Monday, January 30, 2012

Important Study Session Tomorrow

Tomorrow, Tuesday, January 31st, the Costa Mesa City Council will hold a VERY important study session in the council chambers beginning at 4:30 p.m. Public comments are much more limited in Study Sessions - a maximum of 15 minutes is provided for ALL speakers and no comments will be permitted following the discussion of the issues.

Finance and Information Technology Director Bobby Young will guide the discussion
tomorrow. The issues to be discussed are 1) Review of Financial and Budget Policies and 2) 5-Year Financial Forecast and Capital Reinvestment Strategy. I expect the discussion to be lively because City finances have been the cornerstone of much of the unpleasantness created by this City Council over the past nearly a year.


The staff report for the Review of Financial and Budget Policies may be read HERE. This is very important because it presents a way to codify certain mandatory requirements, including a Minimum Fund Balance Reserve; a Minimum Cash Balance and an Emergency Fund Balance Reserve.

In addition, the disc
ussion will also cover General Revenue Management, including how to maintain a diversified and stable revenue base; forecasting general revenue; how to manage one-time revenues and annual user fees and charges.

They will also cover the adoption of appropriation limits; budgetary contro
l, Capital Budget policies including a minimum percent of the General Fund budget for capital expenditures. And there will be a discussion of Debt Issuance and - the elephant in the room - Unfunded Liability.

The second segment will cover the Five Year Financial Forecast and Capital Reinvestment Strategy, the staff report for which can be found HERE.


This is also a VERY important issue and the staff will look
to the City Council to provide suggestions about future priorities. The staff has provided a comprehensive look at the past decade to help the council focus on the future.

I am among those who have no small degree of difficulty understanding the complexity of municipal finance management, regardless how patient the finance staff has been with me over the years. However, these issues are so important - and the responses the council will give to this data are so important to measure their true intentions for our city - that I'm going to pop a few No-Doze, splash some water on my face and try to follow the discussion. And, I'll try to present this information to you later.


However, since this meeting will be held in Council Chambers, CMTV will televise it live on Channel 24 (Time Warner Cable) and Channel 99 (ATT U-Verse) and will also be streamed live on the city web site.

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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Commentaries Worth Your Attention

This weekend, the tail-end of a relatively slow news week in Costa Mesa when compared to the past several months, two commentaries appeared in our local newspaper of record, The Daily Pilot, written by two Costa Mesa residents that, individually and together, require your attention.

Last Thursday afternoon, January 26th, a commentary by Crissy Brooks - co-founder and executive director of Mika Community Development Corp., a faith-based nonprofit in Costa Mesa, where she lives - titled "How do we avoid doing nothing?" was published in the Daily Pilot online and appeared Friday morning in print You can read the complete commentary HERE.

I read it the first time online. In fact, I read it a couple times, because I found myself wondering how such a young woman has managed to acquire such wisdom.

As you will see when you read it through, she addresses the conundrum faced by many people in our city and elsewhere - how do you affect change if you "do nothing"? There were many very interesting observations made by Brooks, whose father, Dave, is currently president of the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, and I want to highlight just a couple of them for you.

The first phrase that caught my eye was:
"The problem is that while we are doing nothing, something is happening. City charters are being drafted, neighbors are being laid off."

Later she said:
"Decisions are being made to shape the way we are governed every day and most of us are quiet, doing nothing. Doing nothing in 2012 will not be neutral. Nothing results in something, and in the case of the city charter, it will have long-term effects on the shape and future of Costa Mesa."

And further on she said:
"Whatever we do, we have to do something. To do nothing is not nothing. To do nothing is to add to the confusion and brokenness from which we seek to be free."

I suspect many of you will agree with her observations, but will you "do something"?


Then, Saturday evening, January 28th, a Community Commentary by Costa Mesa resident Robert Murtha, titled, " We can all unite around a good cause" appeared online and also in print in the Sunday edition of the Daily Pilot. You can read it HERE. You will likely remember that name, but you're probably thinking of his son, also Robert Murtha, the star running back for the past couple years on the Estancia High School football team.

