Snoonian, Ouellette Vie for Adams Selectman's Seat |
By Jack Guerino On: 04:16PM / Wednesday April 30, 2014 ||
ADAMS, Mass. — Newcomer Jeffrey Michael Snoonian is challenging incumbent Michael Ouellette for a three-year selectman's seat in Monday's election.
Snoonian, 41, of 1 Berkshire Square, is originally from Lawrence, but has been visiting Adams for years became a permanent resident last year.
"I came up here not knowing a lot of people, and even though I wasn't born here, they treat me as such," Snoonian said. "I really do feel a civic duty to give back, and now that I'm here full time I want to get involved."
Although new to politics, Snoonian has worked in construction for nearly 20 years. After selling his house and business, he decided to permanently move to Adams.
Snoonian believes that he can bring a new perspective to the Board of Selectmen, which is currently comprised of longtime residents.
"I definitely think bringing in a different perspective, along with the other four guys on the board who have grown up here, helps," he said.
Snoonian wishes to make Adams more attractive to families as a place to live. He does not foresee large manufacturing jobs arriving, but rather sees Adams as a good place for people to commute from.
"In Adams, right now, we need to make it much more attractive for families to live in so even if they might work in Lenox or Bennington, they would want to settle down in Adams," he said.
Snoonian said he sees the budget cuts in the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District as a main issue in the town and region.
"The school budget keeps getting cut, which is a big concern and when the time comes it seems to get cut again so that will probably be priority No. 1 for me," he said.
Snoonian also sees plenty of tourist attractions in Adams that have been underutilized, and believes advertising areas such as Mount Greylock even more could be financially beneficial for the town.
"I'm big into tourism," he said. "The mountain to me is underutilized and is a big selling point."
Ouellette has been on the board since 2008, and is completing his second three-year term.
"I have lived here all of my life," Ouellette said. "My parents lived here and my grandparents lived here, so I have roots here, and I am committed to the town."
Ouellette was a town meeting member for 18 years and had been a member of the Zoning Board for 10. He currently is a delegate to the Metropolitan Planning Organization and a member of the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority advisory committee.
An engineer, he retired from the former GE in Pittsfield after 34 years. He has also worked in real estate development and taken part in land subdivisions in Adams and Lanesborough.
He also thinks the town can take greater advantage of Mount Greylock through the Greylock Glen, thinking Frisbee golf courses would be a great attraction.
Ouellette said the technical abilities he gained from GE and working in real estate development makes him an asset to the Selectmen: "I think I bring a very broad talent to the board."
Ouellette said he was instrumental in getting the votes needed to hire current Town Administrator Jonathan Butler and "did his homework" on that vote by conferring with state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, for whom Butler used to work.
"I am not a rubber-stamp selectman, and I want to do what I think is in the best interest of the community," he said, adding, "I do my homework, and that's what it's all about."
He supports regionalization whenever possible to achieve efficiencies and cost savings.
"Anything we can work together with as a team with North Adams, Cheshire or Williamstown, we should try to do," Ouellette said. "I think you can get better services at a lower cost."
If re-elected, he would make sure an effective Department of Public Works director was hired for the now open position. He also would push for a clearer focus on the old middle school building and concentrate on solving the financial issues in the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District.
"I think that our school is suffering, and we need to do something there," he said. "I want to push to have our board work with the school board."
The election will be held Monday, May 5, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the town garage.
GOP Candidate Baker Preaches Jobs, Schools & Communities |
By Andy McKeever On: 03:34PM / Tuesday April 29, 2014 ||
Charlie Baker, in the middle, introduces himself to voters at Joe's Diner in Lee on Tuesday.
LEE, Mass. — Republican Charlie Baker says if he is elected governor, every time state revenues increase it will all go back to cities and towns.
The gubernatorial candidate met with potential voters over lunch at Joe's Diner on Tuesday. Baker has been all over the state preaching the need for more jobs, better education and improved communities.
"I spent most of my time talking about what I call the big three — jobs, schools and communities. Those aren't Republican, Democratic or independent issues, it is just what people worry about and what I worry about," Baker said. "We need more good schools, stronger communities and frankly, more jobs."
