Promises made, promises kept?

The DiMaria administration claims many things as as fact.

What they have provided are either unsupported statements, or at best half-truths which they  apparently believe that the voters of Morton Grove cannot see the difference between overblown empty promises and the reality of this administration’s failure.

-Four years ago, the DiMaria administration promised a revitalized economy increasing sales tax receipts.

What the DiMaria administration has delivered is higher cost of government and a continued stagnant business tax base.

-Four years ago, the DiMaria administration promised more and better senior services.
What the DiMaria administration has delivered is reduced, or in some cases, eliminated senior programs.

-Four years ago, the DiMaria administration promised a revitalization of the area around the Metra station with shpping and other amenities. They were going to make a Morton Grove version of Edison Park.

What the DiMaria administration has delivered is a Metra station that is not advertised or promoted. There are no new businesses or amenities around the station and the area more closely resembles the Englewood neighborhood on Chicago’s south side rather than Edison Park.

-Four years ago, the DiMaria administration promised that they would move Morton Grove forward. Great sums of money, your money, was spent to hire outside consultants to create a village ‘brand’ and create business. An economic development officer was hired to address the “numerous” large parcels of land in the Village’s “Land Bank.

What has the DiMaria administration delivered? Take a stroll around town and look at the empty retail buildings and storefronts. These vacant properties generate zero sales tax revenue. The corner of Dempster and Waukegan is one of the most heavily traveled in this state and it’s corners sits there undeveloped and under performing. The industrial strip along Austin is a ghost town.

-Four years ago, the DiMaria administration promised that they would maintain village services while keeping your taxes low.

What has the DiMaria administration delivered? Fines and fees have increased with no appreciable commensurate increase in services. The DiMaria administration has certainly increased Village employees…we have certainly staffed up and created more office space for them. What has the increase in staff done to make things better?

-Four years ago, the DiMaria administration promised to address the crisis facing the funding of our police and fire departments.

What has the DiMaria administration delivered? The Police and Fire Pension funds are owed over $20 Million dollars. Where is this money going to come from? Without a business tax base the homeowners are the sole funding source. Right now the 5000 households owe $4000 each to this fund just to catch up!

-Four years ago, the DiMaria administration said that we were in dire need of a new police station because the current station was outmoded and presented a safety hazard to the residents of the neighborhood. Once more, the village went into the real estate market and purchased a manufacturing property on Lehigh for the purpose of moving the police into a new facility.

What has the DiMaria administration delivered? A vacant building on Lehigh and no solid plan made public as to when, (or if), the new police facility will happen, and, if it does, how it will be paid for?

– Four years ago, the DiMaria administration promised openness and transparency.

What has the DiMaria adminstration delivered? A Chicago style ‘political boss’ version of government has done little to nothing to stimulate business or improve Village finances. A use of village resources, (like the newsletter, village web site and village-wide mailings), as political propaganda to promote Village president DiMaria.

What has the DiMaria administration NOT delivered? There is no major food market within the village limits. There is a shopping center on the 3rd busiest corner

 in Illinois going to ruin, even though the ownership was eager to reach a redevelopment agreement. There is a loss of the sense of community that up until 4 years ago had Morton Grove as one of the top 10 places to live in Illinois.

 

Has the DiMaria administration told the truth? Perhaps only half of it, and, as Benjamin Franklin said in Poor Richard’s Almanack; “Half the truth is often a great lie.”

Next Tuesday, April 4th, is the election that will determine the future of YOUR Morton Grove.
Perhaps you need to ask yourself a question before you vote this time; “Are you and Morton Grove better off now than you were 4 years ago?”

Morton Grove Melodrama Part 15- Looking back and questioning forward

In February 2013 the daughters of Jack O’Brien, one of the Action Party founders, spoke out on who they feel would be their dad’s choice in the Feb. 26 election in a letter to a local news outlet. Here’s what they said:

As daughters of Jack O’Brien, who, with former Mayors Dan Scanlon and Dick Flickinger, founded the Action Party, we are quite dismayed by the turn of events within our Party which has led to the necessity of holding a primary.

