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Contra Costa Times editorial board endorses Lawrence and Mason in MDUSD race

By Theresa Harrington
Monday, October 29th, 2012 at 11:29 am in Education, Election, Mt. Diablo school district.

Since many blog readers appear to be interested in commenting on the Times’ endorsement of Brian Lawrence and Debra Mason, I am reposting the editorial below. Please note that I am not on the editorial board and did not write this editorial. As a reporter, I do not endorse candidates.

“Contra Costa Times editorial: Lawrence and Mason for school board in Mt. Diablo Unified

© Copyright 2012, Bay Area News Group

As voters select two Mt. Diablo school trustees on Nov. 6, they should reflect on recent years of district leadership plagued by arrogance, deception, secrecy and ethical lapses.

In 2010, trustees and Superintendent Steven Lawrence misled voters about the long-term costs associated with an ill-conceived $348 million bond issue. They also promised a cap on the resulting tax rate for property owners. After voters approved the bonds, trustees reneged and exceeded the cap by 50 percent.

Meanwhile, during the election, the superintendent held private meetings with Chevron at his home. The oil giant was vying for a $66 million solar installation to be paid from the bond proceeds. The company was also treating him to drinks and he was soliciting golf discounts from the firm.

After the election, the district was headed toward awarding the contract to Chevron without competitive bidding until this newspaper started asking questions. When Chevron actually had to compete with other companies, it didn’t bother.

Then, in 2011, disenchantment with administrators at Clayton Valley High sparked the largest teacher-led conversion to a charter school in Northern California. While district officials complained about the extra cost, they ignored that they brought it on themselves by being tone-deaf to the concerns of teachers and parents. District trustees rejected the charter, but the county Office of Education overturned that decision, allowing the school to open in July.

Meanwhile, parents seeking information, as well as this newspaper, have been repeatedly stonewalled by administrators, including school district attorney Greg Rolen, who deny or delay access to public information.

This circle-the-wagon mentality must end. And that must start at the top with the removal of one of the intransigent board members, Sherry Whitmarsh, who happens to work for Chevron, sees nothing wrong with Lawrence’s cozy relationship with the firm and spearheaded early contract renewals for Lawrence and Rolen. She also tries to perpetuate the fantasy that the district is open and responsive to the public.

Whitmarsh is the only incumbent seeking re-election in the Nov. 6 election for two board seats. We urge voters to instead support Brian Lawrence of Walnut Creek (no relation to the superintendent with the same last name) and Debra Mason of Bay Point.

The fourth candidate, former principal Barbara Oaks, didn’t understand the bond program nor realize most of the money was to go for school construction. It was a stunning admission.

Lawrence and Mason understand the program. Both regularly attend school board meetings. Lawrence brings financial expertise while Mason brings the experience of 22 years as a district instructional assistant and would add much-needed geographic diversity to the board.

(A fifth candidate on the ballot, Ernie Detrinidad, dropped out of the race.)

Lawrence and Mason argue for district transparency and question the cost of the bond program. The district was antagonistic to teachers and parents during the charter school review, Lawrence says. Mason says she was appalled by how they were treated.

It’s time for responsive leadership that’s open, honest and ethical. Elect Lawrence and Mason.”

It’s my understanding that the editorial board interview conducted by Dan Borenstein will eventually be posted online at

Do you agree with the Times’ editorial board’s endorsements?

NOV. 1 UPDATE: Here is a link to video of the Times’ editorial board interview:

[You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.]

114 Responses to “Contra Costa Times editorial board endorses Lawrence and Mason in MDUSD race”

  1. Doctor J Says:

    G permit me to correct your post: He’ll fit nicely into the depression left by Eberhart. LOL.

  2. Anon Says:

    @Brian #48
    Here’s one for you – How do you get off portraying yourself as an “Educator”? Explain that and be clear. Tell us about your political alliances with Gary,Sherry, and Paul, and your campaign money from Matt juhl-Darlington. C’mon, Brian, confession is good for the soul. Tell the public why we should trust a political opportunist like you. Frankly, the moment you wrote “Educator” as your ballot designation, you disqualified yourself as a credible candidate.

