Saturday, July 30, 2011

She's Movin' On...


Today marks what would have been the 70th birthday of Larry Moore, my best friend since we were five years old. Unfortunately, Larry died December 19, 2003, following six-week stay in the Trauma Intensive Care Unit of a hospital in Las Vegas as a result of a motorcycle accident on his way home from that city. I've written about my friend many times since then. You can read one of those entries HERE.

During my long stay in Las Vegas I was joined by his girlfriend of ten years at that time - a lovely woman named Teri Johnson. She stayed with friends during that time and joined me at the hospital each day as we provided support to our friend and helped guide the outstanding medical team that was trying to pull him back to us.

Following Larry's death Teri remained close me and to his two daughters and his grandson, providing them with consolation and support over these past seven plus years. And, since she is young enough to be my daughter, she has also been looking for a new life partner.


Two months ago I was honored when she asked me to walk her down the aisle at her wedding to a wonderful guy named Pete Benesch - a man who looks and acts so much like my pal, Larry, that he could be his younger brother and who shares many of the great qualities that my friend possessed. He also works in public safety - the fire service - has two wonderful adult sons who were his co-best men at the wedding.


Lest you think it a little weird that he stood there that glorious morning watching Teri's former boyfriend's best friend walk her down the aisle, please understand that Pete is a VERY special guy. Not only does he understand the very special place Larry had in Teri's heart, but he embraced that common bond Teri and I share with my friend. Pete actually asked my permission to use a phrase in his wedding vows borrowed from a remembrance I wrote about my friend. As I said, Pete is a VERY special guy.

So, today, July 30, 2011, I'll celebrate my friend's birthday as I have done for more than 65 years, but this time with the knowledge that his lady is moving on with a wonderful man at her side. I know my friend is looking down on them today with love in his heart for them both.


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Friday, July 29, 2011

P.I.s, RFPs, E-Verify, Pillow Talk And More

Jon Cassidy in the Orange County Register, HERE, had a story on Thursday indicating that a private investigator has been tracking down high school students at their homes and interrogating them regarding the removal of "Cancel The Layoffs" signs around town. This has, as might be anticipated, caused a good deal of discussion around town since it appeared.

In the article Cassidy quotes Robert Murtha, Sr., father of Estancia football star Robert Murtha, Jr., when discussing the investigator, as saying, "The funny thing is that he actually told me that he was hired by the employees association." The investigator, identified as George Rowell, declined comment for Cassidy.

I've he
ard a rumor around town for a couple weeks that councilman Steve Mensinger, head of the Estancia boosters group, had offered $1.00 for each sign removed, but could not verify that information, so didn't report it. In the comment thread of Cassidy's story mention is made of that bounty - still not verified. Mensinger is quoted without attribution or verification, however, in another local blog of ill-repute as denying the bounty on the signs. Did Mensinger actually offer a buck a sign? I don't know. However, it sure wouldn't surprise me if, in passing, he made some flip comment about a bounty within earshot of some of those kids - who worship the ground on which he walks.

I do know that all the "Cancel The Layoffs" signs that Code Enforcement h
ave removed from public property were not taken to the corporate yard like other signs. They are all stored in a room at City Hall, awaiting owners to come in and pay the $15.00 fee for their retrieval. Since the signs cost about $5.00 to make, I doubt if many will be retrieved.

ersonally, I don't like seeing all those signs around town, nor do I like the pervasive and obnoxious pop-up adds that appear constantly on my computer with the same message. One portrays a combined image of the four male members of the city council and I'm REALLY getting tired of seeing their faces before me - a comment you may take literally and/or metaphorically.


As promised late last week, The City of Costa Mesa has re
leased three of the Requests for Proposals for units they are studying for possible outsourcing over the past couple days. Those units or functions are Video Production, Animal Control and Building Inspection. Those RFPs are available for review on the City web site in the "The Latest Headlines" block in the center of the page. The RFP for Jail Operations was previously distributed and will be discussed at the council meeting on Tuesday, August 2nd.