It’s distressing that Trustee DiMaria:

  • did not have the majority vote for the party’s endorsement of his candidacy for Mayor;
  • did, when being interviewed, agree to support the slate put forth by the Screening Committee;
  • Is being supported by certain individuals who do not share the Action Party’s values, and in fact, have publicly denigrated the integrity of Mayor Scanlon and Jack O’Brien;
  • is now subjecting our village to the financial burden of a primary.

The Action Party has always prided itself on its inclusiveness. We have sought out the best and brightest of our opposition and invited them to get to know the Action Party better. Some accept, some do not.

In 2001, our dad, Mayor Scanlon, and other prominent Action Party members reached out to Dan Staackmann to determine his interest in joining the Action Party. Dan was elected as a Village Trustee in 2003, and ran for Village President in 2005…in a campaign marked by nastiness from our opponents—the same individuals who are now supporting Mr. DiMaria.  Dan Staackmann was reelected to the position of Village Trustee in 2007 and, in 2009, ran for the office of Village President and was successful.

During very tough economic times, Dan Staackmann has stabilized the Village’s finances and balanced the budget. This is no small accomplishment! He has provided solid leadership, brought in businesses, improved infrastructure, streamlined operations, maintained services at a superior level, and has done it all with an outstanding Village staff and personnel…and with only a 3% property tax increase in the past four years.

Dan Staackmann is passionate about Morton Grove and has spent about half of his life in public service to our town. We feel Dan Staackmann would be Jack O’Brien’s choice for mayor, because Dan Staackmann is a man of integrity who gets the job done.

We urge you to cast your vote in the February 26th primary election for Dan Staackmann.

Sincerely,

Lori O’Brien Gattorna and Terri O’Brien Cousar

Now, 4 years later, the situation in the village has not improved with Mr. DiMaria as village president. The promised transparency has not been forthcoming, but the current administration has scheduled a “Neighborhood Outreach Meeting” for Thursday, March 16th at the American Legion Civic Center.

This would be a great opportunity to ask Mr. DiMaria 10 questions “On the record”:

  1. You have stated that the new water deal will save residents about $900,000 over 40 years. How much can we expect our water bills to drop every month?
  2. You promised openness and transparency in your administration. Why weren’t there any village outreach meetings before this water deal was done informing us of the various options and costs?
  3. In order to bring water in from Evanston we will need to build waterlines. How much is this going to cost taxpayers?
  4. On February 12, 2015 Trustee Grear, speaking about the second lowering of the village bond rating stated: “It’s not earth shattering”. Isn’t it true that having a lower bond rating increases our cost of issuing bonds? Isn’t this earth shattering?
  5. The owners of Moretti’s,  contributors to the village president’s political party have cut a deal with the village. The deal cut by the village underwrites over 40% of the cost of building the pizzaria.  Why has this administration given a “sweetheart deal” to this political contributor?
  6.  TIF funds from the Lehigh/Ferris TIF were redirected to the Heartland property, (luxury apartments on Waukegan road),  whose owners were contributors to the village president’s political party. Why didn’t the administration use these funds to work a redevelopment deal with the owners of the Prairie View shopping center?
  7. For four years  the village was in negotiations with the owners of Prairie View shopping center to modernize and upgrade the property. The owners have reached out to the Village numerous times. In 2016, they reached out twice. In June 2016, they requested TIF assistance not to exceed $9 million. The Village ignored this request. In December 2016, wanting to start construction in the Fall of 2017,  they offered to lower their request to $7.5 million. The Village has still not responded and the project remains stalled.Village officials are now saying that the owners of the shopping center have broken off negotiations, yet it is the village stalling the dealIf there was TIF money and other incentives available for Moretti’s and Heartland, why couldn’t funds be found to close a deal with the owners of Prairie View?
  8. Four years ago you ran on the promise of increasing the tax base. You hired an economic development person to facilitate that, yet today, there are just as many, if not more vacant storefronts on Dempster and our EAV has gone down which increases the tax burden on every homeowner. How can you justify this failure to improve the business climate and tax base?
  9. There is a village ethics ordinance that prohibits village officers from accepting political contributions from vendors and consultants, yet the village president’s political party has received thousands of dollars in donations from businesses, like Groot that have lucrative contracts with the village. Why isn’t the ethics ordinance enforced?
  10. There is a state law prohibiting incumbent officials from voting themselves an increase in money during their term of office, yet this administration did exactly that a few months after taking office. How is this not a violation of the law?