  3. Brian Lawrence Says:

    Most of my donations have been via PayPal. I downloaded the info and created a public spreadsheet in Google:

    I also received 3 or 4 checks prior to Oct. 25, I believe the total was for less than $500. They are listed in my financial filing, but I do not have a copy with me to verify at the moment.

  4. Anon Says:

    What credentials do you hold, Brian?

  5. Jim Says:

    This discussion of Brian Lawrence’s FB friends and financial filings provides a perfect window into why it is so difficult to manage a large school district monopoly via public elections (that most of the electorate doesn’t even care about). I would bet that many people do not care about his FB friends. (I probably have FB friends whom I would not even recognize on the street.) And while it would be nice to know who is funding the various campaigns, it appears that he has done what is expected, as far as disclosure.

    It would be nice if voters would reflect on some of the larger issues facing MDUSD: lack of coherent planning; inability to hold anyone, at any level, to any identifiable standard of accountability; obstinate opposition to almost any viable form of school choice; a reputation that is so sullied that we consistently have to dig to the bottom of the barrel to fill positions that are open from our above-average turnover; and the inability (or unwillingness) to employ the most basic tools of transparency and professional governance in running this almost-$300 million enterprise.

    There are plenty of additional substantive issues to consider. But let’s put down the trivia and at least start with those.

  6. Wait a Minute Says:

    Hi Brian,
    Jim@55 makes a good point so I will repeat my question to you that I made several weeks ago here on the blog.

    What do you intend to do to hold people accountable for the numerous mistakes, mis-steps, unethical decisions (some of which you have mentioned as being wrong in your opinion before) if you are elected?

  7. Brian Lawrence Says:

    @ Jim #55 and Wait A Minute # 56,

    Thanks for the thoughtful points.

    In my view, the Superintendent is the person that the Board should primarily hold accountable. It is why I have repeatedly asked the Board: “What are the goals and expectations for the Superintendent and how is the District performing against those?”
    This absolutely should have been part of the dialogue regarding the contract extensions for the Superintendent and top administrators.

    When issues like the loss of QEIA funding at Mt. Diablo come up, the Board should demand answers and accountability. It shouldn’t just be a witch hunt- it also means that as an organization the District should learn from these errors and have a game plan for improvement.

    As a Board Member, I’ll demand accountability. That means if the Board is told “We will look in to that for you”, then at the next meeting I expect a public report. Everyone makes mistakes, but the critical part is that we create a culture that combines feedback and accountability.

  8. Theresa Harrington Says:

    I remembered why I thought of Linda Mayo in relation to the Measure C high school funding — she was the trustee who insisted that Olympic High also get extra money for improvements.

    Regarding my earlier question about Bryan Richards’ Measure C reporting, here is his emailed response:

    “It appears the requirement mentioned by Antioch USD in their pamphlet is Government Code Section 53411. This section requires an annual report of funds collected and expended for any bond issued.

    The State has automated the financial reporting through the SACS reports that are approved by the board at each interim reporting period and the official annual expenditure report, a.k.a. the unaudited actuals, which were presented to the board on September 24th.

    General Obligation Bonds’ Construction funds are reported on Form 21.
    Mello Roos Construction funds are reported on Form 49.
    General Obligation Bonds’ Debt Service & Redemption are reported on Form 51.
    Mello Roos Bonds’ Debt Service & Redemption are reported on Form 52.

    The status of project reports in our District are presented by the Facilities Department. Pete presented the most recent one a couple of board meetings ago. I think his last report to the Board is on the Measure C website. If it isn’t there, it would be on the board agenda website.

    The Unaudited Actuals (the official report of revenues and expenditures for the year) are on the Budget & Fiscal Services website, and are attached to the September 24 board agenda.”

    Obviously, it would be a bit easier for the public to find this information if there was a comprehensive report submitted to the board that just covered the bond expenditures. But, at least now, we know where to look for the details.

  9. Anon Says:

    Brian Lawrence is full of it…..when did he ever stand up and ask the board about how the superintendent is measured against school district outcomes? He didn’t and he can’t produce any proof that he did. Merely because you say something doesn’t make it so. That’s an Eberhart tactic.

    First, he calls himself an “educator”, an outright insult to all teachers in the district. Apparently, in Lawrence’s mind, talking to barbers at barber school is equivalent to being a certificated teacher. But, it looks good on the ballot, doesn’t it?
    He also refuses to explain his ties to Eberhart, Strange, and Whitmarsh and others like Matt juhl-Darlington who is deeply involved in bond sales for Measure C.