Robert, the elder, is very active in youth sports and, through those activities, he's become very close to non-elected councilman Steve Mensinger. In fact, a year ago, when Mensinger was appointed, he stood before the city council to praise him. To say they are tight would be a major understatement. It is that closeness that makes his commentary so extraordinary.

Murtha recounts for us his experiences at the recent Mesa Verde Golf Classic, which was hosted by Costa Mesa United. He tells us of the trepidation he had when rolling up on members of the Costa Mesa City Employees Association, who were staffing on of the many booths around the course. Apparently expecting to be shunned by the group, instead he gives us this quote: "I was waiting for the whispers to each other, cold shoulder, even maybe some eye rolling with a few OMGs. But instead, I was offered a hot dog, a drink, thank yous and a hug or two."


He recounted another incident that day that also pleasantly surprised him. I'll let you read about it in the article.

Near the end of his commentary he gives us this observation: "For the sake of our future, I hope we can all get past our differences, move forward and show the friendship and respect I received that day."


So, why do I write about this tonight? Well, for a year members of our City Council have attempted to paint members of the various employee organizations as greedy, self-serving union thugs, unwilling to work with the City to try to resolve our perceived fiscal distress. They went so far as to launch a mass-layoff scheme, which they botched and it resulted in a lawsuit against the City.

This new council has kept up a pace that has made it very difficult for employees to do their jobs while trying to formulate the Outsourcing Requests for Proposal that would be the cornerstone of the scheme for them to lose their jobs. The headcount has dropped by more than 25% and the Police Department is being forced to try to do the job of keeping us all safe with staffing levels rejected by both the City's paid expert consultants and former interim Police Chief Steve Staveley. Staveley was so distressed by the council's stubbornness that he quit and left behind him a scathing letter denouncing some of the council members.

The council has manipulated numbers to fabricate a "fiscal crisis", which pivoted on their proclamation of an "unsustainable unfunded pension liability", as though the City would be expected to fork over all those dollars next Friday. Those inaccurate buzz words served only to inflame the casual observer.

What amused me was the obvious surprise expressed by Murtha in his commentary when he was not, in fact, shunned by those city employees. He is so tight with Mensinger and his pals that he certainly expected them to react like he carried the plague - but they didn't. They embraced him and reacted the way they've reacted to every obstacle placed before them over the past dozen months - they've just put their shoulders to the wheel and continued to do their jobs the best they could.


I'm proud of both Crissy Brooks and Robert Murtha for expressing their frank views in these two commentaries and hope we all learn from each of them. Certainly, as Brooks suggests, more residents need to get involved - at least pay attention to what's going on in our city. And Murtha makes it clear that folks on the opposite side of an issue are not necessarily evil. Good lessons for us all.

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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Need A Smile? "Chuckmeister" Obliges

Sometimes the "news of the day" just leaves you wishing for a little more levity in your life, right?


Well, as I've reminded you many times in the past, my old pal, Chuck Cassity, always provides a little comic relief on his blog, Chuckmeister Unleashed. . His most recent contribution to the enlightenment of our populace is certainly no exception. You can read it HERE.

So, take a couple minutes and chuckle along with Chuck (and me). Have a great weekend.

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Friday, January 27, 2012

Leaders Volunteer Maximum Pension Rate(Amended)***

City of Costa Mesa Communication Director Bill Lobdell issued a press release Friday afternoon announcing that the city's top leaders have volunteered to pay 39% of their pension costs. The text of that press release is below:

City of Costa Mesa leaders volunteer to pay 39% of their pension costs, one of the highest employee contributions in the state

COSTA MESA, Calif. - The top leaders for the City of Costa Mesa have volunteered to pay 39% of their pension costs—the highest rate possible—saying they need to set the example of contributing their full retirement share to help insure the city’s finances are sustainable. The employee contribution will be one of the highest in California for public workers.

“We don’t know of any city in the state where public employees are contributing this high of a percentage to their pensions,” Mayor Gary Monahan said. “It makes me very proud that Costa Mesa’s leadership team is leading the way when it comes to pension reform. This is a landmark for Costa Mesa and its residents.”