The time has come for accountability, transparency and honesty instead of empty talk.

 

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Morton Grove Melodrama Part 14 – The Power of Incumbency

One of the advantages of being the incumbent party and controlling all the municipal functions of the village is being able to “game the system” to your advantage.

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For example, a recent Morton Grove Champion article , recounts how a challenge to the current Action Party candidates was refused a hearing by the village clerk, who is also one of the candidates running on the Action Party ticket in the upcoming election.

Albers’ objections were filed Dec. 23, making the papers late, according to Board of Elections attorney Menzel.
“Those candidate petitions are presumed to be valid and the candidates move on — even if there were flaws in the petitions — because the time window for the challenges passed,” he said.

Albers maintained that the Action Party nomination papers were accepted a half hour before the clerk’s office opened and questioned whether statements of economic interest were filed with the clerk during the filing period.
Not filing statements of economic impact during a filing period could be “fatal,” he acknowledged, but there is no way to investigate further because of the lack of timeliness.

“The only way to challenge candidates’ petitions and qualifications to get onto the ballot is through the objection process and it has a hard and fast deadline,” he said. “I’m not going to speculate what happened here, but there isn’t a format to challenge because they were too late with their objections.”

So, in essence, there could have been hanky-panky but there will not be a hearing, there will not be transparency and the voters will have one less chance to fairly judge how this current administration is dealing with following election laws ethically.

When you are in charge and control everything you can pretty much do as you please apparently. For example, a few weeks ago there was a village newsletter that more resembled an Action Party campaign piece mailed to residents. It follows, almost word-for-word, the political web site of the candidates running on the party ticket for the April 4th election.

Just this week residents received a post card announcing a “Town Hall” meeting for Thursday, March 16th. It’s funny that this administration which promised transparency decides to have what could rightfully be characterized as an Action Party campaign rally paid for at taxpayer’s expense within three weeks of the election. Illegal? Maybe or maybe not but unethical and politically sleazy? Absolutely!

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Many might think that political patronage was long dead. After all, the Supreme court in Elrod v Burns decided that political patronage hiring was illegal, ( 427 US 347) and reaffirmed the decision in Branti v Finkle, ( 445 US 507). What the court left standing, however, was what is commonly referred to as “white collar patronage”.
In recent cases the US court of appeals held that the first amendment protection under Elrod does not extend to government contractors. This preserves on of the most highly valued elements of the patronage system the distribution of government contracts and awarding of government money and commission positions as a means of rewarding political supporters and donors.

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For example, the TIF money that was earmarked for the revitalization of Prairie View Shopping Center has, instead, been used to underwrite Heartland ( the development company behind the luxury apartments at 8700 Waukegan Rd, political donors to the Action Party. Money from the Lehigh-Ferris TIF  went to underwrite Moretti’s pizza restaurant, (another political donor to the Action Party).

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Three of the candidates running for the Park District are officers of the Action Party and appointed members of village commissions. It is interesting to see coordination in the placement of their campaign signage,  so apparently there is now a plan in place for the Action Party to have all elected and appointed offices under their control.

Some would say that the folks running the Action Party are gaming the system, but you don’t have to game the system when you can make up the rules as you go along and decide which rules, (like the village ethics ordinance), you choose to ignore.

As the actor Mel Brooks says in his film “History of the World-Part 1”; “It’s good to be the king!

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Morton Grove Melodrama Part 13 – We’re off to see the Wizard!

Village president DiMaria, during his last campaign fashioned himself as “the face of the village”.