    However, here is the seminal moment for Lawrence where he doesn’t quite qualify for the Profiles in Courage award. April 23, 2012, the Board majority is about to extend the superintendent’s contract despite the fact that 10 of the 12 speakers have opposed it. While this is going on, Brian Lawrence sits in the back row corner of the Board room and says nothing, not wishing to possibly provoke the ire of his handlers, Eberhart and Whitmarsh, by even speaking. Meanwhile, Eberhart and Whitmarsh the board majority pushes through a contract extension by a 4-1 vote.

    We are saddled with one Lawrence who is a disaster, we don’t need another one to make it catastrophic.

  10. Doctor J Says:

    Nice article about campaign spending in Pleasant Hill race. What is happening in the MDUSD race ?

  11. Wait a Minute Says:

    Brian Lawrence@57

    Brian, while I agree that a board’s focus should be primarily on the superintendent, I also believe a board MUST hold ALL senior management accountable for their actions.

    IMO and I believe this is held by most others who follow the MDUSD, Greg Rolen is the “kingmaker” of the MDUSD and he has had undue influence and causation on virtually all of its scandals.

    This includes the SPC Ed transportation disasters under his watch as manager of transportation for which his compensation was upped some $20,00 and the scandal regarding the translation contract now in excess of $100,00 in total which as we all know his girlfriend (now wife) owns the business. Then there is the unseeming moves by Rolen to withhold from the public’s scrutiny documents like the FCAT reports and what he did to obfuscate taxpayer advocate Alicia Minyen on the Measure C committee.

    My question to you Brian is how would if elected as a board member go about holding Rolen and other senior management employees accountable for any mis-deeds they have wrought on the district and public?

  12. Theresa Harrington Says:

    WAM: Don’t forget the “thorough” and “definitive” Poway analysis referenced by Superintendent Lawrence and Trustee Gary Eberhart, which Board President Sherry Whitmarsh said was actually a closed session conversation with Rolen and which Mayo said was a document received by the entire board, but which Trustee Cheryl Hansen initially never recalled receiving. Later, when she was given the document again, she said it was neither “thorough” nor “definitive.” Yet, this is the document the board ostensibly relied on when it assured the public that it was acting within the law by paying cost of issuance with bond premium.

    It is also worth repeating that Trustee Linda Mayo made a motion not to include Rolen’s contract in the extensions and she didn’t sign his first contract. The second round of contracts — approved in April — still have not been finalized and signed by trustees. Time is running out for Eberhart to sign those contracts. Hansen voted against them. If Whitmarsh isn’t re-elected, Rolen may not have a majority of board members in favor of extending his contract after the election.

  13. Tagg Says:

    Election time…… And I have so little to vote on….. Except to cast my vote against Whitmarsh!
    How about we all write in “Cheryl Hansen” in the two blanks and give Cheryl another two seats on the board. She is the only one there with integrity to watch out for us all.
    Maybe she can energize the new board to “come clean” and work for the students instead of special interests.

  14. g Says:

    Tagg: Thanks for the comment. It brought me back to this thread. Theresa, the next questions for Bryan Richards would be: “Does Jeff McDaniel do anything?”

    He got his big title and raise a couple of years ago, (thanks to Pedersen/Rolen) but as far as I can tell, when it hits the fan—and it regularly does; busing, toilets, drinking water, poorly executed contract oversight, etc.— McDaniel is incommunicado.

    Did he have to agree to keep a low profile and continue to let Pedersen “run the show” in exchange for that raise?

    I looked at the most recent Organization Chart, and Pete Pedersen’s name is not there.