Baker has particularly noticed a disparity of school performances. Even in the same school systems, some schools are ranking high in student achievement while others are not. And he sees a lack of communication between the schools that are succeeding and those falling behind.
"We don't have those conversations. We treat them all like they are the same — they're not," Baker said.
Meanwhile, vocational, technical and career schools are "going under the radar" despite providing a great service. He wants those schools to have a greater emphasis in the state conversations about education and officials should be "more aggressive" in supporting them.
"They are really tied into local employers. They are working with the latest and greatest equipment. And they link together for kids the purpose of an education and opportunity for work," Baker said. "They are really doing a great job"
Meanwhile, the cost of education is growing for municipalities, eating up a majority of their budgets. Baker and running mate Karyn Polito say any time state revenues grow, local aid needs to grow at the same amount. That includes aid to both schools as well as municipal operations.
"If state revenue grows 5 percent, local aid grows 5 percent. Over the past five or six years, state spending has gone up six or seven billion dollars while local aid has gone down by $500 million," Baker said. "It puts tremendous pressure on cities and towns."
When local aid doesn't keep up with the costs, that puts more pressure on families who have to fund the schools through property tax increases and higher fees.
"As the state's tax revenues has been growing, they haven't been sharing that with the cities and towns," Baker said.
The same idea goes for Chapter 90 road funding. Baker said not enough money is being released to help cities and towns repair roads heavily damaged by the harsh winter.
"We're $600 million ahead of budget on the revenue side at this point in the fiscal year. We should be able to find the resources to help cities and towns dig out what for a lot of people was a tough winter," he said.
The former chief executive officer of Harvard Pilgrim said there is still a lot of "anxiety" about the economy. And while there are some sectors — such as what he calls the "inside [Route] 128 knowledge economy" — doing well, others are not.
Baker is in his second campaign for governor and says his experience will help him this time around.
"I can't tell you how many businesses I talk to, especially small ones, who just say that the way stuff works around here is so much more complicated than it needs to be," Baker said.
"A really simple example is in a lot of states you can get an LLC [limited liability corporation] to start a business online and pay $25 for it and it takes you a half an hour. In Massachusetts, you get an LLC and you have to pay $500 every year and a lot people will tell you it is so complicated that you need to hire someone with a legal degree to figure out how to fill it out and get it in."
Baker is calling for a full regulatory review to find ways to make it easier for businesses to operate.
"We've got to be competitive economically. We need to dramatically improve the speed of issuing permits and licenses, and our cost of pretty much everything," he said.
But he also knows that not every area of Massachusetts is the same. While in the eastern part of the state, costs are the biggest issue, the lower costs in the west is a strength. Each region has its own strengths and Baker said he would set economic plans for each region within the first six months after he is elected.
"I want to have within six months of taking office is to have strategic principles in place for every city in Massachusetts so I know what is expected of us and they know what is expected of them. We can hold each other accountable and go get it," Baker said. "If you don't have a stated set of goals and objectives, you won't get it done. Period."
The effort would mostly be led by local officials in conjunction with his administration.
Tuesday was Baker's second campaign stop in the Berkshires. He met with the Berkshire County Republicans in January.
He announced in September and came out of the Republican State Convention in March as the sole nominee. However, tea party candidate Mark Fisher is suing the party over the voting procedure and says he will have enough signatures in time to be listed on the ballot for governor
This is the second consecutive time Baker has been the Republican nominee; he lost to Deval Patrick in the 2010. He believes that campaign experience will help do better this time.
"You don't want to run the same race twice. But there is no doubt that having done this before I have a much better understanding about how it works and what to expect," Baker said.
"I also know a lot more about Massachusetts. You learn a ton doing this. You spend a year and a half of your life criss-crossing the state, you get to know a lot about places you wouldn't know about otherwise."
This time, Baker says he is hearing more talk about education and bringing more viewpoints to the State House than last time.
"Four years ago, nobody really cared about one party running Beacon Hill. It never came up. Now there are a lot of people I talk to, including Democrats, who say this one-party stuff is bad. It's unaccountable. It's not transparent," Baker said.
What has also changed is that there is no incumbent. Patrick is not running for re-election, leaving the seat open. Currently, there are six Democrats seeking the seat, one independent and Baker. He feels that plays to his strengths because he stands on the same ground to "make my case to the voters."