The move to increase pension contributions will affect eight city executives, including Chief Executive Officer Tom Hatch, Assist. Chief Executive Officer Rick Francis, Economic Development Director Peter Naghavi, Police Chief Tom Gazsi, Finance Director Bobby Young, interim Public Services Director Ernesto Munoz, and interim Development Services Director Khanh Nguyen.

Interim Fire Chief Tom Arnold is not paying into the retirement system and will be unaffected, but his successor will pay his or her full pension share.

The estimated annual taxpayer savings from the increase contributions, including the fire chief’s share, is more than $50,000.

Non-public safety executives are currently paying 31.49% their pension costs. The contribution increase will go into effect as soon as it’s approved by the City Council, likely at its Feb. 7 meeting.

Police Chief Gazsi currently pays 11.61% of his pension costs (as do other Costa Mesa police officers), with the City picking up the remaining 88.39%. Police officers are allowed to pick up 48.633% of the cost of their pensions. Gazsi and CEO Hatch are currently working on a plan to move the police chief toward this maximum contribution level.

When hired, the new fire chief will immediately begin paying 49.32% of the cost of his or her pension, if the City Council approves the increase in employee contributions. Currently, the fire chief would be paying 12.92% of his pension costs, with the City would be picking up the remaining 87.08%).

Recently, due to an expired clause of a labor agreement, Costa Mesa firefighters (excluding battalion chiefs) dropped from paying 12.92% of their pension costs to paying 2.15%. The City now pays 97.85%. In real terms, the firefighters now pay $103,000 annually to their pensions, and the city pays $4.7 million

In recent negotiations, the City has asked the firefighters to pay the 29.92% of their pension costs.

“Our leadership team felt like we couldn’t be asking employees to make their full pension contribution unless we did it first,” said Chief Executive Officer Tom Hatch. “In these times, it was the right thing to do for our City and its residents.”

However, others feel this announcement left out some important details. For example, Jennifer Muir, Communication Director for the Orange County Employee Association, sent this comment in response to the press release: The true leaders in Costa Mesa, the City’s rank and file employees, have been paying nearly 40 percent of their pension costs for years. And we’re supposed to be celebrating that the City’s leadership is following that great example? I guess it’s better late than never.”

Saturday afternoon Communication Director Bill Lobdell sent me an email refuting the "facts" provided (above) by Jennifer Muir. Here's what he wrote to me:
"Muir is flat out wrong.

1. Until now, all general employees -- managers and rank-and-file -- made the made the exact same contribution. This fiscal year it's 31.5% of the total pension costs.

2. Muir apparently used LAST fiscal year's numbers, when ALL non-safety employees paid about 38% of their pensions. But pension costs went up this year and the employee contributions stayed the same, reducing the percentage paid by employees down to 31.5.

By the way, Muir knew her information was wrong late Friday afternoon because the Register and Voice of OC reporters told her, but I guess she didn't bother to correct it with you.

Only Muir could take what is a positive step forward for the City and is residents and, using false information, twist it into something divisive."
So, the beat goes on...

OK, this is it now on this post on this subject. Jennifer Muir read Bill Lobdell's reply and offers the following rebuttal. This will be the last entry on this post on this subject... it's getting too complicated to follow. Anyhow, here's Jennifer's comment from today, Monday, January 30th:

"Bill Lobdell is correct that I was using last year’s PERS rate when I emailed you. I only realized later that the rate had subsequently changed. That said, the employees demonstrated true leadership when they agreed to that contribution level in 2010 – a level that is virtually the same as what executives are agreeing to now. The only reason managers and executives shared the same contribution rate back then is because CMCEA employees led the way by negotiating those contribution levels. I pointed that out to you because it’s deeply disappointing to employees when the City’s media machine consistently fails to acknowledge efforts and sacrifices the rank and file have made these past several years. Plainly, that is what’s been divisive."

Also missing in this dialogue is that fact that - despite mention being made of recent negotiations with the firefighters - as I understand it, no overture has been made by City management to ANY of the individual bargaining units during the past 12 months requesting a discussion of modifications to the current pension rates. Instead, the elected (and appointed) leaders of the city have chosen to create a hostile, adversarial atmosphere and attempted to violate their own rules by issuing premature layoff notices to nearly half the staff.


