goldwater to the GOP presidential nomination, was under the banner of the John Birch Society.

 

Meanwhile, Democrats were being torn by internal struggle over the Vietnam War, with the party's liberal wing in this state so angered that they actively sought to defeat Henry M. Jackson, one of the nation's most powerful and respected Democrats and an avowed Hawk, in the 1970 election.

 

Part of what helped moderate Republicans to electoral success in the '60s and early '70s, and would be their hope for the future, was what Hays chuckles in referring to as "Washington's rich tradition of ticket splitting," the key to Evans' and Kramer's victories despite the Democratic sweep nationally. That was also true in '68 when Gorton was elected state attorney general and in a series of elections in which Republicans claimed the majority in the state House of Representatives, without the need for a coalition.

 

Hays, 43, notes that in his "younger years," before he became active in the state Republican organization and with Mainstream Republicans of Washington and president of Action for Washington, he "helped a few of my conservative Democrat friends in their campaigns."

 

Reed laments that Mainstream Republicans get far less visibility for their stands on issues, such as in favor of Gay rights, pro-choice and pro- immigration reform, than the views of party conservatives, including the Tea Party types.

 

Reed is particularly proud of recalling that it was while helping guide the original Action for Washington as executive director of the governor's Urban Affairs Council, that he recruited Art Fletcher, a black self-help advocate and member of the Pasco City Council, to be the GOP candidate for lieutenant governor.

 

Although Fletcher lost to incumbent John Cherberg, he was the first and so far only African-American to be the nominee of either party for a major statewide office.

 

Both Hays and Reed view the coalition that came about in the State Senate this year when two Democrats, including one-timeRepublican Rodney Toms, driven from the party by battles with conservatives, joined with Republicans to create a majority as "the ultimate example of bipartisan cooperation."

 

Reed notes that "it's interesting that in both 1963 and this year that a lot of people were skeptical that the coalitions would hold together, but they proved they could work together when the pressure was on."

 

As to seeing another divisive battle among factions in the Democratic party, Reed and Hays think the growing budgetary impact of public pensions and retirement practices will eventually be seen as a challenge to key liberal causes such as environmental inititives and programs for children and the poor.

 

"There's no way to maintain support for all the Democratic interest groups with current budget realities, and that will begin to create real divisions in the ranks," said Reed.

 

How well the old guard's experience with the past helps them recreate something similar for the future will be evidenced as 2014 political campaigns in this state take shape.

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Business Alliance hopes to get Inslee to adopt strategic-planning process

The Washington Business Alliance is hopeful it can help Jay Inslee, sworn in this week as Washington's 22nd governor, put in place a strategic-planning process for state government similar to what successful businesses employ. Perhaps aiding their cause is that neighboring Oregon is well down the road on that kind of approach to governing.

 

The attentions of a new governor are inevitably sought by an array of pressure groups and for a Democratic governor, those pressure groups are less likely to represent business interests.

 

But the Business Alliance, created by successful entrepreneurs David Giuliani and Howard Behar to bring "a reasoned, collaborative approach to public policy that transcends partisan politics," seems optimistic that Inslee will respond positively to the idea of strategic planning for Washington State.

 

WaBA gained visibility and respect during the recent gubernatorial campaign with its even-handed approach to the two candidates, including several "debates" that were more like interviews with Inslee and GOP candidate Rob McKenna. The organization takes no political positions and does no endorsements, since politics isn't what it's about.

 

Now WaBA wants Inslee to look no further for a good strategic-planning model than south across the Columbia River at what fellow Democratic chief executive John Kitzhaber has embraced, including creating the business-sounding role of chief operating officer.

 

While the WaBA's effort is to transcend partisanship, there's likely little doubt that it should be easier to convince Inslee to emulate a respected governor from his own party then if, for example, the model were New Jersey's Chris Christie. New Jersey was, in fact, one of four states where WaBA, in a 50-state assessment of where best practices were occurring, found efforts under way to institutionalize strategic planning.

 

The four were New Jersey, Indiana and Colorado, where Republican governors were in place, and Oregon, where Kitzhaber is a year into his second stint as state chief executive.

 

Strategic planning is the process by which an organization defines its strategy and makes decisions and allocates resources based on pursuing the preferred outcomes of that strategy, ideally over a long term.

 

It's a process that often eludes government because decisions at the local, state and national levels are usually driven by the most high-visibility needs and allocation of resources by the most influential special-interest groups.

 

Norm
Norm Levy

.WaBA board member Norm Levy, who has guided corporate strategy for major Washington companies for nearly 30 years, said what the 50-state assessment turned up was that coordinated business involvement had helped establish best practices in several states.

 

Levy, who had been head of strategic planning for the former Seafirst Bank and who got involved with WaBA because both Behar and Giuliani were clients, said "the states where long-term goals with specific outcomes were being put in place had collaboration of all key stakeholders."