Now that these documents are beginning to flow from City Hall I've spent a little more time just thinking about what this initiative actually represents. For months there has been turmoil in the city and a lot of screaming back and forth between employees and council members, with hundreds of speakers standing before the council, expressing their views. During that interval, with volume on the rhetoric turned up, it was difficult to focus on the personal impact these RFPs will have on individual employees.

When I read the
RFP for the Video Production operations - basically Dane Bora and Brad Long - I found myself thinking about those two talented men, who devote so much of their lives performing their duties at a consistently high level. Because I've been paying close attention to city operations for nearly a decade both of them have been primary contacts. They helped me understand how to access streaming video, for example. I began to pay more attention to the "other stuff" they do - the Community Reports; City Talk; the youth sports coverage; the dozens of other special events that kept them from their friends and families. To me, they represent the best of what we've become accustomed to when interacting with city employees. They, along with many other employees, consistently perform "above and beyond". Every one of those RFPs carry with it the faces of many loyal, hard-working employees. I worry that we will lose that dedication if municipal operations are turned over to mercenaries.

Speaking of Tuesday's council meeting, which begins at 6:00 p.m. in City Council chambers, the agenda was released yesterday and included some provocative items. You can find the agenda on the City web site. There are no Public Hearings and no Old Business items, but there is fun awaiting the review of items under New Business.

For exampl
e, Item #1 is a request, HERE, from Costa Mesa Pop Warner to include the use of Jim Scott Stadium at Estancia High School as part of the Joint Use Agreement with the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, and includes a request for the City to pay up to $10,000 in fees, including a large chunk of unpaid fees from last year. As most know, Mensinger was "Mr. Pop Warner Football" in Costa Mesa, but the current roster of officials does not show him listed. His wife, Robin Mensinger, though, is listed as "League Ambassador". That relationship should disqualify Mensinger from participating in this discussion - we'll see if he follows the rules.


Regardless, it takes pretty large cojones to ask a city in "big financial trouble" to fork over fees for the use of a field that is not within its purview - and retroactively, at that! I'm really looking forward to the rationale for this one - other than the fact that Mensinger wants it, that is.

Item #3 is titled "Approval of Request for Proposal (RFP) Evaluation Process, HERE, which presents to the City Council the staff proposal for a methodology by which proposals submitted for potential outsourcing of operations will be evaluated. While certainly necessary, this seems just a little bit tardy, since the proposals for operating our Jail have already been received and scre
ened using some criteria and methodology already. In fact, that's the very next item on the agenda.

As mentioned, the next item on the agenda, HERE, are the two proposals in response to the RFP issued several weeks ago for the operations of the Costa Mesa Jail. Quite frankly, I'm baffled why this item is even on the agenda since neither of the proposals fully addressed the scope of work prescribed in the RFP. It seems to me that the staff should have gone back to the proposers and gotten sufficient information BEFORE presenting this to the council. These RFPs will take forever if the council is presented with incomplete information.


Item #5 is a request by Mayor Gary Monahan, HERE, for staff time to
research E-Verify, the federal program used to verify employment status. Apparently he wants to know how it can be used in the City employment process; including clauses in future contracts and sub-contracts with the city; requiring employers seeking new business licenses and renewals of business licenses to use E-Verify and any other potential alternatives the staff may discover during research. Yes sir, this is another business-unfriendly initiative that will cause potential business operators to pause when they think about Costa Mesa as a place to settle down.

Item #6 is one of
two bombshells councilwoman Wendy Leece has on the agenda Tuesday. This one, HERE, requests the staff to prepare documents to potentially reduce City Council members salary and benefits. While I think this is worth a conversation, nothing can be done with this council, even if they did approve a pay change. Pay changes for the city council may only take place following an election in which council members are selected. The next election - assuming there is no recall before then - is the General Election next year.


Item #7 is another request from Leece, HERE, this time to authorize staff time
to research the viability of a Costa Mesa Transparency and Accountability Reform Act, a draft of which, HERE, is included in the staff report. The discussion on this one is going to be VERY interesting. I found the section regarding Ex Parte Communications fascinating. Harkening back to the Pop Warner discussion, above, this ordinance would potentially require Mensinger to share all ex parte communications with his wife - this could be FUN!

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Jones & Mayer Tosses A Hot Potato

What did I say earlier today about not much happening at City Hall this week? WRONG! I should have known better.