While this gesture by the top leaders in the city is certainly noteworthy and is much appreciated, the reported $50,000 savings to the city represents only a drop in the bucket. It is hoped that the C
ity management will actively engage the bargaining units in sincere, meaningful discussions about pension contributions, and do it soon. It is my understanding that each of the individual units would welcome those kind of conversations. I guess we'll see...

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An Honor Bestowed And PacAmp Amplified

It was a busy afternoon in Costa Mesa yesterday.


First, at 4:30 I joined more than fifty other people at the f
ormer Farm Sports Complex as it was dedicated to local hero and municipal legend, Jack R. Hammett.
Hammett, a former mayor and Pearl Harbor Survivor, has been inst
rumental in many of the early-day accomplishments Costa Mesa experienced. He has been a municipal leader for more than five decades and a mentor to many.
He was honored by residents, family, friends, fellow World War II patriots and politicians. During the nearly one-hour long ceremony many rose to praise Hammett for his many contributions to our community. Among those present were Mayor Gary Monahan, Ma
yor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer, council members Steve Mensinger and Wendy Leece. Eric Bever was a no-show. I also saw Planning Commissioner Jim Fitzpatrick and Parks and Recreation Commissioners Jeff Mathews, Ethan Temianka and Kim Pederson. About-to-be-lame-duck Assemblyman Allan Mansoor showed up festively dressed in what looked like pajama tops, indicating that he just got off a plane from Sacramento.
Brad Long of Costa Mesa Television was scampering around, camera in hand, so we can probably expect to see some good coverage of this very nice event.


I went directly from the dedication to the Fairgrounds for an "open house/workshop" on the proposed modifications of the Pacific Amphitheater. Soon-to-be-former-CEO of the Fairgrounds, Dr. Steve Beazley, guided a presentation of the initial proposals for the modifica
tions planned. He emphasized that they are in the very initial stages of this process - they just hired an architectural firm from Los Angeles - and that this meeting would certainly not be the only one.

Beazley fielded most of the questions from concerned residents - the room was packed to capacity, around 80 - and admitted that he didn't have all the answers yet. He did encourage any resident to call him for a one-on-one conversation, but was pressed to give a broader
presentation than I think he anticipated. He did tell us that the Board anticipates spending $4.5 million on the proposed changes and that any construction would not start until August, after the Fair has ended, and would be completed before next year's Fair. More meetings are anticipated this spring.

The meeting commenced a little late because the Fai
r Board had not yet finished its Closed Session. When they did come out and adjourn their meeting, many members stuck around and, at one point, were polled by one member of the audience on their individual commitment to retaining the same sound restrictions currently in place. Each said, one way or the other, that they supported the current sound level restrictions. It was of interest that members Kristina Dodge, Dale Dykema and Dave Ellis were not present. I didn't see Ellis at all, and Dykema and Dodge skipped out after their closed session.

Many residents in attendance asked questions that implied concern about ANY changes at the Fairgrounds with just a recognizable tinge of distrust in the Boa
rd. Of course, that's understandable considering the events of the past couple of years. In fact, one member of the audience asked about the noise restraints in the event the Fairgrounds is sold. Beazley did a wonderful tap-dance around that one and never did answer the question.

Now the architects will huddle with the Fairgrounds sound expert, Gary Hardesty, and work together to come up with a final design. More meetings will be held, according to Beazley - assuming he's around.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Shiver In Republican Indiana

A friend forwarded me a link to the web site of the Lunchpail Republicans, a group of my fellow Republicans in Indiana who feel disenfranchised by their party leaders and have decided to do something about it. You can find their site HERE. But, before you click on that link, take a minute to read the rest of this entry and watch the video clip at the bottom.


As I read the information on their site, including the comments and
commentaries they've published and viewed the video clips they've included, I began to feel a kindred spirit with these folks. The reasons they've created this organization rings with much familiarity. They felt disenfranchised by their Republican leaders - very much the way more than a few of us Republicans here in Orange County feel about the way Scott Baugh and his band of merry miscreants are trying to guide the game here. Much of the rhetoric used in Indiana is exactly what is being said here in Orange County - particularly the bogus anti-union claims.