Green-Rainbow Statewide Candidates Launch 'Listening' Tour |
Staff Reports On: 10:37PM / Tuesday April 22, 2014 ||
Local Green-Party activist L. Scott Laugenour, center, accompanied candidates Danny Factor, left, and Ian Jackson to submit their nomination sheets at Pittsfield City Hall.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A trio of Green-Rainbow Party state candidates toured the Berkshires on Tuesday, meeting with citizens and filing their papers at Pittsfield City Hall.
The group kicked off the day in front of the closed North Adams Regional Hospital to press a focal point of the party's platform: Universal health care.
"Health care is a human right," said Danny Factor of Acton, who is running for secretary of the commonwealth. If the government can bail out a corporation, it can find funds to secure a deal to reopen a critical medical facility, he said.
"There's a lot the government can do in that and it can look into other options, such as taking it by eminent domain."
Auditor candidate M.K. Merelice of Brookline, an "occasional Franklin County resident," said North Berkshire's position was similar to that of the "forgotten county" of Franklin with its pockets of poverty.
"It does seem to me that this has as much to do with classism as anything else," she said. "If this hospital was located in the Southern Berkshires rather than the Northern Berkshires this would not be allowed to happen."
She said if elected, she would determine what type of medical services the community needed.
The candidates, including Ian Jackson, running for treasurer, called for more transparency and information regarding the closure, and a possibly publicly operated system with greater accountability to the people.
"People did pay for medical care, [that money] didn't just evaporate," said Jackson, who called for a different payment structure to make it easier for lawmakers to understand what happened.
After North Adams, the three candidates traveled to Kelly's Package Store in Dalton to discuss the long-pending bottle bill. That bill would expand the 5-cent deposit on soda and beer bottles and cans to other packaging — such as water or sports drinks.
Kelly's Package Store owner John Kelly recently testified in favor of the bill, saying recyclables is becoming a "secondary economy." The store collects and recycles bottles as an additional source of income.
"We felt like the expansion of the bottle bill would raise the recycling rate in the average household from 33 percent to 88 percent," Kelly told the candidates.
He added that those deposits help community groups raising money through bottle drives while there are individuals who collect bottles from the side of the road for extra income.
The candidates say that bill is long overdue.
"Just having a small deposit make sure it is going to the right place instead of going into a landfill," said Jackson.
But, it is more than that too, said Merelice, adding that the bottle bill is just one small step in turning the state's economy into a more environmentally-friendly one.
"It is a tiny step of what a future economy looks like," she said. "This may seem like a little thing, but when you look at the environment as a whole ... ."
Factor said there is a "culture" that needs changing when it comes to being environmentally friendly and encouraging more recyclables through the bill would help make that change. The bill will help push environmental consciousness into people's minds, which can lead to even more environmentally friendly practices.
Merelice added, "part of auditing is recognizing that the commonwealth's resources are no confined to finances. Part of the resources are people and the environment."
Following Kelly's the group went to Berkshire Organics to discuss the labeling of genetically modified organisms. Berkshire Organics focused on organic, high-quality foods, which the Green Rainbow Party supports. The party wants to push the labeling bill and no cracking under the pressure of major corporate suppliers who oppose it.
The three candidates rode the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority bus from Lenox to Pittsfield's Intermodal Transportation Center, where they heard from BRTA Assistant Administrator Robert Malnati on the region's public transportation.
The candidates set up outside North Adams Regional Hospital to kick off their tour.
A strong demand for increased evening and weekday service remain among the ongoing challenges for which the agency has had insufficient funding, Malnati said.
"Sixty-five percent of the population that we serve don't have a vehicle," Malnati told them, saying limitations in transportation availability was an obstacle to an economic development in an area increasingly dominated by jobs in the service industry.
Candidates expressed concerns about regional equality in transportation, as with health-care issues seen in their earlier NARH visit, and stressed that Berkshire residents must remain organized in order to effectively advocate for their needs.
"There's a saying that the quickest way that people give up their power is thinking they don't have any," said Merelice.
Green-Rainbow hopefuls said Berkshire County, which has seen high showings for their party in recent elections, is an important part of the upcoming election.
"We love this area," said Merelice. "It's important to identify your base."