Joe Serna, in a Daily Pilot article this evening, HERE, tells us that Assistant City Attorney Harold Potter of Jones & Mayer has estimated that the legal fees the city will rack up dealing with the lawsuit filed by the Costa Mesa City Employee's Association (CMCEA) will likely reach a quarter million dollars and may take two years to resolve. Yikes!

He also tells us that Jones & Mayer is tossing this hot potato to yet another firm, Hanson Bridgett LLP, a move that will almost double the hourly rate charged by Jones & Mayer. And, since this new firm is "San Francisco-based", one must assume we will be paying very significant travel and lodging expenses for their staff as they work on our case. Do you know any lawyers that stay at Motel 6 or eat at Carl's Jr.? Neither do I.

Let me see if I've got this right. Some council members have pointed to our
contract attorney - Jones & Mayer - as a great example of how well outsourcing can work. I remember the process by which they were selected and one of the reasons they were chosen was because they were a "full service" firm, with all the legal specialties normally associated with municipal government right there under their roof. At the time the City had it's own, in-house legal counsel, but we apparently frequently found ourselves having to contract with outside firms for litigation expertise. That was the big sell for outsourcing the legal department back then - the need for litigation expertise. So, our outsourced legal department is now outsourcing our work itself!


Jones & Mayer - a reputable firm by all reports - is presently billing us well over $100,000 per month. That rate, which, if we extended the last three months payments for a full year, would be $1.4 million annually. We budgeted $800,000 for the 2011-2012 budget year. And, on top of that, we will now be incurring higher fees yet because of this shift of responsibilities on the CMCEA case. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal for Jones & Mayer, who will certainly also have to provide some oversight on this lawsuit - all billable hours, of course.

Interim Communication
Director Bill Lobdell has advised me that comparing the legal department budget to the checks written each month is misleading because some of those amounts will be charged against the Self-Insurance Fund. However, after a couple weeks since I asked about it, nobody has provided me with any indication of which, if any, of the recent payments will be charged to that account.


Is anybody els
e a little nervous about this? And, more important, is this the kind of experience we can expect from other outsourced operations? Can we expect firms to bid on the other 18 operations being considered for outsourcing to give us a nice, low, cost-effective price for the service, then end up billing us for "extras" that will blow our budget out the window? Is this what Jim Righeimer and Steve Mensinger mean when they say our city "should be run like a business"? Geez, I sure hope not.


Oh, yes. Lest we forget... it was Righeimer's political ambition that gave us this whole "outsourcing" fiasco in the first place. Now we hav
e a very, very significant legal expense staring us in the face because he wanted to show his pals in the OC GOP that he was a "pension reformer". This is the kind of government you get when you elect political hacks and major municipal decisions are hammered out on soggy bar napkins by bogus "committees".

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It's the beginning of the summer doldrums, with not a lot happening at Costa Mesa City Hall this week. The only City Council meeting of August will happen on Tuesday, August 2nd. We're told it will have a full agenda. The council voted to cancel the meeting of the 16th - not sure why.

Last week we wer
e told that "several" of the outsourcing RFPs will finally be released to the public this week. We'll believe it when we see it. Among the many unfortunate moves made by the current administration, the delay in producing the RFPs after making such a big deal of it four months ago may be among the most disappointing. Since that fateful day in March, when the layoff notices were issued, employees of the City of Costa Mesa have been looking over their shoulders. They've found themselves attacked by the leaders of this city and their sycophants as "greedy union thugs" and are working in a hostile environment caused by the ignorance of municipal governance and micro-managing by council members.

Despite promises of frequent updates of the list of RFPs, there was a two-month gap in updating the list. It was finally updated last week after some not-too-gentle prodding. That update showed that the process has now stretched until the end of the year, and I expect those dates will slip some more as the process bogs down. If the City releases a half-dozen RFPs, the responses to those will come flooding back at about the same time, forcing the same staffers who created the RFPs to become part of the review process. It's going to be like a python eating a small dog, or, actually, several small dogs. The bulge(s) in the work flow will necessarily cause the processes to slow down.


