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‘Stronger Together,’ says new Jax City Council President Anna Brosche

The question as of Friday morning in Jacksonville: will “stronger together” work better for the new City Council President than for Hillary Clinton?

Anna Brosche was elected Jacksonville City Council President weeks back. On Thursday night she assumed the role officially.

The installation ceremony sprawled out over two hours, and included a selection from an opera about political intrigue and betrayal.

A cynic would say that, given the shambolic, chaotic, and pitched race for Council President, that such was appropriate.

The smooth jazz song? Well, Chris Hong of the Florida Times-Union noted the lyrics: “The things we do to make each other feel bad … taking up time with the silly games we play … sometimes I feel we try to make each other sad.”

As a rule, smooth jazz signals my time to step into the lobby — and so it was in this case. But, as luck had it, I caught enough of the song to know that there was a jarring pathos in the lyrics, an attempt to bridge a gap of disharmony and rediscover a common mission — that ol’ One City One Jacksonville magic.

Outgoing Council President Lori Boyer‘s remarks touched on something each of her colleagues accomplished in the previous year, but really boiled down to one wistful sentiment: “Despite occasional personal conflicts … we accomplished so much together.”

Those conflicts simmered through the first part of Boyer’s year, with a familiar hierarchy of council members on the prime-time committees and what Bill Gulliford candidly dubbed the “lesser committees.” That same Bill Gulliford, it turned out, flipped the script without acknowledging it in January.

First, Gulliford said to John Crescimbeni that he needed to close the deal quickly — which didn’t happen, not at all, as all but two of his pledges were there at the kickoff.

Then, in a spectacular moment of hubris, Gulliford said that he would not serve in a standing committee in the Brosche administration. And that, despite his attempt to walk it back, came to pass.

Gulliford got dealt out. Also moved off the hot stove: another big Crescimbeni backer, Tommy Hazouri. Gulliford got no committee slots; Hazouri got one, and it’s not exactly marquee. That’s the way it goes when you go all in for a losing cause.

The balance of the votes went to Brosche. And though there are those on the fourth floor who maintain — persuasively — that there is a vast difference between cobbling together 11 votes and building real policy consensus, the reality was that the Mayor’s Office wanted one outcome, put its thumb on the scale, and it went the other way.

Whether one believes that the past is prologue, or per William Faulkner, it ain’t even past, it was up to Brosche to provide a unity message during her speech — which was deep into the program, an installation ceremony that ran half an hour longer than did the inauguration of Mayor Lenny Curry and Sheriff Mike Williams two years prior.

The “stronger together” theme permeated the remarks, with Brosche making the case that the Council’s strength was in its diversity and multiplicity of perspectives. In that, her remarks echoed those made when she won the vote on Council.

“We each see the world differently and are stronger together,” Brosche said during that portion of her remarks.

Brosche also extended encomium to Mayor Curry, thanking him for showing up (which, well, it would have been news if he and his senior staff hadn’t).  And she lauded Curry’s commitment to downtown development: ““Downtown represents economic vitality … Jacksonville is fortunate to have a mayor who understands importance of downtown development.”

Indeed, Brosche’s boosterism for downtown was another purposeful, Chamber-friendly theme of the speech; downtown’s density, she contended, boosted the tax rolls, and if the impact of that is maximized, a thriving downtown could be the rising tide that lifts all boats — specifically, the neighborhoods of the city, some of which are “safe and healthy” while others experience “distress.”

The root causes of such distress, of course, take many forms — and Brosche, as is the case with every other person in elected office in Jacksonville, didn’t address the disproportionate impact of aggressive policing in certain areas, the gaping maw the prison-police-industrial complex has left in African-American family structures for generations now, or the realities of educational feeder systems that fail in perpetuity.

People don’t vote on those issues anyway. The public discourse is sclerotic; this is, at its heart, a red meat town.

Brosche’s remarks, as are always the case with Jacksonville leaders, had more modest aims — consensus aims that suit everyone from GOP gadfly Danny Becton to the “pack” of African-American Democrats that secured Brosche’s winning margin and will join Becton on Finance next year.