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Considering that his name and picture are plastered all over the quasi-political campaign literature laughingly referred to as the village newsletter, and his smiling visage appears in almost every local “news” story featured in “the Champion”, you can see that Mr. DiMaria takes his self-styled title very, very seriously.

There has been much talk in the national media lately about the narcissism and ego of a certain politician. Fair enough, but many of the same opinions and comments can be made regarding the Morton Grove Village President.

There’s little question that politicians wield vastly more power and control than the average citizen.

Moreover, privy to non-public, industry-related knowledge affords them all sorts of opportunities (blatantly unethical under Morton Grove ordinances) to substantially augment their income through “insider” trading and investments. For many of them the appetite for material riches can be insatiable.

Large bills fanned out and held in hand
Large bills fanned out and held in hand

Which helps explain why at times the liberty that some of them can’t resist taking with the public trust is so flagrant that (moralistically kicking and screaming) they actually end their careers behind bars. (Does the name “Rod Blagojovich ring a bell?)

One of the primary characteristics of narcissists is their exaggerated sense of entitlement.

It’s hardly surprising then that so many politicians (like our current village president) somehow think they “deserve” to game the system. After all, from their self-interested perspective, isn’t that what the system is for?

In their heavily self-biased opinion, if they want something, by rights it should be theirs. So, nothing if not opportunistic, they take from public and private coffers alike whatever they think they can get away with. (Consider the increase in stipend and “technology allowance” that the current administration granted itself without the benefit of public notice, public input or a public vote).

And given their grandiose sense of self, they’re inclined to believe they can get away with most anything. Sad to say, in today’s politics their judgment isn’t that skewed. Which is to say they’re much more often right than wrong.

Exploiting their privileged position in such a manner hardly leaves them plagued with guilt.

In general, guilt isn’t an emotion they’re prone to. How could they be if they feel entitled to the objects of their desire? In their minds their very ability to attain something must certainly mean it was merited. So it’s only when they’re caught with their hands deep in the till and their various efforts at denial have failed them, that they’re ready to admit responsibility, and posture remorse. But even then, whatever alligator tears they might shed are calculated to lessen the penalties for their misbehavior—or the time that otherwise they might be required to spend in lockup.

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Ironically, despite the steadfast ethical values they profess, these politicians can be viewed as “moral relativists” in that what they adamantly deem immoral for others is yet somehow acceptable for themselves.
In our village, this raises it’s ugly head in playing “bait and switch” with TIF money earmarked for one project but funneled into a sweetheart deal behind the scenes, or changing a zoning/planning ordinance to pressure a landowner to take actions contrary to his/her own best interests, or something as simple as taking credit for increased businesses in town when there are still an overwhelming number of vacant retail properties on Dempster street, (Who are you gonna believe, Village President DiMaria or your own lying eyes?)

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Whether we characterize the personal “allowances” they make as constituting a double standard or outright hypocrisy, these privileged concessions to self clearly broadcast their overblown sense of entitlement. Which is precisely what enables them to regard themselves as sufficiently exceptional to exclude themselves from the rules and standards they impose on others.

What is hard for us to understand is why the village trustees have forfeited any credit, let alone much of a mention, for any of the “so-called” achievements of the DiMaria administration. Little acknowledgment of trustee Grear, who is, after all, the senior and longest serving trustee. Little acknowledgment of trustee Witko, who, while secure in her seat is defending the position of village president DiMaria while he stands mute and doesn’t defend himself.

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Strange… strange indeed.

The saying “Promises are made to be broken” rings particularly true for them. It’s become almost a joke that the devout pledges they made on the campaign trail bear only trifling resemblance to what they’ve done once in office.

The ability to convince voters that they’ll best represent their interests is what defines their success. Actually implementing what they avowed they’d tirelessly work for isn’t really an essential part of their agenda—which is typically well-hidden from constituents. In short, their campaigns measure how well they can dupe the public, not how well they’ll fulfill their responsibilities once declared victorious.