Candidates said while the Green Rainbow party does have an overarching platform of core beliefs, they are touring the commonwealth to hear about each region's specific needs.
"Right now there's no candidate from the Berkshires running in our races, so it's important to come out and see what the Berkshires want and need," said Jackson.
The tour of the Berkshires led them to Pittsfield City Hall, where they submitted their nomination sheets to be on the ballot.
"We're calling this a listening launch," Merelise said of the daylong trip.
iBerkshires writers Tammy Daniels, Andy McKeever and Joe Durwin compiled this report.
Economic Talk Dominates Williamstown Selectmen's Race |
By Stephen Dravis On: 03:49AM / Monday April 21, 2014 ||
The four candidates for two seats on the Board of Selectmen focused on jobs at an election forum last week moderated by Anne Skinner.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The men who want a job with the Board of Selectmen think it's the job of that board to help bring jobs to the region.
If that sounds a little repetitive, then so was a candidates forum hosted Wednesday by the Williamstown League of Women Voters.
The four men vying for two open seats on the Board of Selectmen shared a platform built on economic development during air time on the town's community access television station.
The event, which ran for a little more than an hour and was moderated by chapter President Anne Skinner, focused almost entirely on how each of the candidates would help revive the local economy.
Hugh Daley, Gary Fuls, Andrew Hogeland and Jack Nogueira are on the ballot for the May 13 town election. Two of the four will win three-year terms on the five-person board.
Three of the candidates hit on the theme of economic development in their opening statement, and Skinner pressed them for more details about their ideas in that area with her first question of the night.
Hogeland suggested a collaborative approach that brings more voices from the town's business community and takes advantage of the successful strategies being employed in neighboring communities.
"We don't have a game plan for Williamstown at all to survive [population decline]," Hogeland said. "Anything we do has to be coordinated with our neighbors in North Adams and Pittsfield. I think if we do more branding, cross marketing, cooperative stuff throughout the area, we'll have a better chance."
Hogeland specifically identified the tourism and hospitality industries and talked about the town capitalizing on its two main assets: Williams College and the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute.
Daley agreed that tourism is a mainstay but argued there is a place for manufacturing in the town.
"Another Sprague Electric is not coming back," Daley said, referring to the North Adams industrial giant that was a mainstay of the local economy for generations. "But small niche manufacturing has a place. ... My company [Meehan Electronics in North Adams] is a small, 20-person shop working in the aerospace industry."
Daley said the Selectmen needs to start an economic development committee akin to other volunteer committees in town addressing specific issues, like agriculture and affordable housing.
"I would hope to be appointed to it," he said. "We have a ton of creative people in Williamstown. Everyone wants the same thing. We just have to tap into them and organize them."
Daley said the town needs to reach out to summer tourists and Williams alumni to try to get them to make Williamstown their home. He suggested the town partner with the college to promote economic opportunities in town in its alumni magazine.
"We are a company town," Daley said. "The company happens to be Williams College."
Fuls and Nogueira agreed the town needs to take a strategic approach and said it needs to look well beyond the town line to build the economic base.
"We need to come up with a marketing plan, an advertising plan not only for Williamstown but for Pittsfield, Lenox, North Adams and Adams to let people around the country know what we have to offer," Nogueira said. "If they come to Lenox, have them come a little further north and come see Williamstown."
"Right now, the Berkshire County Chamber of Commerce is working on bringing North County and South County together," Fuls said. "Again, you have to have a plan where if you have people coming to Lenox, you tell them, 'Hey, if you drive 40 minutes, you can go to the Clark or you can go see Williams College and walk around the campus.' "
Daley said the town has a strong potential partner in North Adams. Hogeland said Williamstown's neighbors to the east and south have the right idea.
"This town needs to spend more of its time and its personnel on economic development," he said. "You look at our neighbors, and they actually have people hired with job titles that have the words 'tourism' and 'development.'
"We need to put together a broad team of people from different disciplines. For me, that would be the prime initiative."
Part of that solution includes looking at ways to recruit "satellite businesses" that could partner with the town's two big non-profits, Hogeland said.
Even when Wednesday's forum turned to other topics, the conversation seemed to come back to jobs.