One of those Democrats — Reggie Brown — will chair a special committee on “safe and healthy neighborhoods.” A Republican who supported Crescimbeni, the universally-liked Scott Wilson, will chair a special committee on parks; Jacksonville’s park system, like so many other aspects of its infrastructure, fell into disrepair over years and decades of millage rollbacks designed to secure the political futures of a previous generation’s best and brightest.

Brosche’s vision?

“To make Jacksonville the best city in the world for a child to grow up in,” she said.

As is this writer’s habit, he beat a retreat for the door of the auditorium before the closing benediction. And he wasn’t alone.

Staffers from the Mayor’s Office also found their way to the door, beating the crowd — understandably given that many of them have been mired in the Mayor’s Budget Review Committee all month, which — though not as taxing as the Great Council Office Swap of 2017 — has its own attendant pressures. And it was a school night.

So, “stronger together”?

That formulation blew up in Hillary Clinton’s case, as Donald Trump bet on the obvious reality that once one gets outside the boardrooms and the country clubs, what coalescence might have existed decades back, when unions weren’t just for the government sector, when churches were thriving hubs of community, when Jacksonville’s core neighborhoods had more homes with edged lawns and tidy streets than investment grade properties, simply doesn’t exist anymore.

But that message wasn’t for the people: 30 percent of them, maybe less, will vote — this is a transient town, one in which the supervoters and the 50+ crowd hold disproportionate sway over the renters from elsewhere, the corporate transfers, and the Navy folks who liked the climate and affordable housing and decided to retire here.

The message, ultimately, was for the people on Council who didn’t vote for her. For those “influencers” who may have had those quiet conversations with generally malleable Council members.

For all the strum und drang ahead of the vote, for all the tales told out of school in its aftermath, the “stronger together” message boiled down, as it did for Clinton, to a simple, familiar concept of collaboration: “business as usual.”

The first test of that: July 17, when the Mayor drops his budget on Council.

While some key crowd-pleasing initiatives almost certainly will be leaked to friendly reporters between now and then, the rubber will hit the road during the budget process — especially in August, when a radically reconstituted Finance Committee gets to test the limits of one of the bigger cliches in Jacksonville politics: that “Council is the policy-making body.”

Council can do a lot of things, definitely; but in terms of the game of retail politics, no one on the body has demonstrated the ability to craft the narrative like the political side of the Lenny Curry operation — a big-city shop that has, since its inception, outclassed the parochialism of virtually every political operator it saw as an obstacle.

Union head, Council leaders laud Lenny Curry family leave proposal

In a move that will certainly shore up union support for his likely-uncontested re-election bid, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry rolled out a paid family leave proposal Thursday for all city employees.

Family leave for city workers was an agenda item for Curry, which the administration had to get pension reform resolved to make happen.

This is, we are told, part of a larger commitment to ensuring that city policy facilitates strong, healthy families, a comprehensive vision that will encompass reforms of programs involving what Curry calls “at-hope kids,” and economically-challenged neighborhoods.

“I know first-hand the tremendous value and benefit our family received when Molly was able to stay home with our new babies. I believe all families deserve an environment where parents and newborns get an opportunity to bond without the worry of work demands and stresses of a reduced income,” Curry said.

Sen. Marco Rubio, meanwhile, added the following in the press release.

“I’m excited Mayor Curry is working to provide paid family leave to City of Jacksonville employees,” said Senator Marco Rubio. “From the rising cost of living to the historically high cost of raising children, affordable family formation is one of the great social challenges of our time.”

Conceptually, the proposal aligns with talk from the Donald Trump administration, where Ivanka Trump has spoken out in favor of family leave policies.

Meanwhile, City Council President-Designate Anna Brosche, who will be President later Thursday after an installation ceremony, offered conceptual support — a quote not in the press release.

“I conceptually agree with the Mayor’s plan to support families and provide a great start for children. The Mayor’s history shows he doesn’t introduce proposals without study and understanding fiscal impact. I look forward to seeing the details and timeline,” Brosche told us Thursday morning.

Incoming Finance Chair Garrett Dennis — an important ally as this will have a financial impact — likewise backed the play.

