Jacob Williams

Pembrokeshire democracy’s ‘giant leap’

Wednesday 20th May, 2015
Pembrokeshire democracy’s ‘giant leap’

In a sensational victory on Friday Cllr. Tony Brinsden was voted in as the new vice-chairman at Pembrokeshire County Council’s eventful AGM.

It marks the first ever election of an opposition councillor to the post, which automatically elevates to the chairmanship after a year.

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The retired detective chief inspector has represented the Amroth ward since 2004 and has previously served a two year stint as chairman of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.

Like me, Cllr. Brinsden is among only ten serving councillors elected as ‘independent’ in 2012 who have chosen to remain a proper ‘independent’ – without affiliating to any group or party such as the ruling Independent Plus Political Group.

He beat three other councillors who were vying for the civic chains, all members of the ruling IPPG party.

Ballot count

Counting the ballot papers

Prior to the meeting there was some speculation over the voting system which would be used for the unique four-way contest.

The winner was determined by the ‘exhaustive ballot’ system which uses rounds of voting to ensure a candidate can only win with majority support.

In the absence of an outright victory following the first round of voting, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated ahead of a further round of voting, a process which continues until a majority winner is achieved.

Councillors cast their votes privately, by ballot paper. It was so closely run that the full three rounds of voting were necessary.

In the first ballot Cllr. Pearl Llewellyn received the fewest votes and was eliminated. The second ballot also failed to produce an overall winner, thus Cllr. Ken Rowlands, having polled fewest among the three remaining candidates, was bumped off the list.

The self-styled Voice of Johnston’s fall at the penultimate hurdle set things up for a traditional two horse race in which Cllr. Lyn Jenkins went up against Cllr. Brinsden in the nail-biting final ballot.

Several recounts were observed by onlookers and, although no voting numbers were declared for any of the three rounds, unconfirmed reports say Cllr. Brinsden beat Cllr. Jenkins on the final ballot by just a single vote, with 28-29 and one spoilt ballot.

The announcement of the result marked a change of direction at County Hall, where, ever since the council was formed in 1996, the chairmanship has never been held by anybody outside the ruling group, despite previous challenges by opposition councillors.

The governing party’s exclusive control over the chair is in stark contrast to the time-honoured and very British custom of representative democracy whereby the presiding officer is non-partisan.

Not only have previous chairs been open to the suggestion of partiality by their membership of the ruling group, but by their actions – including but not limited to: attendance of party-political secret meetings where tactics to deal with opposition councillors are discussed.

Having been called up to his new seat by an enthusiastically applauding Cllr. Wynne Evans from the chair, Cllr. Brinsden walked his short victory parade to the top table amid clapping and cheers. Almost all in the chamber took to their feet:

Ovation

But as this photo taken at exactly the same instant by the Western Telegraph’s reporter from the public gallery also shows, not all partook in the standing ovation:

Chamber standing ovation

Among those who chose to remain seated is the leader, Cllr. Jamie Adams. It’s a mere hypothesis that Jamie’s legs turned to jelly with the gut-wrenching realisation that his control over council meetings won’t be the same without one of his stooges presiding.

There are even hopes that Cllr. Wynne Evans’ chairmanship this year will be the most even-handed we’ve known, following his pledge that he won’t attend any of his IPPG party’s aforementioned secret political get-togethers which are arranged ahead of all council meetings to plot the ruling clique’s plan of attack.

As Tony said following his victory, the result signifies “a giant leap for democracy within Pembrokeshire.”

Cllr. Brinsden was invested by the new chair, Cllr. Wynne Evans

Cllr. Brinsden was invested by the new chair, Cllr. Wynne Evans


The second of three secret ballots at Friday’s AGM determined which one of the council’s unaffiliated members – or Uglies as Cllr. Rob Lewis famously dubbed us – should sit on the national park.

Us unaffiliateds are, by definition, not members of a political group, and therefore have no group leader. This means our committee places and appointments to outside bodies must be made by full council.

For two years the unaffiliateds’ sole national park appointee has been Cllr. Owen James. He took over from Cllr. Tony Brinsden, who stepped down at the end of his second year’s chairmanship of the authority in the summer of 2013.