The site includes several video clips, as you will discover when you visit it. However, I've embedded one that made a big impression on me for your viewing pleasure. I'll look forward to your comments.

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Meetings Today and Tomorrow

In case you've forgotten, the Costa Mesa Parks and Recreation Commission under the guidance of Chairman Jeff Mathews meets this evening at 6:00 in City Council Chambers at City Hall. They have a slim agenda and only meet every other month, so if you want to see them in action go to City Hall or watch the meeting televised live on CMTV - Channel 24 (Time Warner Cable) or Channel 99 (ATT U-Verse).


the Orange County Fair Board holds its monthly meeting, but this one has been re-scheduled to 3:30 so folks attending can transition seamlessly to the Open House/Workshop about the modifications planned for the Pacific Amphitheater that's being held at the Fairgrounds Administration building beginning at 6:00. That subject has been a lightning rod for controversy over the years. You can read about that meeting HERE.

I suppose we might hear more information about the pending departure of Fair CEO Dr. Steven Beazley, who announced his retirement from State service recently.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

NMUSD Board Fires Hubbard

In a closed session late this afternoon the trustees of the Newport-Mesa Unified School District voted unanimously to fire convicted felon, Dr. Jeffrey Hubbard, from his position as superintendent of the district. According to the report by Fermin Leal and Tony Saavedra in the Orange County Register, HERE, the action is retroactive to Monday, January 23rd.

According to coverage provided by Britney Barnes in the Daily Pilot, HERE, indicates that Hubbard will still be eligible for his pension but, because he was fired before turning 55 - his birthday is Thursday - the amount will be significantly less. Trustee Judy Franco is quoted by Barnes as saying, "If the district had fired him without cause before he was convicted, Hubbard would have been entitled to 18 months of pay." The Register article calculates that his pension, based on his salary of $305,920 annually, w
ill be $119,920.

Deputy Superintendent Paul Reed will act as superintendent until March 5th, or until an interim leader can be found, according to Barnes. (Daily Pilot Photo)

There is no doubt that the Hubbard incident has been a major distraction for the school district for more than a year. While I hope - with his conviction and the board's decision to fire him - teachers, students and parents will be able to re-focus on the job at hand - educating the more than 20,000 students in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District. However, I do fear that this sad event will linger in the minds of all for some time. I certainly hope the trustees will make a wise decision on Hubbard's replacement... the district deserves it.

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More Trouble For Local Pot Dispensaries

As most of you know, recently several so-called "medical marijuana dispensaries" in Costa Mesa - and the residences of their operators - were raided, the operators jailed and the "product" confiscated. That meant significant financial trouble for each of them, but it appears their trouble is just beginning.

The following is a press release issued by the United States Attorney's office last week that outlines the aggressive enforcement of federal drug laws as they pertain to marijuana stores state-wide, with special emphasis on our recent local activity. I've added some highlighting for emphasis. It seems to me that the nearly four dozen such establishments purported to be currently operating in our city may be re-evaluating their business model.


Federal Enforcement Actions Directed At Marijuana Stores Continue with Four New Property Forfeiture Lawsuits and Warning Letters

January 18, 2012

LOS ANGELES – As part of a continuing, coordinated effort against commercial marijuana operations in California that started last fall, federal prosecutors over the past week have filed four asset forfeiture lawsuits against properties housing marijuana storefronts in Los Angeles and Orange counties and have sent warning letters to property owners and operators of illegal marijuana stores in several Southland cities.

Three asset forfeiture complaints against buildings in Costa Mesa where marijuana stores are currently ope rating were filed this morning in United States District Court in Los Angeles. Prosecutors this morning also sent letters to marijuana store operators and to the owners of properties where nearly two dozen marijuana stores currently operate in Costa Mesa.