“As usual,” Dennis told us Thursday morning, “Mayor Curry puts families first.  Whether it is promoting safe neighborhoods, creating jobs, or helping kids learn how to swim to prevent drowning, Mayor Curry is always thinking about improving the quality of life of every citizen in Jacksonville.   I can’t wait to see the details and I will be a partner with the Mayor as he works to improve lives in our city.”

And Fraternal Order of Police head Steve Zona likewise lauded the Mayor’s move.

“I have always told people that work with me “family first always”. There is nothing more important. I applaud Mayor Curry for his leadership on this issue and willingness to take a bold step in that direction,” Zona said.

While costs of the plan have not been disclosed, the conceptual support and the obvious need for the initiative, coupled with Curry’s own political machine and capital, mean that any resistance to this proposal likely is futile.

 

Anna Brosche, Lenny Curry discuss the path forward

Jacksonville City Council President-Designate Anna Brosche was not Mayor Lenny Curry‘s first choice for Council President – a term starting later this week — according to some sources.

But the two first-term Republicans are pragmatists, and with Curry a believer in the importance of relationship building, a notable event on the Mayor’s Tuesday schedule was a meeting with Brosche and Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa.

So, how did it go? We asked both Curry and Brosche their thoughts.

On Tuesday afternoon, Brosche said it was a good meeting, but in terms of potential pyrotechnics, there were little to be found.

The goal: “to establish good, open lines of communication,” with the idea of having a “great third year.”

Whether Curry backed Brosche or John Crescimbeni in the Council President race, Brosche said, was ultimately not relevant in the current context.

“You can’t make money yesterday,” Brosche said.

Specifics — such as an expected expansion to the capital improvement program budget — were not discussed.

However, on what Brosche called the “eve of transition” between one Council Presidency and the next, the incoming Council President and the Mayor established a dialogue — an important move for both as they prepare for the year ahead.

On Wednesday, Curry offered his own take on a “standard meeting,” one designed to continue the trend of “two years of winning.”

When asked if he had concerns about a Finance Committee that will be different in both policy and rhetoric than that of the last two years, including a Democrat majority on Finance and frequent GOP gadfly Danny Becton as Vice-Chair, Curry said he wasn’t worried.

“I don’t view Council as groups,” Curry said, “but as individuals.”

Curry noted also that his first two budgets had allocations for the entire city, and his third budget will be no different.

The Capital Improvement Budget, he said. will include “some of what you’ve seen the last two years …. core stuff,” including such as “road resurfacing.”

The holistic goal, as it’s been for two years now: “to keep working together, to keep winning.”

Whatever internal Sturm und Drang there may have been about the Council Leadership race, Curry seems to believe that going forward, it is business as usual.

Lenny Curry on beach restoration: ‘We’re done’

Duval County’s beaches took a hit from Hurricane Matthew last year. As another Hurricane Season is upon us, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, Beaches Mayors, and Jacksonville City Councilman Bill Gulliford discussed beach restoration on Wednesday in Atlantic Beach.

Among those efforts: beach re-nourishment, planting of dune vegetation, dune restoration, and other efforts via the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to ensure that Duval’s beaches provide a protective buffer for beach communities.

While Jacksonville still waits for $26M from FEMA for reimbursement from damages created by the last storm, these ongoing beach recovery efforts continue, Curry and the Beaches Mayors said Wednesday.

“This is an example of government working,” Curry said, of recognizing the “urgency” of the “crisis” and reacting.

This project — a “culmination of what we’ve seen in Jacksonville the last couple of years” in terms of cooperation — was completed despite the Beaches being “devastated” by Hurricane Matthew.

“Bill Gulliford stepped up, the Mayors stepped up,” Curry said.

Of the $22 million that went into beach restoration, $7.5M of that came from the Jacksonville City Council, and Councilman Bill Gulliford was key in ensuring those funds came to pass.

Gulliford, who lives just a short walk from the presser, deemed it “incredible” that dunes are getting restored so quickly.

“The Mayor was behind us the whole time,” Gulliford noted.

There’s still work to do, of course, beyond restoration.

The Jacksonville Beach pier lost 300 feet of span in Hurricane Matthew; Gulliford noted that assessment is underway to determine what can be saved and, perhaps, reused — though there is no fixed timetable for when that may come to pass.