There had been a gentleman’s agreement among the unaffiliated members in 2013 that Cllr. Phil Baker would be the nominee to replace Cllr. Brinsden, but, out of the blue, up popped the IPPG’s Cllr. Rob Lewis to nominate Cllr. Owen James, forcing a decisive vote.

The same Cllr. James who, having been elected at the 2012 election as a Conservative, refused to join the Conservative group on the council, where he has remained unaffiliated ever since.

Cllr. Baker lost out on the appointment as Cllr. James – not an obvious popularity contest victor – cruised home with the IPPG’s block vote behind him.

At the 2014 AGM when the position came to be reappointed as it does every year, Cllr. Baker put his name forward again. For a second time, Cllr. James was put up for the gig by the IPPG and, with its block vote support still showing strong, the ruling non-party made sure their sympathiser stayed on the park.

Last week however, Tenby’s Cllr. Mike Evans put himself up against Cllr. James for the Uglies’ park seat. Knowing how the previous two years had gone, it was no certainty Cllr. Evans could fare any better.

At this stage the leader of the Pembrokeshire Alliance, Cllr. Bob Kilmister, proposed that the vote between Cllrs. Evans and James should be taken by ballot.

The underlying principle – not against openness and transparency, as Cllr. Jamie Adams professes – is that the closed vote allows all members to vote whichever way they want, out of the sight of their party grandees, without fear of reprisals.

More pertinently, in the case of IPPG members, without the conductor of the gravy train express, Cllr. Adams, breathing down their necks.

It must have worked because the strong support IPPG members had shown for Cllr. James in the raised hand polls of 2013 and 2014 all but evaporated as Cllr. James was toppled by Cllr. Evans in the secret vote.

The same Cllr. Evans, who, although unaffiliated since the 2012 election, served the two council terms between 2004 and 2012 as a popular member of the ruling IPG non-party.

Loyal to the core, that lot!


The third and final secret ballot of the day was to decide which of the two smallest council groups could appoint one of its members to chair the council’s health and wellbeing overview and scrutiny committee.

Committee chairmanships are allocated to political groups by proportion. But, as was the case last year, the Pembrokeshire Alliance and the Conservatives – the joint smallest groups – each have three members.

This complicates matters because under the rules both groups have equal claim to the same overview and scrutiny committee chairmanship.

The law doesn’t specify the course of action in the case of a deadlock, but when the same situation arose at the 2014 AGM it was determined by a vote of councillors, a practice which still has unanswered questions of fairness and legitimacy.

To help understand why these committee chairs are so keenly contested, perhaps it’s the right opportunity to explain that they attract a £9k top-up in addition to the basic £14k salary, for chairing fewer meetings per year than you can count on both hands. Nice work if you can get it!

Cllr. Mike Stoddart suggested during the meeting that it may be fairer for the matter to be determined by random means such as drawing straws or tossing a coin, rather than by political preference.

After all, if O&S committees are set up to scrutinise the executive it could be argued unreasonable for the executive group to use its support to award the lucrative chairmanship to the most amenable opposition – or even its allies. Mike didn’t get much support.

When councillors broke the tie at last year’s AGM we voted for either the Tories or the Alliance by a show of hands. It produced the defining image of Cllr. Sue Perkins’ municipal career, if not of the state of party politics in Pembrokeshire local government:

True blue Sue Perkins

Cllr. Perkins – whose every pore breathed Labour at one point in time – cut her strong Labour ties and was saved from a messy splat by an IPPG safety net – she got to keep hold of her £28k child safeguarding cabinet post.

Of course, Sue’s way of explanation for doing the dirty on her electors and the party she’d represented Pembroke Dock under for fifteen years is that she was forced to decide between staying in Labour and having to give up her important work for the county’s youth, or joining the IPPG and carrying on.

No contest!

It was a decision which led to the Llanion representative’s brief nickname as Sue ‘I did it for the kids’ Perkins.

But it was to be a short-lived moniker.

Our Sue, by no means a shrinking violet, really took to the IPPG, and, along with her closet and card-carrying Tory colleagues, cast her vote – in the infamous photo above – for the Conservative group in the 2014 tie-breaker which gave them the scrutiny committee chairmanship and thus the associated pay packet.

It led Cllr. Mike Evans to shout his astonishment across the chamber that he “never thought” he’d see the day.