Of course, all of this is completely unnecessary. The only driving force for all this chaos is th
e political ambitions of one man - Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer. He campaigned as a "pension reformer", but can't do a thing about Costa Mesa pensions because the contracts with the bargaining units stretch beyond his term. So, the "next best thing" for him to do is flush those employees who will receive the pensions, like pushing the plunger on a toilet. So, he fabricates a fiscal crisis and cooks up the "outsourcing" fiasco. His actions have already caused many senior staffers - those with the institutional knowledge and skills developed over decades on the job - to either retire early or seek employment in a less-hostile environment elsewhere. Only Public Works Director Peter Naghavi remains from those department heads on the job a year ago.


Over the past several months, when speaker after speaker would address the folly of this council during Public Comments and while addressing specific issues before the council, Righeimer and his majority on the council either ignored the speakers or, in many instances, snapped back at the criticisms. During this time Righeimer has frequently dismissed those speakers as not being representative of the view of the majority of residents - those who can't be bothered to come speak at meetings. He apparently felt that the 12,997 votes he received last November gave him a mandate to run roughshod over the city.

Well, last night at the Concerts In The Park in Fairview Park Righeimer may have had his eyes opened. When the Master of Ceremonies, former councilman Mike Scheafe
r, mentioned to the thousands of folks attending the concert that Righeimer was in the crowd that introduction was greeted by sparse applause - a few people scattered throughout the throng. One observer said, "You could hear a pin drop!"And, it is reported to me, that he also got into a shouting match with a long-time resident and community activist - a woman highly respected in the community for her tireless volunteerism and for her willingness to speak to the council on important issues. So, how's that "mandate" working out for you now, Jim?

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Studying Combined Services Not A Done Deal - Yet

It seems the City of Costa Mesa may have jumped the gun just a little bit when it announced, through a press release by Interim Communication Director Bill Lobdell last week, HERE, that plans were in the works to pay for a consultant to study the possible amalgamation of certain city services with Huntington Beach and Newport Beach.


According to a report by former Fountain Valley Mayor Gus Ayer in the Surf City Voice today, HERE, the Huntington Beach City Council has yet to officially bless this plan and the expenditure of the doll
ars involved. According to the Huntington Beach City Clerk's office, it is expected to consider it at its next meeting on Monday, August 1st. If Huntington Beach approves it, there is a likelihood that the studies will begin immediately and might be finished in four to five months.

I've contacted the City of Newport Beach to find out if these studies have already been approved in their city. So far, no reply to my inquiries has been received.

According to Lobdell today, t
he Costa Mesa City Council is aware of Hatch's plan for this study and is "OK with it", even though it has not been discussed in an open forum of which we are aware. Apparently the decision to proceed with such a study falls within the purview of Hatch's job and he has the discretionary authority to disperse the funds necessary. Lobdell tells me these funds will come from budgeted salary accounts in which positions have not yet been filled. We've got a lot of those these days, which is how we're paying for so many consultants at City Hall.

Personally, I don't have a problem with this study - it makes some sense to evaluate ou
r options. What does bother me, though, is the fact that the same consultant - Management Partners - spent several months evaluating the Costa Mesa Police Department and presented a report to the council outlining their recommendations for a bare-bones re-structuring. That report was promptly and resoundingly ignored and the council approved an even more stark staffing level. Not only did the council ignore Management Partners, but it also ignored an earlier report by then-Interim Police Chief Steve Staveley - a legend in state-wide law enforcement circles. Following the council's decision to ignore Management Partners Staveley resigned and left in his wake a scathing indictment of this council that still resonates throughout City Hall and the community today.

In his ess
ay Ayers asks the question, "Why would any city want to partner with Costa Mesa on a study right now?" As you will see when you read it, he goes on to outline several reasons why ANY city might pause before engaging in such a partnership with Costa Mesa right now. Such is our reputation within the community of cities that form Orange County these days.

If these studies do proceed I hope the scope of work for them - not avai
lable for public review at this time - will provide direction to "drill deep enough" this time. The police restructuring study was a "high level" study that apparently didn't provide enough detail for some council members. That, of course, was not Management Partners' fault - it was ours for not describing the scope of work adequately. With this council, that's the way they operate - they take an opinion and try to create facts to support it.