 

"The accountability that is necessary to carry out a strategic plan has to be at the top level," Levy said. "And that leads to a position like Oregon's COO because someone has to be responsible for oversight of all the agencies in state government and the critical issue is that all those need to be aligned across silos."

 

The framework for strategic planning in Oregon is called the Oregon Business Plan, conceived a decade ago as a forum for collaboration on improving Oregon's economy and championed by Oregon's two U.S. senators in the absence of support from Gov. Ted Kulongoski, the Democrat who replaced Kitzhaber in 2003.

 

Early on, the plan was unable to garner the support of Oregon's various business organizations. But that gradually came about as influential business leaders embraced it and it has endured, becoming an effective tool for cooperation and collaboration.

 

And Kitzhaber, re-elected in 2011 after sitting out for either years after his constitutionally limited two terms ended in 2003, has fully embraced the concept and its strategic-planning underpinning.

 

In fact, in his State of the State speech this week, Kitzhaber invoked the Oregon Business Plan and its goals of, by 2020, raising per-capita income, creating 25,000 new jobs per year and significantly reducing the poverty rate.

 

Kitzhaber is proposing an ambitious state strategic plan called the 10-Year Plan for Oregon, which will include his proposal for a 10-year budget to support identified goals.

 

Washington Business Alliance, some of whose members have been at work with Inslee's transition team, express confidence that the new governor may adopt the Oregon Business Plan approach to governing.

 

New Jersey's Christie, as one of the models for success that turned up in the Business Alliance's 50-state examination, began strategic planning by applying it to commercial land development, after the state had discovered it had been planning for large industrial complexes in which businesses had no interest.

 

The initiative was successful, and strategic planning spread to other functions. Christie then brought to bear the interesting hammer of requiring strategic planning within each branch of state, regional and local governments in order to obtain funding.

 

 

Ironically, the Business Alliance may face a larger challenge in getting all of the varied business organizations in the state on board with creating a Washington version of the Oregon Business Plan than winning over the new Democratic governor.
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While Dems have had lock on governor's office, GOP has longer hold on Sec. of State

The GOP lament in Washington State about the fact it's been 32 years since a Republican was elected governor pales somewhat compared to how long Democrats in the state have watched a string of Republicans hold the post of secretary of state.

 

For Rob McKenna, the two-term state attorney general who is the Republican nominee in the governor's race, the long Democratic tenure in the governor's mansion, longest rule in the nation by either party, has provided the opportunity to tell voters "we haven't refreshed this place in a generation." 

 

sam reed
Sam Reed

But in the race for secretary of state, the post from which Sam Reed is retiring after three terms, Democrats will be seeking to reverse their almost half-century absence from the office that oversees state and local elections, corporate and non-profit filings and records and is supervisor of the State Archives.

 

A Republican has held the post since A. Ludlow Kramer, a young Seattle city councilman, ousted incumbent Victor A. Meyers in 1964. So it's been 52 years since Meyer's 1960 victory as the last Democrat elected to the position. The secretary of state is second, behind the lieutenant governor, in the line of succession to the office of governor.

 

It was in 1964 that Dan Evans defeated Democratic incumbent Albert D. Rosellini, who was seeking a third term. The two Seattle Republicans, Evans and Kramer, thus both beat incumbent Democrats despite the fact that Lyndon Johnson carried the state overwhelmingly in the presidential vote, suggesting that Washington voters can sometimes make independent judgements about state and national races.

 

Washington's history with secretaries of state is in marked contrast to the background of the office in Oregon, where it has long been viewed as a stepping stone to the governor's office.

 

In Washington State, it's been the office of attorney general that has been seen as the stepping stone, with the last three, including outgoing Gov. Christine Gregoire and now-GOP candidate McKenna, looking to occupy the governor's mansion.

 

Two of Oregon's best-known and respected political figures made stops at the secretary of state post en route to larger roles. Mark Hatfield was elected to the position in 1956 and two years later won the governor's race while Tom McCall was elected in 1964 and two years later won the first of his two terms as governor. Hatfield went on to the U.S. Senate, where he served for 30 years and was even briefly considered for the vice presidential spot with Richard Nixon in 1968.

 

If the Democrats in Washington think they've been shut out of the secretary of state post for a long time, consider that Barbara Roberts, in 1991, became not only the first woman to hold the position in Oregon but also the first Democrat elected to the post in more than 100 years.

 

Six of the last eight Oregon secretaries of state ran for governor, with Hatfield, McCall and Roberts being elected and three others losing in the general election.

 

I asked Reed why he thought the Washington secretary of state position hadn't also produced gubernatorial aspirants.