Thereafter she’s found difficulty in shaking off the ‘True Blue Sue’ tag.

We’ll never know if Sue’s support for the Tories held up this year in similar fashion because Friday’s vote was instead held by secret ballot.

It must be said, to his credit, that Sue’s cabinet colleague, Cllr. Simon Hancock – who himself was also elected for Labour at the 2012 election but ended up joining the ruling independent party and being elevated to the cabinet – wasn’t put off by his leader’s bluster in opposition to holding secret ballots.

The leader’s opposition to the private voting method – clear to hear from his vantage point – was along the lines of openness, transparency and accountability.

These, after all, are words you may find difficult to associate with the chap who’ll forever be remembered for sneaking in thousands of pounds’ worth of backdated travelling expense claims only after he knew his council seat was safely in the bag.

In the event, Friday’s tie-breaking secret ballot produced no change and saw the Tories hold onto the chairmanship, defeating the Alliance. Alas, the telephoto lenses in the public gallery were packed away as the chance for an updated snap of True Blue Sue with her hand aloft for the Tories went begging.

Tradition continued after the meeting as the new chairman hosted his buffet luncheon. The atmosphere was less jovial than previous years – I can’t think why.

To our surprise, when us councillors got home from the County Hall bun fight we found the following email had landed in our inboxes:

DEPUTY LEADER APPOINTED

Pembrokeshire County Council has a new Deputy Leader.

He is retired businessman Councillor Keith Lewis of Crymych who is Cabinet Member for Economy and Tourism.

The announcement was made today (Friday,15th May) by Council Leader, Councillor Jamie Adams.

“I am delighted to make this appointment which is well deserved” said Councillor Adams.

“Since his election to Council in 2012 and his elevation to Cabinet 12 months ago, Keith has demonstrated his ability to effectively engage with communities across the County.

“He is a Welsh speaker and commands respect both in and out of the Council Chamber.”

Prior to his retirement ten years ago, Councillor Lewis ran the family bakery business in Crymych for over 30 years.

He continues to live in the community he represents.

Cllr. Adams was at one time deemed so important he required two deputies – Cllrs. Rob Lewis and Huw George – until he unexpectedly sacked the pair of them last autumn, since which time the position has remained vacant.

The conspiracy theorists insist that the leader purposely neglected to tell us all his great news earlier in the day during the AGM. They say his announcement via press release was a concerted effort to pour water on Cllr. Brinsden’s historic elevation to vice-chair.

In other words, an attempt to bury bad news.

The leader’s failure to announce his appointment of the former baker as his number two at the earliest opportunity leads JW to assume it was withheld on a knead to know basis.

Reactions to Keith’s promotion have ranged from those who are loaf to admit it took them completely by surprise, to the know-it-alls who always thought he was a choux-in for the roll.

True Blue Sue was seen as the frontrunner among deputy contenders, but the leader’s weakness for crumpet is nothing compared to his vulnerability to waffle.

If true, Alistair Campbell would be proud of Cllr. Lewis’ willingness to play along with such daft politics. Some say it’s the yeast he could do, while others reckon Keith’s a gluten for punishment – for this might not be the first time the Crymych cake-baker has featured in a contrived effort to set the news agenda in the wake of bad news.

Readers with a good memory will remember Cllr. Tom Richards courted controversy at last year’s AGM minutes after he donned the chain of office, when he refused to accept Cllr. Viv Stoddart’s nomination for Cllr. Tony Brinsden to serve as vice-chair of the licensing committee.

Tom said Viv’s nomination was too late and made things worse by claiming he had already taken the vote resulting in a ‘considerable majority’ and was moving to the next item of business.

An unaccommodating Cllr. Richards dug his heels in when challenged over his assertion that councillors had actually voted during the window of opportunity which lasted mere seconds.

It led to a mass-walkout of opposition councillors and the ensuing furore over Cllr. Richards’ stubbornness overshadowed what was supposed to be his day of merriment.

Readers with an even better memory will recall that, following this disastrous meeting a press release was issued from County Hall decreeing that the leader, Cllr. Adams, had elevated two new councillors to his cabinet: Cllrs. Rob Summons and, you’ve guessed it, Keith Lewis!