Perhaps the question Morton Grovers need to ask themselves is; “Are the village and myself better off now than we were 4 years ago”?

The Action Party, and village president DiMaria don’t want you asking that question, but, like in the scene from “The Wizard of Oz”, thunder; “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain”. DiMaria behind the curtain

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Morton Grove Melodrama Part 12- Two plus two equals “dog”

There has been quite a bit of “buzz” lately about the Morton Grove/Niles/Evanston water “deal”. At the forefront of “news” coverage has been the claim by Morton Grove village president DiMaria that this agreement will “save” the residents of Morton Grove some Ninety Million dollars over the next 40 years. Of course, that doesn’t take into account that Evanston has already telegraphed a 12% or so increase between 2018 and 2010.

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A Morton Grove Champion article states; “Morton Grove officials said at Monday’s meeting that they expect to save $90 million to $100 million over the life of the 40-year contract, which locks in the suburb’s water rates over that time period. The contract includes the option for two, 10-year extensions.”

Later on in the same article it says; “The two villages are expected to pay about $90 million for a new water transmission main in Evanston at McCormick Boulevard and Emerson Street and other infrastructure needed to deliver water from that city, according to officials from all three towns. That construction is expected to be financed with bond sales.”

Something here sounds like common core new math. Taking a conservative view, assuming that the “savings” projected are accurate, that would amount to a saving of $2,250,000 per year on the water rates, (about $265 per year per household).

However, in order to take advantage of these projected savings, the village will have to pay $90,000,000 to build a new water transmission main and other infrastructure needed to get the water from Evanston to Morton Grove… and that expense is expected to be financed by bond sales.

We need to remember that Morton Grove’s bond rating was recently lowered a second time under this administration which means that borrowing money by issuing bonds will cost taxpayers more money.

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In another Morton Grove Champion article on the lowering of the bond rate, it mentioned that the village’s Equalized Assessed Valuation, (EAV) had dropped 22.4% over a five year period. Simply stated, the EAV is a multiplier used to determine what we pay in real estate property tax. A lower EAV means that each individual property owner must shoulder more of the tax burden.

Currently the village’s bond rating is Aa3, and, even if the administration can get a rate of 2.1% that would amount to an interest cost if $1,800,000 on $90,000,000 of municipal bonds, (and that doesn’t count the cost of underwriting the bonds which include such things as “Gross spread”, which is a complicated combination of what is called “take down” [the difference between what the underwriter pays out to the village and what they get for the bonds on the open market];”management fee; underwriter’s expenses and “Other fees”, [which may include such things as Financial/Municipal advisory fees,  Bond counsel fees; Disclosure counsel fees, Rating agency fees, bond insurance/credit enhancement fees, trustee fees, escrow agent fees, feasibility study costs, auditor’s fees and printing costs]. Figuring out what it costs to issue bonds is, at best, complicated.) Spreads are usually quoted in terms of dollars or points per thousand bonds. For example, a gross spread of $5.00/$1,000 bond on a $90 million issuance would be $450,000: [($90 million /$1,000) *$5.00]. If you are feeling “nerdy” you might check out this article that somewhat explains the process.

If the current administration had kept it’s promise of transparency and had held public meetings telling us the upfront costs of the deal, at least taxpayers could have had some input on  spending close to ONE HUNDRED MILLION TAX DOLLARS. Maybe village president DiMaria, trustee Grear and all the other Action Party trustees figured that it would be easier to ask forgiveness rather than permission.

give-away-store

So, let’s recap the math on this deal;

  1. The “savings” estimated by village president DiMaria on the water deal: $90,000,000 over 40 years, ($2,250,000 per year).
  2. The up-front cost of the “build out” for water main piping and other infrastructure: $90,000,000.
  3. The cost of issuing the municipal bonds, (not counting “miscellaneous” “OTHER FEES”): $450,000 [approximately].
  4. The cost of interest on the bonds, (assuming a 2.1% rate, recently Aa bonds have been returning between 3.3% and 3.7%):  $1,800,000.