The closure of North Adams Regional Hospital and the uncertain future of health care in Northern Berkshire County is a hardship for town residents, the candidates agreed. But part of the solution may lie in creating new ways to access health care, some of the candidates said.
"I don't think we'll ever see a hospital in Williamstown ... but the town and the college needs to come together," Nogueira said. "They have a facility that serves their students. Maybe the town and the college should come together and put together something that serves the residents, too."
Fuls picked up on the idea and noted that new private practices or an urgent care clinic in North County would be, "another way to bring business here."
Likewise, the subject that has dominated the town's political conversation for the last two years — affordable housing — has an economic development dimension.
"We need to welcome people to come to Williamstown," Nogueira said. "I think this is what affordable housing is going to be doing ... allowing people who can't afford half-million dollar homes to come or the ones who are here and thinking of leaving Williamstown because they don't think there's anything here for them to stay."
Nogueira said Williamstown does not have enough space to develop a strong manufacturing base, but it should work with North Adams and Pittsfield as they grow their economies and create housing options in the Village Beautiful for those who take jobs in other Berkshire County municipalities.
And the future of Mount Greylock Regional School figures into the local economy, too.
"I've been thinking a lot about sustainability of the local economy and population changes," Daley said. "I believe we must focus on ways to stop the shrinking population and hopefully bring people back.
"That means creating an economy that has a job for them, a housing market that has a place for them to afford and an education system where they want to send their children."
If Mount Greylock goes ahead with a new or renovated building — or even if it doesn't — the cost of infrastructure at the school promises to be a challenge for whoever wins the Selectmen's races. That's a point not lost on Daley.
"At my core, I believe we should invest in schools, but we should balance that with the ability to pay," he said.
Adams Candidates Hold Forth at Maple Grove Forum |
By Tammy Daniels On: 03:11AM / Monday April 14, 2014 ||
Candidates attending Sunday's forum were, from left, Edward Driscoll, Melissa McGovern-Wandrei, George Haddad, Michael Ouellette, Barbara Ziemba, Kelley Rice and Jeffrey Snoonian; not pictured, Edmund St. John IV.
ADAMS, Mass. — Candidates for the town election pitched their platforms at the Maple Grove Civic Club on Sunday afternoon.
The club annually offers up one its monthly meetings at the PNA as an open election forum for any candidate wishing to attend.
Candidates running for selectman, Planning Board, town moderator, School Committee and treasurer/collector spoke this year.
Two-term incumbent Michael Ouellette is being challenged by newcomer Jeffrey Snoonian for a three-year seat on the Board of Selectmen.
Ouellette is a lifelong resident and property owner; Snoonian considers himself an "adopted son" who recently chose to settle here permanently after many years of visiting.
Ouellette has been active in a number of civic capacities, including 18 years as a town meeting member and currently as a delegate to the Metropolitan Planning Organization and member of the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority advisory committee.
A retired GE engineer, he's also worked in real estate development, including subdivisions in Adams and Lanesborough.
"I'm a working selectman, I'm not a rubber stamp," he told club members. "I look at everything before I vote."
Oullette stressed that he does his research before casting a vote to ensure actions are in the best interest of the town.
He also said he's been very active in seeking tenants and developers for the Memorial Middle School and Greylock Glen, and in advocating with state and federal officials, including the governor, on behalf of town projects.
"I do my homework and I put my heart into it, trying to make the best decision I can," he said.
He thinks the town should divest itself of properties when it can, including the middle school, work with school officials to make school budgets educationally as well as fiscally sound, and promote the development of the Greylock Glen, and possibly a disc golf course at the glen.
"I want to drive for regionalization where ever it is in the best interests of the town," he said. "We need to look at each aspect of it. It can provide better services at a cheaper cost."
Snoonian is a native of Lawrence who attended the University of Massachusetts with an Adams roommate who introduced him to the town more than 20 years ago.
"When I decided I where was going to spend the rest of my life I chose Adams," he said.
He has not served on civic committees or boards but said he was "not afraid to talk" and expects to be an active member of the board. "I probably open my mouth too much," he said. "I have a plan for being called out of order."
His background is in construction, having owned one contracting business and been a partner in another one. That has given him experience in fiscal responsibility, he said, as well as union negotiations.