If it was an attempt to bury bad news, it didn’t work – the despot’s overruling went viral. Cllr. Brinsden’s historic election to vice chair hasn’t reached such infamy – it’s difficult to compete – but it’s no less remarkable.

Of course, I’m quite prepared to accept that Cllr. Lewis’ Friday afternoon deputy leadership promotion wasn’t a shameless attempt to set the news agenda and the conspiracy theory is total bunkum.

As Shakespeare wrote, it could all be much a dough about muffin.


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36 Comments...

  • Welshman 23

    Was it a secret ballot for the new deputy, if so who broke ranks to support him?

  • Keanjo

    I hope the newly appointed Chairman will control meetings more efficiently than Councillor Richards, whose idea of debate seemed to be to allow a dozen or so IPPG members to stand on their hind legs and offer their support in virtually the same words, obviously as instructed by their leader.

    Councillors should not speak to a motion unless they are adding something new to the debate. Last year meetings were allowed to ramble on far too long.

  • Welshman, the deputy leader, if that’s what you’re referring to, is appointed at the sole discretion of the leader, Cllr. Jamie Adams – nobody else gets a say.

    As for the question of who ‘broke ranks,’ you perhaps got the deputy leader muddled up with the vice-chair, which was appointed by full council by secret ballot.

    As Cllr. Brinsden from the opposition won on the final ballot, we can say with some certainty that the IPPG weren’t voting with unity – but we’ll never know who broke ranks.

    There’s some analysis of the possible numbers involved over on that other website.

  • Phil Baker

    Jacob, I’m glad you kept all the baking buns for Cllr Lewis and not for me.

    A great piece, recording a very memorable day at County Hall.

  • Evening, Phil.

    With the pay rise associated with his deputy leadership promotion and what seems to be little extra work, Keith should find it easier to earn his crust.

    And he’d better do as he’s told or just like Rob and Huw before him he could end up toast!

  • Observer

    It’s an interesting theory that the deputy leadership press release was cunningly used to dampen Tony Brinsden’s bombshell.

    What’s even more interesting is that the Western Telegraph rushed to published it on their website the very same afternoon:

    http://www.westerntelegraph.co.uk/news/12953811.Keith_Lewis_elevated_to_Deputy_Leader_role_on_Pembrokeshire_County_Council/

    However the first any of the WT’s online readers got to hear about Tony’s historic vice chair victory at the AGM was a further three days later, on Monday afternoon:

    http://www.westerntelegraph.co.uk/news/12956477.Opposition_member_elected_to_Vice_Chairman_role_is__one_small_step_for_man__one_giant_leap_for_democracy_/

    The heated comments on the WT’s deputy leader story suggest the alleged plot backfired in a bad way!

  • Flashbang

    Can you please expand on the Wales Audit Office’s request for county residents to give an opinion of the council and it’s services. I for one would like to know if certain people will be brought to book for any malfeasance found. Can the cover ups see the light of day

    http://www.westerntelegraph.co.uk/news/12959100.Audit_Office_wants_your_view_of_Pembrokeshire_County_Council/

  • Goldingsboy

    I think, Jacob, you must have misheard Cllr. Perkins’ justification for jumping onto the IPG gravy train.

    Surely it should be: “I did it for the quids”.

  • Welshman 23

    Thanks Jacob. I must get the titles correct for when I stand in 2017, and not as a prospective candidate for the IPPG.

  • Tomos

    I’m guessing this situation would never have happened under our public servant BPJ.

  • Tony Wilcox

    Continuing with the baker theory, I wonder who will get the crumbs left over from the deputy’s table.

    I reckon there will be a bit of a reshuffle coming soon as there are a few disappointed troops who will need to be appeased.

  • John Hudson

    The WAO have advised me that the corporate assessment they are currently running at the council seeks to answer:

    “Is the authority capable of delivering its priorities and improved outcomes for citizens?”

    And the corporate assessment covers the following aspects: vision and strategic direction, performance and outcomes, governance and accountability, use of resources – finance, IT, HR and assets, collaboration and partnerships, and managing improvement.

    The WAO carried out a preliminary corporate assessment in 2010 for PCC and this is available on the WAO website, where the report is publicly available:

    http://www.wao.gov.uk/publication/pembrokeshire-county-council-corporate-assessment-2010

  • Keanjo

    Who broke ranks? Surely the two IPPG members who lost on the first two ballots must have been tempted to vote against their own.