  15. Theresa Harrington Says:

    At tonight’s board meeting, Board President Sherry Whitmarsh and outgoing Trustee Gary Eberhart — along with Trustee Lynne Dennler — essentially gave what could be considered a “pardon” to Greg Rolen and his wife Marisol Padilla. Although the board agreed that Padilla has been charging too much for comparable services, there was a head-scratching turn of events when the board first voted 3-2 to exclude her from a translation contract (with Eberhart and Whitmarsh against), then voted 3-2 in favor of allowing Padilla to stay in the running if she renegotiates her contract and agrees to terms that are similar to those of her competitors (with Hansen and Mayo against). The swing vote was Dennler, who seconded Eberhart’s motion to reach out to Padilla.
    There was no mention of the fact that Padilla-Rolen is Rolen’s wife. Rolen, I am told, did not take his seat on the dais at the beginning of the meeting (I arrived late, but caught the entire discussion on video). Instead, Deb Cooksey sat in the general counsel’s seat and Rolen sat there after the vote was taken. So, Rolen never made any announcement about his conflict of interest related to the item. And when trustees asked why the previous contractor had had its contract curtailed, no one on staff seemed to know the circumstances related to that — saying they weren’t here when that happened. They referred vaguely to an “incident,” which no one had any details about.

  16. Doctor J Says:

    Its really too bad that CoCoVote never got its act together to publish the Campaign Finance Statements.

  17. Doctor J Says:

    @TH#65 There’s something rotten in Denmark and Dennler’s naivity is incredulous. Padilla-Rolen’s RFP strategy — bid high and then agree to lower bids when outbid — smacks of cronyism. FPPC rule or maybe the state law require Rolen, if there is a conflict, to be out of the room. Linda Mayo’s “Reversal of Fortune” is also significant. Tonight perhaps Sherry will dream of all of those buried coffins of MDUSD scandals she has participated in starting to rise to the surface like the New Orleans coffins during Hurricane Katrina. I just don’t know how Sherry will live wondering which coffin will be the next to pop up and open. Her “Silence of the Lambs” will not serve her well.

  18. Wait a Minute Says:

    Well Theresa @65,
    I certainly hope you do a story on this egregious conflict-of-interest regarding Greg Rolen and his girlfriend/wife and their over $100,000 of taxpayer’s money they have scammed IMO.

    This so-called “incident” sounds very fishy too. Possibly a lame excuse to get rid of the previous vendor so Rolen could get his girlfriend the job at inflated rates to boot.

    Maybe you should contact the last vendor to get their side of the story?

  19. Theresa Harrington Says:

    It sounds like the district plans to rehire the previous vendor, which lends credence to the suggestion that the “incident” was not so terrible that the district would refuse to work with them. Also, it turns out that both companies use many of the same translators and that the competing company offers more languages than Rolen’s company.
    I am posting the video clips of the discussion now to YouTube/tunedtotheresa and will post links in the MDUSD 11-5-12 blog after they are all uploaded.
    Regarding Dennler — even Deb Cooksey seemed surprised by the fact that she essentially reversed herself in two consecutive votes. Cooksey pointed out that the board was right back where it started after the second vote.

  20. Wait a Minute Says:

    This is another reason why Dennler needs to be recalled.

  21. g Says:

    Marisol Padilla-Rolen states that she worked for 14 years at “a previous company” prior to starting her own company. She (coincidentally?) showed up just in time for MDUSD to discontinue CTI after 32 years of satisfactory service, over apparently one negative experience.

    That one negative is now either ‘not remembered’, or it’s a ‘buried secret’. I’d like to know which.

    Also of note; the Rolen-vs-Rolen saga began just about that same (also coincidental?) time.

    One top question I would like an answer to: Was that “previous company” she worked for — CTI?”

  22. Doctor J Says:

    @G#71 Not coincidental. Maybe its time for a reprint of the infamous “book review” by the scorned, eh ? sounds like the puzzle is all coming together.

  23. g Says:

    Question: How does this scenario fit into Robert’s Rules?

    A motion is made and passed by 3-2. One of the losing 2 then makes a motion that, in effect, “rescinds or reconsiders” the motion where he voted on the “losing” side.

    Answer: It doesn’t fit!

    “The motion can be made by any member of the committee Who Did Not Vote With The Losing Side; or, in other words, the maker of the motion to Reconsider can be one who voted with the prevailing side, or one who did not vote at all, or even was absent.”

    You can read all of the Rules at RONR 10th ed, or do a quick look up at:

    Note number 2.