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Monday, July 25, 2011

Please Help Find Jim Halaszyn - DONE!

Shortly after 9 tonight word was received that Jim Halaszyn was found this evening, was taken home and has received his medications and food and is doing well. Thanks to all of you who kept your eyes open for him today. Good job!


I don't consider this blog a venue for "lost and found", but a very serious situation exists in our city and some of our neighbors need your help.

The following is a message from Holly Peterson requesting help locating her former husband, Jim Halaszyn. The message is self explanatory.

Jim Halaszyn

From: Holly Petersen []
Sent: Sunday, J
uly 24, 2011 4:42 PM
Subject: Jim Halaszyn is missing. Please pass the word

Hello, My name is Holly. My former husband Jim and I were parish members 11 years ago. At that time Jim sustained a traumatic brain injury. I am sending you this email to ask for your help. 2 nites ago Jim crawled out a window at his group home and has been missing since then. I have been send this discreption to the local papers and news out lets.

Sunday 7/24/11 12:30 pm A family member named Jim Halaszyn (Pronounced Halashin) with a traumatic brain injury and short term memory loss walked away from his group home in Costa Mesa in the middle of the night,2 nights ago and is now missing. He takes anti- seizure meds 3 times daily. Without these meds he will probably have a grand mal seizure. He is confused and doesn't remember where he lives. He has no money with him. He does have I.D which reflects his old address In South Huntington Beach. The police in Orange county have been notified. There are no recent pictures of him. He is 60 years old, 5'11", Weighs 130. He has brown with some gray, thinning collar length hair. Gray beard. Sunken eyes. There is a large dent upper left side of his forehead due to brain surgery. He knows his name. He is wearing Levi's, an unknown color tee shirt,and old brown topsider shoes. He was last seen In the area near Fairview and Adams across from Orange Coast College. This is where his group home is located. Please could you put the word out his family is looking for him. If anyone sees him please contact the Costa Mesa Police Dept. Call Lucy at 949-720 -1887 or cel. 949-468-5557 for further information. Please help us find him. Thank you.

If you could let people know from the Alter during mass to keep an eye out for him, his son Alex and I would be forever grateful. We don't have any idea where he could have gone. Due to his brain injury we cant tell what he knows or remembers, but I believe he is lost now and can't find his way back. Please pray for him. I now live in Phoenix Az. but my family and the police have been out looking for him. If anyone sees him contact the police .
Thank you. Holly Halaszyn Petersen

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Friday, July 22, 2011

What Is Talon Up To?

WHAT'S THE STORY ON TALON?I received some disquieting news this morning. It seems that representatives of Talon Executive Services, the high-profile security firm retained by Jones & Mayer a month ago, HERE, to investigate the death of Huy Pham in anticipation of potential litigation, have been nosing around city facilities performing some kind of a security assessment.
I contacted Interim Communication Director Bill Lobdell for information about this. He checked with CEO Tom Hatch and was told that during the investigation into Pham's death members of Talon's staff noticed what they described as "security lapses". According to Lobdell, upon hearing those concerns Hatch asked Talon to "provide, for free, an overview on what additional security measures should be added and the estimated cost". Hatch will then "decide how to proceed, if at all, based on factors such as cost, how specialized is the project, how urgently it is needed and which recommended measures he believes are needed".
NO DATES SET YETLobdell summarized this situation as follows: "Talon is giving the City a free proposal on how to enhance security. Hatch will decide the next steps (bid, no-bid, RFP, some combination of the three or leave security as is) after he receives and reviews the recommendations." No date for the completion of this assessment was given, nor was a date given for Hatch's decision regarding this security situation.

This is bo
thersome for a couple reasons. At last Tuesday's council meeting, when they finally got around to the Consent Calendar very, very late in the evening - after 90% of the audience had long since departed - there was heated discussion on a couple items dealing with single-source contracts - Lobdell and GrowthPort Partners. Both had received no citizen awareness nor oversight before they were signed, sealed and delivered and have subsequently evolved into much more lengthy - and costly - assignments. Lobdell has been extended through the end of this year. GrowthPort Partners was extended through June of 2012. In this case, it's not entirely clear whether Hatch will simply choose to retain Talon to perform whatever security enhancements they feel are necessary or whether he will generate an RFP to open the requirement for public bidding.
Also, the expansion of the Talon Executive Services activities in the city, based only on what I know at this time, reeks of Big Brotherism. It has become well known that the current city council majority does not trust the city employees and CEO Hatch. We know this because Hatch told a meeting of members of the Costa Mesa Police Department that very thing in very unambiguous language. He said, "They don't trust us. They don't trust you and they don't trust me."