  • Miss Marple

    I wonder who the rebel could be?? Maybe this will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. The group definitely never supported one of those two, not once but three times. Shame on you Jamie, remember karma!!!

  • Flashbang

    Excuse my cynicism but don’t count your chickens just yet please. This has all the hallmarks of the sort of chicanery from the BPJ days. A blind here, a three card trick there. I’ll be reserving judgement until after seeing a few more meetings.

    On the other hand it could well be a couple of councillors having realised they are not going to get any more gravy from the IPPG deciding to position themselves early for the next election.

    I just hope their constituents see through this shameless tactic and remember the past on election day.

  • Perhaps they should rename your village Puntlepoir!

    Keith Lewis has become Jamie’s most crusted lieutenant and is now just one step away from becoming the IPPG’s top bun. He deserves no less following his Oscar-worthy performance in what came to be known as the St Valentine’s Day Massacre.

    Just shows what can be achieved if you use your loaf and know which side your bread is buttered.

  • The Time Lord

    Not sure if this has been covered but Bryn was paid a large amount for being returning officer in the national elections, who had it this time around? And how did they find the time when working full time?

  • Timetraveller

    I believe a few, if not more, in the IPPG feel Jamie should follow Bryn out of the door. The problem is that they have no mechanism to do this, so apparently some felt he needed his wings clipped.

    The lack of clear replacements plus the fractious nature of the opposition otherwise keep them together, plus the ones that have been “paid for”.

    Will the incoming chairman, being a retired police officer, have a take on the alleged misappropriation of a considerable amount of public money in the Pembroke Dock grant schemes supposedly being “investigated” by the police?

  • John Hudson

    Ian Westley was appointed as the Statutory Returning Officer by Council on 11 December 2014.

  • The Time lord

    So does anyone know how much Mr. Westley was paid for being returning officer? And how did the additional work affect his day job and was he given a pay cut for time lost? And why can I not moonlight?!

  • Malcolm Calver

    I am sure there must be an account somewhere of not only the amount paid to Mr Westley but also that paid to all those involved in the electoral process. There does seem to be a reluctance by the establishment for disclosure of the sums involved.

    There is nothing to stop anyone moonlighting/having a second income, Time Lord. The only obstacle would be if your employer decided that it affected your day job and then deducted some of your salary. We are often told how taxpayer funded council employees are stressed out because of their workload but there must be exceptions I suppose.

    Time Lord, I would not worry as I am sure our ever vigilant county councillors, when appointing Mr Westley, would have raised the issue of any reduction needed in his council salary to compensate for loss of his time/expertise in his day job.

  • Flashbang

    With Sepp Blatter resigning from FIFA the way is now clear for Jamie Adams to throw his hat into ring for the Presidency.

    If he wins there’d be no cause for alarm from the smaller nation members as to the way things are run there. And the size of the special allowances he could bestow doesn’t bear thinking about.

  • Trickie

    I understand in Carmarthenshire County Council they rotate their Chair, no music but fair to all groups. Chairs of other committees reflect the political balance.

    Nothing against a pre meeting to run through the length of the agenda and planning to allow time for each item on it. Good practice for chairs to do this. If Councillors have time to plot then they are not being given enough work to do for the residents of Pembrokeshire. I might move!

  • Dave Edwards

    When Ian Westley is paid for his duties, details will be available from the Welsh Assembly.

  • John Hudson

    Councils are required to appoint a Returning Officer. By convention this is usually the Council’s Head of Paid Service/Chief Executive.

    The Returning Officer position is a personal one, with an agreed allowance for election expenses paid for by the Home Office or whatever it is called today.

    I think a lump sum is paid in advance, with a return of actual expenses incurred on the election required when known, and any shortfall topped up. (I do not know who stumps up or bears the cost of any shortfall in the interim). Does anyone know?

    Such expenses do not form part of the Council’s accounts, or at least I have never been able to identify them. The expenses cover not only the Returning Officer’s salary, but the hire of polling stations, admin of the election and payment of polling staff and counters. (Usually I think in PCC these are mainly Council Staff, does anyone know? Presumably staff are given leave for this and paid appropriately for their election duties.)