  24. Theresa Harrington Says:

    I was also wondering how the board could re-vote on something it had just decided against. It’s surprising that Deb Cooksey didn’t point out that that should not have been allowed.
    It’s important to note that the vote last night did not guarantee Padilla-Rolen a contract. It merely gave her the opportunity to lower her bid (which I don’t think is standard procedure in MDUSD, so it already appears that an exception is being made for no apparent reason). If the contracts don’t come back until after the election, Eberhart will be gone and Hansen and Mayo could again argue against using Padilla-Rolen’s company — especially if it doesn’t completely agree to match its competitors’ bids.
    It remains to be seen if Whitmarsh will still be there to vote for Padilla-Rolen’s contract and if Dennler will reverse herself yet again.
    It’s also possible that someone could raise a Point of Order regarding the validity of last night’s vote. Then, Rolen would have to recuse himself and Cooksey would be the one on the hot seat. Also, if Whitmarsh is not re-elected, a new board president could rule on the Point of Order. Given Mayo’s reputation for attention to detail, I’m surprised she didn’t raise this herself.

  25. Doctor J Says:

    The meeting audio is now on-line. Long discussion.

  26. Theresa Harrington Says:

    All four of my videos are also posted to YouTube, so I’ll post the links in the meeting blog post.

  27. g Says:

    Not really so surprising that Cooksey didn’t point out the error. Rolen would not have hired her if she were too inclined to stick to even the Board Bylaws, much less something as mundane as RONR, or as historically unenforceable as the Brown Act.

  28. Doctor J Says:

    Hansen’s original motion was to approve the 3 most cost effective companies — did not include Padilla’s company [AIS], but Hansen said that Padilla could come back and propose lower rates for consideration. Only approval of the companies, not contracts. Discussion was that contracts would be negotiated at a later date and brought back to board. Motion carried 3-2. Eberhart took advantage that AIS was not mentioned in the original motion and moved to approve AIS and directed staff to negotiate contracts. Eberhart said he agreed that lowest pricing structure be used and should allow AIS who has a good reputation in the district to further negotiate in a side-by-side competitive basis. Also was discussion about using in house support, including training staff to conduct IEP’s and avoiding using translators during IEP’s based on Kerri Mills experience in Santa Barbara. Discussion about allocation of services between the companies be approximately equal. Eberhart’s motion carried 3-2. Lawrence said “he heard” they are now to negotiate contracts with the four companies. Is Rolen going to be locked out from the computer system while the negotiations go on ?

  29. Doctor J Says:

    I wonder if Eberhart was receiving text messages from conflict-of-interest Greg during the Board disussion ?

  30. Theresa Harrington Says:

    I heard from one member of the audience that Rolen could be seen peeking out the door behind the board before the meeting began. That person was wondering why Rolen wasn’t seated at the dais at the beginning of the meeting.

    Dr. J: Based on what you wrote, it appears that there was no violation of Robert’s Rules of Orders, since Hansen did not specifically exclude AIS in her motion. Is that the point you are making?

  31. MDUSD Board Watcher Says:


    As soon as that is done, the people that are getting the Recall Mayo and Dennler campaigns going will need help gathering signatures.

  32. Doctor J Says:

    @TH#80 That’s the way I heard it — there was a small opening and Eberhart jumped on it. Based on the discussion I would expect that the district will offer the same pricing to all four companies, including same policies regarding mileage and minimum charges.

  33. Doctor J Says:

    Does Padilla’s AIS have a contract with any other school district ?

  34. Wait a Minute Says:

    Here is the important point here everyone.

    Greg Rolen, using his influence as the MDUSD “Kingmaker” IMO, has a massive conflict of interest and has already violated multiple ethics by having steered the recent contracts (at an inflated cost) to his then girlfriend whom he has now married.

    In other words, Rolen further padded his household income by over $100,000 by steering the contract, at an inflated rate, to his household.

    this means that we the taxpayers were ripped off yet again by Greg Rolen.

    This is very close to being fraud IMO and is certainly highly unethical because Rolen did not excuse himself from the process at the time!!!

    IMO, Greg Rolen SHOULD BE FIRED (and a complaint made to the State Bar) and AIS should not be in the running for the next contract because of this corruption!

  35. MDUSD Board Watcher Says:

    WAM is correct. It is time for Greg Rolen to be fired.

    Hopefully the people with the guts to do so are the ones that get elected.

  36. Doctor J Says:

    Padilla’s AIS contract approved by the Board in late August, but back dated to July 1 and limited to $68,000 should be about depleted now ! Interesting that the RFP’s didn’t go out for a month after the August board meeting, and just were on the Agenda. The new Board will have to deal with it.