And lessons were learned also: Atlantic Beach Mayor Mitch Reeves noted that his city and other beach communities are looking to fund walkovers, instead of walk throughs; the idea is to curb erosion during severe storms.

Sea oats — 620,000 of them — are being planted. And the Army Corps of Engineers has provided 5,000 cubic yards of sand for spot repairs.

Jax Mayor’s Office reviews Downtown Investment Authority budget

The office of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry reviewed the Downtown Investment Authority budget on Tuesday; below, some highlights.

One interesting point out of this — LaVilla development plans are moving apace, with DIA working with consultants.

Also in consultant mode: the downtown parking study, as DIA is responsible for downtown parking now.

Parking revenues are down $152,000 a year, with hourly parking removed from the Water St. garage being the primary mover. Monthly parking in the space is less lucrative.

Fines and forfeitures: also down, $189,000 year over year.

Credit card fees are up, driven by facility meters and on-street meters. Another 300 electronic, credit card accepting meters are on their way as well.

In that vein, hardware and software fees are up, a function of tracking software for these devices.

Meanwhile, there is $270,000 — give or take — available in cash carryover for enhancement requests.

DIA seeks $275,000 for a capital purchase, to add to $275,000 allocated last year, for five garages — specifically entry control systems. These are not leasable, and theoretically last 20 years.

DIA also wants a new vehicle, to be dedicated to four additional Southbank properties that will bring in $12,000 a year total.

Roughly $170,000 of interest accumulated, meanwhile, is sought for historical preservation costs, which could include the Barnett Bank building.

 

Will the Anna Brosche era be trouble for Lenny Curry?

Just as there are some who look at a tranquil lake and assume the depths are likewise tranquil, there are those who look at a change of leadership in Jacksonville’s City Council and assume a similar tranquility.

For the previous two years, that was true. When Greg Anderson in 2015 and Lori Boyer in 2016 took over the Council Presidency, there was no disquiet in the office of Mayor Lenny Curry.

For two years, there was a calming sameness to events like the August budget consideration in the Finance Committee. While an issue here or there may have been noteworthy, by and large the Mayor’s proposed budget that he released in July ended up becoming codified by ordinance ahead of the Oct. 1 beginning of the fiscal year.

One city, one Jacksonville.

The 2017-18 Council year will be different, however. There will be more pushback.

One major reason: according to some strong backers of the Anna Brosche campaign for Council President, the Mayor’s Office (and allies) went “all in.”

All in, that is, for Council VP John Crescimbeni.

Multiple extremely credible sources have claimed that a senior staffer in the Mayor’s Office — one who deals with Council regularly — was attempting to whip votes for Crescimbeni over Brosche. While that claim was refuted off the record by said staffer, with said staffer asserting that claims of that sort were also made in the past, the narrative is clearly one believed in Council.

Other credible sources have asserted, meanwhile, that the Mayor’s Office is looking for someone to run against certain Council members who backed Brosche over Crescimbeni.

Such narratives can’t be easily refuted — not in the cauldron of gossip that is Jacksonville’s four-story City Hall, a building that once was a May Cohens department store and still does as brisk a business in insider gossip as that store did in mid-priced consumer goods back in the sepia-tinged olden days.

Narratives stick. There are those who say that a big part of a reason John Crescimbeni couldn’t get the votes of his fellow Democrats was that they feel he didn’t understand or care about their districts’ needs. Crescimbeni tried to shake that one, and got the VP slot a year before. But when it came down to running against Brosche, that didn’t fly.

As one backer said, Brosche simply cared more. Her willingness to advocate in real terms for priorities of Jacksonville City Council Districts 7 through 10 was significant … as is her personal history, one that exempts her from consideration for membership in the Good Ol’ Boys club.

So, in that context, Tuesday night is the end of an era.

Tuesday presents the last Jacksonville City Council meeting in which John Crescimbeni is in Council Leadership. And after Tuesday, Crescimbeni is marginalized on committees — but not nearly as badly as Bill Gulliford, who said that he would not serve on a standing committee in Brosche’s administration … and got his wish, despite an attempt to walk it back.

Also marginalized: Councilman Tommy Hazouri, who was described by one Councilor as “having worked harder to get Crescimbeni elected than he worked for himself.” That work, allegedly, included getting Fire Union Head Randy Wyse to pitch Crescimbeni to skeptical councilors.