I want to know the scope of Talon's new assignment. I want to know just how far-reaching
this "security assessment" will be. I want to know whether telephones will be tapped - I've already heard rumors about that - and whether regular monitoring of city email correspondence will be taking place. I want to know if listening devices will be placed in offices. I want to know if there will be security guards at each facility and whether our municipal facilities will become lock-down sites, where security badges must be shown and metal detectors passed through. I want to know if our municipal employees will be working as though they are in prison, where the warden(s) are the City Council. I want to know all of that and more.

TALON AMPLIFY THE HOSTILE WORK ENVIRONMENT?This council has already created a hostile work place by anyone's definition. There was an attempt during the budget process to implement some kind of a computerized time clock situation. That initiative failed to receive budgetary support, but it's an indicator of the mindset of this council. Will the result of Talon's "free" assessment be an even more onerous work environment?

It became very clear last Tuesday that the current city council majority
is tired of criticism and will use every legal means possible - and try to use some illegal means, as well - to stifle dissent from residents and other concerned parties during public meetings. By juggling the agenda Mayor Gary Monahan effectively quashed a large part of the public comments - most folks just couldn't wait until nearly midnight to speak and express their concerns and grievances. The exclamation point on Monahan's feelings was his ham-handed attempt to forbid resident Terry Koken from presenting his most recent observations to the council in the form of a song. He has done that twice before, so there's a precedent for it. Instead, Monahan badgered him and forced him to speak the lyrics to his song instead of singing them. He would not have permitted that if contract City Attorney Tom Duarte had not intervened. Monahan was ready to have Koken dragged from the council chambers - shades of Benito Acosta - and would have almost certainly exposed the city to yet another lawsuit.

TOO MANY CONTRACTORS AT CITY HALLWe have way, way too many consultants prowling City Hall these days. As one speaker observed Tuesday, "Who are these people?" If you look at the current budget, on the page that lists the senior management staff of the city and compare it to the same page in last year's budget you will find only one name on both - Public Services Director Peter Naghavi. All the rest of the "command staff" - those charged with making short and long range decisions to guide our city - are either contractors or other "interim" staffers. Most of these folks, while probably skilled professionals, have no long-term obligation or loyalty to our city and its well-being. They are basically mercenaries - hired guns given a mess to handle, who then ride off into the sunset without looking back over their shoulders.


Early this year I joked that the current city council's idea of a perfect city staff would be Tom Hatch and a half-dozen contract administrators. I thought it was funny at the time. Since that seems to be the way we're headed, it doesn't seem to be all that humorous today.

I understand the p
ressure Hatch is under these days. The council majority, ramrodded by Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer, is running roughshod over our city and have absolutely no clue about the legal and ethical requirements of running a municipality. Hatch serves at their pleasure and a 9-month severance package is not much solace in today's economy. They demand he find budget dollars where there is none, then add more requirements that take staff to accomplish. They tell him he's doing a great job, then just load more work on his back with no resources to accomplish it.

The outsourcing RFP's may be the best example of that. We are four months into the six-
month notice period required by the bargaining unit contract and most of the RFP's have not even been released yet. There is virtually no way for them to be released, received back and analyzed sufficiently before September 17th - the date most non-public safety employees anticipate losing their jobs.

I'm worried that this r
ecent revelation about the "security lapses" and subsequent retention of Talon Executive Services to provide an assessment may lead to an even more dictatorial approach to governance in our city. I'm worried that those employees who are left will find it harder to do their jobs with outsiders peeking over their shoulders.


Incidentally, Lobdell tells me that the investigation by Talon into Pham's death is complete, but the report has not yet been provided. When asked when that will happen he said, "Soon". That was it.. no further explanation or date. So, we wait.

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