    The current Acting Head of Paid Service was appointed by the Council as the Returning Officer, alongside his role of Director of Transportation. These joint roles my be considered somewhat burdensome for one person, hence the requirement for a new Head of Paid Service.

    It may be significant that at the last election under the former CEO, Mr Harding, the former Monitoring officer was to be seen at the count, and the former Head of Legal Services was at last month’s election, I think I read, for his Welsh Speaking ability. The cost of their attendance would no doubt be an election expense.

  • Dave Edwards

    I have looked back to a previous FOIA regarding Returning Officer fees. At the last Assembly election Bryn received £4,730 for each constituency plus £1,750 superannuation contribution.

  • With regard to payments to the returning officer I put down the following question to the council meeting in October 2004.

    “What arrangements are in place to compensate the Council for the loss of the Chief Executive’s services during the periods when he was employed by the government as Returning Officer?”

    The minutes record the reply from the then Leader, Cllr John Davies:

    “All principal local authorities in Wales had to appoint Returning Officers, and in most cases it was their Chief Executives whom local authorities appointed as Returning Officers. There would be occasions when Returning Officers would be required to deal with other than local elections and also act as regional or national Returning Officers.

    The Leader was in no doubt that the Chief Executive executed his duties over and above what was required of him contractually, as evidenced by his commitment late into weekday evenings and on weekends during election periods, a fact which had been frequently witnessed by many Members.

    There was no doubt that the proper processes had been followed with regard to the Chief Executive’s terms of employment and his position during elections.”

    Although it is not entirely clear from Cllr Davies’ answer, the situation is that the chief executive forgoes neither part of his salary, nor his holiday entitlement, during periods when he is being paid by the Home Office/Welsh Government to conduct elections.

  • John Hudson

    What about when other Council staff go off on leave to undertake polling/counting duties?

    Many years ago this gave non-council workers an opportunity for casual work.

  • Malcolm Calver

    David, when you say that Bryn received £4,730 plus £1,750 per constituency, surely that was not received by him personally?

  • Oliver Cromwell

    It is becoming wearisome to learn of public service ‘gravy trains’ being run for the benefit of councillors and officers, all at the expense of the taxpayer.

    I was under the naive assumption that we elected councillors to represent our interests. Clearly not! The evident knowledge and acumen of the large majority of those concerned, as demonstrated in debates, is little better than the kindergarten – many bleat but no one seems capable of acting to halt the gravy train.

    The returning officer shambles is simple, deduct what is paid by central government from his salary at the end of the financial year! If he does not like it he does not have to be the returning officer – so long as it clear that these are the terms there can be no complaint.

    In the word of the meerkat, ‘simples’.

  • Dave Edwards

    Yes, Malcolm, it was and as there was also the regional list election he got an extra £2,860 fee plus £485.17 superannuation.

    So in total he got £12,320 in fees plus £2,207.95 in superannuation, all paid to him personally.

  • Flashbang

    How the hell did it get to be that someone gets paid fourteen and a half grand for a few hours of work? That’s a year’s wages for some people.

    Who is in charge of deciding that the work is worth that much, it’s a scandal and it should be exposed to the world.

  • Malcolm Calver

    You are quite correct Flashbang, how did we get to the stage that a Returning Officer is paid so much, when at the same time being in full time salaried position.

    I would suggest that there are very few people in a position that they are in control of a workforce, able to drop everything and get paid a lucrative sum to sit in the polling booths.

    I note that our beloved leader in Cardiff does not believe that we are capable of voting on two issues on the same day (European referendum and Welsh Assembly) elections.

    It looks like another good year for taxpayer funded local authority employees.

  • Antony Glynn

    Who appoints the Returning Officer?

  • John Hudson

    Full Council, by convention it is usually the “clerk to the council” now the Chief Executive.

    I suppose the convention took out the possibility (and likelihood) that elected councillors could interfere with election administration which was by law placed in the hands of a disinterested unelected officer.

    The law also made it clear that council resources could, or should not, be used by councillors for election purposes – except in the independent state of Pembrokeshire, where there was room apparently, for some confusion over the interpretation of the legal regulations.

  • Dave Edwards

    The County Council appointed Ian Westley on 11 December 2014, Agenda item 135.

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