Hazouri has one committee assignment next term. He wanted Finance. He didn’t get it.

____

The changing fortunes of people on City Council are leaving many of those previously empowered apoplectic.

One Council veteran, for example, was rendered “speechless” about committee assignments, which we reported on first last week.

Other veteran pols on the legislative body are getting dishes of comeuppance.

During a discussion last week, Hazouri was barbed by a fellow Democrat, current Rules Chair and incoming Finance Chair Garrett Dennis, a Brosche ally.

“Maybe you’ll chair a committee someday,” Dennis said to Hazouri, in that joking way that was clearly all too real to Hazouri, a man many say was expecting a position on Finance if Crescimbeni got the top job.

Likewise, a bill that normally might have been a feel-good measure of the sort everyone on Council co-sponsors because they want to Do Something became a hotbed of controversy last week in committee.

Councilman Gulliford’s bill to spend $1.5M on a six-month pilot program for opioid treatment got shelled during council panels last week, including a no vote in one committee.

Finance Vice Chair in waiting Danny Becton referred to the opioid program as “taking dollars and throwing them out at something that is not clearly defined.”

“We’re supposed to just say yes to the bill sponsor, but two weeks ago I was getting schooled [by him] … on doing this through the budget process,” Becton said, referring to his bill putting 15 percent of future budget increases into pension relief that got torched in Finance a fortnight ago.

That bill was re-referred, re-worked and deferred — and it will certainly find more traction on Finance in July under the committee’s new configuration.

“Are we tracking the source? Once we bring the individual back from the doorstep of death, we need to ask where the drugs are coming from,” Dennis asserted, characterizing Gulliford’s bill as one longer on proposed hard costs than tangible benefits.

Gulliford is the best operator on Council, in terms of changing debates within the rules. But when the crowd turns on you, it turns on you. And while he may get this bill through to the Mayor’s desk, committees taught him that, for at least the next year, his incontrovertible influence on Council is on the wane.

And in reality, there is this to consider: Tuesday’s meeting may well represent the last hurrah, in a meaningful sense, of those Councilors originally elected in 2011.

While there is no need to bring an autograph book Tuesday night, there will be those who will be looking at the scoreboard by the end of the evening.

And a few people, metaphorically at least, will be staring at the lights.

And while the Mayor’s Office has veto power, and the ability to sit on contracts it doesn’t want to execute, the lingering feeling among Council members was that a power play was made — and failed.

While those on the winning side want to be civil, they also are not afraid to assert prerogatives as the “policy-making body.”

As with all declarations of resolve, it will be interesting to see if this one holds up, and what it means through the summer’s budget process in Council.

$11M in HUD money for Jacksonville for FY 2017

Jacksonville is in line to receive just over $11M in money from Housing and Urban Development for FY 2017, per a letter from HUD dated Jun. 15.

Over half of that sum — $5.661M — will come in through Community Development Block Grants, a category that the Donald Trump Administration has questioned.

This is down significantly from the $17M figure stated by a city employee at a press event promoting CDBGs.

All told, the city has secured almost $400M in CDBGs since 1975.

HOME Investment Partnerships offer another $2.258M.

HOPWA — Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS — deliver another $2.644M.

And Emergency Solutions Grant money comes out to $506,000.

For locals who made a call for CDBGs, such as Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis, this award letter means that — at least for another year — federal money will boost Jacksonville’s budget to deal with populations that need the help.

Given President Trump’s position on these grants, the Curry Administration was agnostic on the future of these programs when asked earlier this year.

“As long as the program exists and funds are available, we will utilize them,” spokeswoman Marsha Oliver said.

Oliver stressed that the mayor was not taking a position on whether the program should or shouldn’t be in existence; however, as budget discussions loom, Curry’s financial team likely will have to factor in the current uncertainty from the White House.

Lenny Curry out of U.S. Conference of Mayors

The United States Conference of Mayors has set itself up as a counterweight to President Donald Trump on issues ranging from Trump’s decision to abandon the Paris Accord to military spending.

Last weekend’s resolutions against military spending were especially interesting, with the Conference issuing resolutions “calling for hearings on real city budgets needed and the taxes our cities send to the federal military budget” and “opposition to military spending.”