 

He admitted that he had been urged to run for governor in 2004 as the GOP sought a candidate to oppose then-Atty. Gen. Christine Gregoire in seeking the position being vacated by Gary Locke, who decided against seeking a third term. State Sen. Dino Rossi eventually was the GOP candidate, losing by a handful of votes.

 

"I thought seriously about it but decided that I enjoyed the responsibilities of secretary of state, so I passed," he said. "It was a matter of thinking, 'why let the ego trip of running for governor interfere with doing what you like to do.'"

 

So he ran and was re-elected twice more to the office he had actually prepped for over a period of decades, working first with Kramer in the late '60s and with Bruce Chapman, who held the office in the late '70s. Then he spent 20 years as Thurston County auditor, a local-level version of the responsibilities handled by the secretary of state at the state level. He was elected to the county post in1980 and re-elected four times.

 

And Ralph Munro, Reed's predecessor who served five terms as secretary of state, said having worked in the governor's office for a number of years under Evans left him with "no desire to be governor."

 

He admitted to me that he had been lobbied to run but that "I never saw the office as a stepping stone. I really enjoyed being secretary of state."

 

Republican candidate Kim Wyman, who followed Reed into the Thurston County auditor's office in 2000, faces former state Sen. Kathleen Drew, a Democrat to see who replaces Reed. Thus no matter which one wins next month, the next secretary of state will be a woman.

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Candidates should be pressed to assume responsibility for political attack ads

You didn't need to be a fan of Newt Gingrich to feel bad for the guy because of all the political dirt dumped on him during the Iowa-caucuses campaign. And you didn't need to be a foe of Mitt Romney, who finished at the top in Iowa Tuesday, to find his avoidance of responsibility for the deluge of attack ads aimed at Gingrich distasteful.

 

And you don't need to be a schooled political observer to sense that the Iowa mess was only the undesirable opening salvo of what is likely to be a dirt-encrusted presidential campaign over the coming months, particularly once we enter the general-election phase.

 

So to the electoral masses, Iowa likely brought a new level of disgust with the way politics has come to be defined, and the hunger for something, and someones, different.

 

As far as national-level politics goes, we can't do much other than try to tune out the flood of campaign diatribe. But perhaps influentials of both parties in Washington State, who desire a more refreshing odor from the political campaigns at the state level, can force a cleaner conduct on candidates in the most important Washington State race this year.

 

We're referring, of course, to the race for Washington governor, where Republican Atty. Gen. Rob McKenna and Congressman Jay Inslee, a Democrat, face free rides to their parties' nominations to engage each other in the November General Election. Gov. Chris Gregoire isn't running for re-election and possible competitors for either party's nomination have been dissuaded from fouling the political fray with competition.

 

 So the looming one-on-one battle in this state threatens to unfold as a long and tedious campaign marked by extensive negative messaging. That's an eventuality that none of the many citizens already disgusted with the national political process should need to endure in Washington.

 

The way attack advertising has evolved is that it's carried out by organizations supportive of, but not directly tied to, a candidate. That allows the candidates to vow that they are going to wage a clean campaign knowing that such supporting organizations will carry the trash.

 

And the media outlets have done poorly in pressing candidates to take a position of agreeing with or disavowing negative comments about their opponents. It's not that difficult to say to a candidate at a press conference: "we know this was not a message directly from your campaign organization, but you must agree or disagree with it."

 

Perhaps the simplest expectation is one the iconic William Rucklshaus, in a must-read op-ed piece in Sunday's Seattle Times, listed among the things we need to insist on from our political candidates: "Tell us why we should vote for you, not what's wrong with your opponent."

 

The challenge of asking candidates to step out of the mud hole in which many now operate during campaigns is that people other than the candidates increasingly are the conveyors of negative messages while the candidates themselves pretend they're cloaked in campaign purity.

 

That problem is growing worse as social media becomes more pervasive. And, in fact, with no way to control the over-the-top negativity, frequently false, of bloggers and the like, any idea for positive change in how candidates campaign may be a waste of time.

 

Nevertheless, here's a New Year idea that could at least minimize the negative campaigning that many fear may lie ahead in the Washington governor's race. And it's an idea that only one of the candidates needs to endorse since one doing so would pretty much force the other to also agree to go along.

 

The idea is that the gubernatorial candidates agree that when any negative advertising is aired or disseminated, they will say either that they say either "I agree with that," or "I don't agree with that." No responses like "I don't really have an opinion on that" should be left unchallenged.

 

This isn't to elicit a promise to run a clean campaign. Every candidate promises that now. Rather it's pressing for a promise from each candidate to take responsibility for all messaging on their behalf. 

 

Such a small step could make negative campaigning more uncomfortable for candidates. And that would represent a long step toward Ruckelshaus' vision of candidates spending time talking about themselves rather than their opponents.

 

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