The three forfeiture actions filed today allege that the owners knowingly allowed marijuana stores to operate. The Costa Mesa buildings named in the forfeiture lawsuits house: three marijuana stores currently operating at 440 Fair Drive, where the owner of the building has been “cited numerous times by Costa Mesa officials for allowing the operation of marijuana dispensaries,” according to the lawsuit; American Collective, a marijuana store allegedly operated by a man with a 2003 state court conviction for marijuana sales that was one of two Costa Mesa stores and related locations where federal and state agents yesterday executed search warrants that led to the discovery of two separate marijuana grows, each with more than 500 marijuana plants; and Otherside Farms, whose operator told Costa Mesa Code Enforcement personnel that he intended “to make so much money” at the location that he was going to give the city of Costa Mesa a “donation” of up to $500,000 every year that would help the city stave off layoffs.

Letters went out today to the owners and operators of currently operating or recently closed marijuana stores – nearly three dozen in Costa Mesa, and one now-shuttered store in Newport Beach. All known stores in these two South Orange County cities are now the subject of federal enforcement actions.

Last week, the United States Attorney’s Office filed another asset forfeiture lawsuit against the building that houses the Alternative Medicinal Cannabis Collective (AMCC) in an unincorporated part of Covina. This complaint alleges that Los Angeles County code enforcement personnel took action against the operation and, in March 2011, the County filed a lawsuit against the owners of the property where the store is located.

Warning letters were sent last week to property owners and operators associated with marijuana stores in unincorporated Walnut, La Puente, Murrieta and Lake Elsinore, where a total of 17 stores are believed to be currently operating. Those receiving letters were warned that the stores are operating in violation of federal law and that they have 15 days to take steps to discontinue the sale and distribution of marijuana at the stores.

In October, the four United States Attorneys in California announced coordinated enforcement actions targeting illegal marijuana cultivation and trafficking. In the Central District of California (see, one criminal case that now involves seven defendants linked to a North Hollywood marijuana store called NoHo Caregivers is set for trial on May 22. Three civil forfeiture actions filed in October are still pending, but the stores in the properties have been closed. And dozens of letters sent to those associated with marijuana stores in 13 Southland cities have resulted in nearly allof the stores being closed, with the remainder currently being the subject of eviction proceedings.

Last week, the United States Attorney in Sacramento announced a civil forfeiture action against a marijuana store, as well as letters that were sent to the owners of properties in several counties where marijuana is being cultivated or sold (see:

The United States Attorney’s Office is working in conjunction with the Drug Enforcement Administration and IRS - Criminal Investigation.

Release No. 12-014


I've intentionally tried to keep a low profile when this subject is discussed . From my vantage point the entire issue is confusing, both to me as a non-using layman and to those in the medicinal marijuana business, too. The feds say selling marijuana is against the law. The state says it's OK if you have a prescription and purchase your "medicine" from a certified dispensary. The local authorities are stuck.

In Costa Mesa it's especially difficult to comprehend because of the mixed massages being sent. Our local police have raided and closed at least one such facility, interestingly operated by a person who is in the midst of a legal battle with the City.


And, we also have the curious situation of our mayor, Gary Monahan , who hosts a pro-cannabis radio program at his gin mill and openly speaks out in favor of legalizing them in our city. It's no wonder when at least one of those operators recently raided has expressed a loss of faith in humanity. I suppose one could understand his view, considering that he's been snuggled up to local politicians for a couple years and feeding their election campaigns with contributions.

In fact, one dispensary located at the building mentioned in the press release above posted a notice on its door indicating that folks who attended the event at Monahan's bar could bring a receipt and receive a "free house joint", and that if you contribute $20.00 or more to Monahan's re-election campaign the dispensary will give you a $20.00 credit.


Heck, we had that "industry" very prominently represented i n the recent Costa Mesa United golf tournament - a fund raiser for youth sports. Again, mixed messa ges.


I'm not going to get into the whole, "I need my medicine for my ailment" issue. I acknowledge that there may, in fact, be folks who receive significant relief from pain of an illness by using cannabis, but I expect them to also acknowledge that there are MANY folks who are simply using these pot stores to supply their habits.


In my opinion, we need laws that are uniform and that can be enforced by local authorities. Clearly, there is a mountain of money being made by at least some of these "dispensaries" - one guy who was busted last week bragged about it, for goodness sake. Obviously, you don't have to be smart to grow and sell marij uana.

I don't intend for this site to become a place where this issue will beflogged into submission, but it is an important issue in our city that needs attention.

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