We asked Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry for his thoughts on the matter, and the response proved to be more illuminating than the resolutions.

“Mayor Curry is not a member of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. He maintains his support of the President’s commitment to keeping America safe,”said Marsha Oliver, Director of Public Affairs for the Mayor’s Office.

For those watching closely, this is a stunning development, with Curry being the most prominent big-city mayor to exempt himself from the mayoral group.

Apparently, that exemption had happened some months back, though information was not disseminated about it, despite questions about differences between Curry’s positions and the conference.

On Monday afternoon, Curry explained the reasons for leaving the group, which happened in late 2016 or early 2017, he said.

Curry wanted to know if the Mayor’s Office had paid the invoice, and it had not — so given the Conference’s political positions and lack of value add for his office, he didn’t think that membership was a “good use of taxpayer dollars.”

 

 

Lori Boyer to address Southside Business Men’s Club Wednesday

Jacksonville City Council President Lori Boyer will gavel out her last meeting Tuesday evening; on Wednesday, she will speak to constituents.

The scene: a lunchtime meeting at the Southside Business Men’s Club, held at the San Jose Country Club.

For Boyer, this year as City Council President has been one full of accomplishments that will be remembered after she is termed out of office in 2019.

The long and winding road of getting pension reform through the voters via referendum, then through the unions in collective bargaining, then through the City Council to ratify the deals — that was completed under Boyer’s watch.

That closed the extant defined benefit pension plans to new hires, creating a new defined contribution plan for them, a mechanism which  — when combined with a future revenue source via a sales tax extension that kicks in by 2030 — offers some budget relief that will go to infrastructure and new hires for long-suffering city departments.

Another hot-button issue resolved on Boyer’s watch: securing LBGT rights, via an expanded Human Rights Ordinance.

That issue had plagued city government for most of the decade, with failed expansion attempts in 2012 and 2016. Boyer was able to ensure the integrity of the process, handling the heated discussions from proponents and opponents in a way that codified protections for LGBT people that didn’t impact religious institutions — a key worry of the religious right.

Expect that Boyer will address these issues Wednesday, along with a key initiative of hers during her term: waterway activation, part of Jacksonville’s long-standing yet eternally thwarted desire to make usage of waterways in the way other cities do.

In addition to talking about the past and present, Boyer may be asked to address the future — such as a City Council under the control of President-Designate Anna Brosche, who dispatched the chosen candidate of Boyer and the Mayor’s Office in a contentious election for Council President.

Jax Mayor’s Office plows through Finance & Administration budget

The office of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry continued its budget review Monday, with a romp through the Finance and Administration budget.

The department is more fully-staffed than it was two years ago, when it was “decimated,” per Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa, yet points for discussion abounded.

As is often the case with these hearings, the news bubbles up via anecdotal tidbits.

Mousa noted that there was slight under-performance in payouts for contracts for Jacksonville Small and Emerging Businesses; awards, it was revealed, were on track.

As well, the Jacksonville Beach pier is under contract for review and repair after Hurricane Matthew damage. There may be revenues coming in next year, if a contractor reveals that some of the structure is safe enough for businesses to return.

A discussion followed of converting older files from microfiche to electronic format; no reliable estimate could be provided of that cost, which remains theoretical.

Motor Vehicle Inspection fees are adversely affected by a downtick in Vehicles for Hire revenue (suspending taxi cab medallion inspection fees, as a result of inconclusive rule making relative to Uber/Lyft in Council), which means money to prop that subfund up is coming from the General Fund.

“We really need to make a decision,” CFO Mike Weinstein said.

Money manager fees are up in pension funds; treasurer Joey Greive deemed that to be a “good problem to have,” as pension funds perform well of late.

There are apparently six years of records related to grants, dating back to the Peyton administration, that need to be scanned in. The company contracted to do such went bankrupt; there isn’t the manpower to do such in-house. Mousa urges outsourcing the work, as it would be cheaper than hiring a new employee with benefits and the like.

The department has been doing a lot of additional work, including “cleanup,” in capital projects; the desire is to have an extra FTE to oversee the end of capital projects and ensure that funds are swept and so on for clearer accounting.

 

 

 

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