"Adams biggest asset is it's a nice place to raise a family," he said. "There's a ton of cheap real estate here. Once you fill them, then people start looking to fill businesses."
Snoonian said he sold off his businesses because he felt government was intruding enough to make it difficult to operate.
"People have told me Adams is really a quagmire to open a business," he said, hoping to make it more business-friendly.
He, too, believes the town owns too much property and the middle school should be sold, but said he did not know enough about what the current situation.
Kelly F. Rice and Melissa McGovern-Wandrei are both running to complete the two years left on treasurer/collector post being vacated by Holly Denault. Both said they would expand some evening hours to accommodate residents.
Kelly F. Rice
Rice currently works in the community development office and has worked as an administrative assistant in various capacities for the town for 14 years.
She has been a resident for 31 years and property owner for seven, and a town meeting member and member of the Events Planning Committee.
"I think I have the qualifications for a smooth transition," she said. Rice did, however, say she would need more learning and time in the post to become a certified treasurer, which can take several years.
She said she is acquainted with the town's financial procedures and accounting software, does the payroll and records the bank statements for grants, among other duties.
In response to questions, she said she was familiar with the town's issues with the IRS (over misfiled pension documents) and a large backlog of unpaid taxes.
"I am a town resident and I'm very concerned about that also as a taxpayer," Rice said, but added she has to follow the state process to foreclose, which can take years.
"I look forward to strengthening the town any way I can," she said.
McGovern-Wandrei was raised in Clarksburg and is currently the appointed treasurer/tax collector in Clarksburg and the president of the Berkshire County Collectors & Treasurers Association.
She and her husband now live in Adams and their children attend the schools and they have been active with the football boosters.
McGovern-Wandrei was the elected tax collector for 15 years in Clarksburg; when several elected offices were in the process of changing to appointed, she worked as assistant treasurer in Lanesborough to begin certification in pursuit of the Clarksburg post.
She said the town could move quickly to collect delinquent taxes by placing liens at the beginning of the fiscal year to put pressure on homeowners and banks. It also prods homeowners into making repayment agreements.
"Put the lien in and explain that you won't act on the lien unless they don't make the payments you agree upon," McGovern-Wandrei. "Then you know if people really want to keep their house.
"We have a 3-5 percent collection rate in Clarksburg, which is very good."
She said there have been recording issues from the treasurer's office in Clarksburg predating her tenure that have been cleaned up.
"I love Adams and I would love to come in and help you straighten this out," she said.
Dennis A. Gajda and George J. Haddad are running for the three-year seat on the Board of Assessors. Only Haddad attended Sunday's forum.
Haddad said he was approached by several people asking him to run and decided to after speaking with the town assessor about the commitment.
"I think I can handle what could be done," said the former six-term selectman and interim town administrator.
Haddad said he was willing to take whatever classes or seminars required. "Whatever we're supposed to do we will do," he said.
Running unopposed are Edward Driscoll for moderator, Barbara Ziemba for a five-year term on hte Planning Board and Edmund R. St. John IV as the Cheshire delegate to the Adams-Cheshire Regional School Committee.
Each spoke a little about their duties and answered questions. Ziemba, who's served as a planner for 27 years, said two other members of her board have been on a similar length of time.
"I do not doubt there would be some vacancies sooner or later," she said, urging "new blood" to run for office.
Maple Grove officer Jeffrey Lefebvre thanked the candidates and asked voters to turn out for the election.
"I hear a lot of people griping, but when you get 15-20 percent voting it seems 80 percent are content and I know 80 percent are not content," said Jeffrey Lefebvre.
The town election is 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday, May 5. The deadline to register to vote is by 8 p.m. on April 15 at Town Hall.
The forum was also recorded by Northern Berkshire Community Television; check the schedule for show times.
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Cheshire: Election, May 5;
Clarksburg: Election, May 27, noon to 7; town meeting, June 18
Williamstown: Election, May 13, 7-8; town meeting, May 20, 7 p.m.
The cities of Pittsfield and North Adams will hold municipal elections for mayor, city council and school committee in 2015
You may vote absentee: if you will be absent from your town or city on election day, have a physical disability that prevents you from voting at the polls or cannot vote at the polls because to religious beliefs.
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