Wait a minute! What happened to that $90,000,000 savings that village president DiMaria spoke about?

“Savings” over 40 years:                         $90,000,000
build-out cost:                                         -$90,000,000
“gross spread” to underwriter:             -$450,000
interest, (based on 2.1% yield)              -$1,800,000

Net cost to Morton Grove taxpayers:    -$2,250,000, (or about $265 per household)

Doesn’t seem like much of a deal to us… sounds more like a fast shuffle.

money down the toilet

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Morton Grove Melodrama Part 6 – Aye, there’s the rub

Well, dear readers, when we left our story last time we were pondering some of the financial facts surrounding the Moretti family- restaurateurs and friends of mayor DiMaria- being given the opportunity to lease the property from the village for a ridiculously paltry sum for an extended period.  Morton Grovers will have yet another pizzaria to enjoy, but they might want to consider when they pay the check that they not only have paid for their pizza, but also for the land under the restaurant… the alleged contamination of that land… and who knows what else.

Today we ask the question; “Does the change in the massage parlor ordinance mean an announcement of exciting new businesses by the Mayor?”

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Morton Grove. because of it’s Home Rule status, can license the parlors and make them subject to spot inspection.  (Home Rule allows a municipality with more than 25,000 residents or one whose citizens have voted to become a Home Rule unit to do pretty much anything not forbidden by state law.)

According to The Morton Grove Champion,

Village board members voted unanimously at their Dec. 12, 2016 meeting to adopt the new regulations which officials said are intended to give the village better oversight of massage therapy establishments.

(The main thrust of these new regulations increases the fee for a license to provide revenue for the village)

“The regulation of massage establishments is a matter of growing importance to public health safety and the welfare of residents,” said Trustee Bill Grear. “And is intended to prevent the spread of diseases through unsanitary practices and…abate nuisances and unlawful activity.”

Village administrator Ralph Czerwinski said there are currently four massage therapy establishments in the village and that another application is pending. He explained that none of the current ones are suspected of anything inappropriate, but the village just wants to proactively have measures in place.

“There should be rules because it protects the community and provides a healthy and appropriate environment,” Czerwinski said.

He said Morton Grove started partnering with Glenview earlier this year to have Glenview health inspectors inspect Morton Grove food and restaurant facilities and said the same practice will be extended to massage therapy establishments. So on top of everything else, Morton Grove taxpayers are paying Glenview for inspection services. Where is the oversight by the Morton Grove administration?

Here’s a thought, why doesn’t Morton Grove require the licenses of the massage therapists to be posted (state law, already),  add the requirement that photos with names, addresses and phone numbers of the therapists would have to be posted as well…  as well as, photos, names, addresses and phone numbers of supervisors.

You might wonder why this would even be an issue until you look back over the past few years and find that there have been a number of prostitution arrests associated with massage establishments in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago.

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A few years ago, prior to the current administration, Morton Grove was winning national acclaim for being a great place to raise a family. Since then, we have seen an explosive increase in liquor licenses and gambling establishments with little, if any benefit for the quality of life for Morton Grovers.

Village officials claim that there is no suspicion of anything inappropriate, yet a website called RUB MAPS
whose motto is “Where Fantasy Meets Realty”, where people literally suggest who to request & other “personal services” info on all kinds of massage parlors, lists three “questionable establishments, one on Waukegan and two on Dempster… one of which  on Dempster  was shut down by the Morton Grove Police.

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The frightening thing is that these establishments could be involved in human trafficking, meaning under aged women or women from foreign countries could be brought into Morton Grove and once here, forced to work in these places. It wouldn’t be surprising if drugs are involved in some. The working gals could be drugged up and become addicted, resulting in a dependency and vicious circle. There is also the possibility of gang activity and drug trafficking. All sorts of bad stuff is possible.

What is happening in our once family-friendly suburb? Follow the politicians; follow the legal folks, but most of all, follow the money.

Large bills fanned out and held in hand

This all begs the question; “Why isn’t the press or somebody investigating and reporting on this?”

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