  37. No On Whitmarsh Says:

    Just remember vote NO ON WHITMARSH!

  38. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Please note that I have finished uploading video clips to You Tube and including links in my 11-5-12 meeting recap blog post at

  39. Doctor J Says:

    Watching the election results and it appears Brian Lawrence and Barbara Oaks have “comfortable” leads but not insurmountable. I went back to election results in 2008 — total votes about 151,000 with Sherry garnishing 52,500 and Gary about a thousand left. Still lots of ballots to count as only 66,000 counted so far. Debra Mason and Sherry in a neck and neck race for 3rd place.

  40. g Says:

    It would be a different story right now if those 5000+ votes were not wasted on DiTrinidad.

    Too many voters who say “I don’t know anything at all about what or who I’m voting for, but golly gee, I like the sound of this guy’s name.”

    If those ignorant voters had any idea of who he suggested ‘his’ votes should go for, this would be a whole different ball game.

  41. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Results at 11:15 p.m. show Oaks is gaining on Lawrence, while Whitmarsh and Mason are falling farther behind.
    With 113 of 192 precincts reporting: Lawrence has 29.36 percent, Oaks has 24.73 percent, Whitmarsh has 18.94 percent, Mason has 18.09 percent and DeTrinidad has 8.58 percent (he’s up to 6,833 votes now). So far, 79,595 votes have been cast.

  42. Doctor J Says:

    Prop 30 is making a comeback and is now ahead after being behind all evening but only 45% of precincts statewide are reporting.

  43. Doctor J Says:

    Doesn’t look like Sherry can catch Barbara — she is down 6000 votes with 152 precincts of 192 reporting. So Doctor J is projecting Brian Lawrence and Barbara Oaks as the new MDUSD trustees.

  44. Theresa Harrington Says:

    That’s 157 of 192 precincts reporting. And yes, Whitmarsh is falling farther behind with each new report. In fact, the gap between Whitmarsh and Mason is narrowing.

    Here’s how it stands with 157 of 192 precincts reporting: Lawrence has inched up to 29.58 percent and Oaks has also picked up steam with 24.74 percent. Whitmarsh has dropped to 18.62 percent, followed closely by Mason at 18.01 percent. Even DeTrinidad is gaining, with 8.73 percent and 8,327 votes. The total votes cast now are 95,415.

  45. Theresa Harrington Says:

    I just spoke to Brian Lawrence briefly on the phone about his strong lead. Although he didn’t have a victory speech prepared, he said quietly: “I’m excited and looking forward to diving in.”

  46. Theresa Harrington Says:

    And here’s the latest, with 178 of 192 precincts reported:

    Lawrence’s lead has grown to 29.67 percent, while Oaks is gaining with 24.88 percent. Whitmarsh has dropped to 18.51 percent and Mason has dipped to 17.91 percent. DeTrinidad is holding steady at about 8.7 percent and 9,015 votes. Total votes counted so far: 103,588.

  47. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Here’s the final tally, with all 192 precincts reported:

    Lawrence wins with 29.63 percent, followed by Oaks, with 25.01 percent.
    Whitmarsh ended up with 18.42 percent (with more than 7,000 votes less than Oaks). Mason got 17.94 percent of votes and DeTrinidad got 8.68 percent or 9,453 votes. There were 108,852 votes cast.

  48. Wait a Minute Says:

    Ding-dong the witch is dead!

  49. David "Shoe" Shuey - Clayton City Council Says:

    Congratulations to Lawrence and Oaks! What rings loud and clear is the citizens of this District were not satisfied with the way things were going. I look forward to a new Board with a new mandate to change the way things our done. I am hopeful the new Board will be more open to working together with the cities to ensure the best for our children.

  50. Doctor J Says:

    We will see if Brian Lawrence will walk the walk or if he becomes cozy with the Supt. You can bet your socks that Steven Lawrence today will begin to build a cozy relationship with Linda Mayo [who will make a play to become Board President] Brian Lawrence and Barbara Oaks to try to freeze out Cheryl Hansen. I think Steven Lawrence will be willing to sacrifice Greg Rolen within 6 months to save his own bacon.

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