Today’s UPDATE is a Public Service Announcement and an invitation. The PSA is generated by a letter to the editor in the Seal Beach Sun, located below. Right below the Seal Beach Sun piece is an invitation to hike Bolsa Chica with me on Saturday, August 13th. You’ll enjoy the wild animals we’ll encounter on the walk.
In spite of all the efforts of 34 cities and the County, coyotes are still thriving. More news reports are appearing every day. There have been incidents from Buena Park to Laguna Woods. Here is one that was just posted:
Coyotes Kill Dog Near Braille Institute (Anaheim) — http://www.myfoxla.com/dpp/news/local/coyotes-kill-dog-near-braille-institute-20110805
For those experiencing contacts with coyotes, the County has resources available at http://www.ocgov.com/vgnfiles/ocgov/OC%20Animal%20Care/Docs/regulatory/coyotes.pdf and http://www.ocgov.com/ocgov/Info%20OC/Departments%20&%20Agencies/OC%20Animal%20Care/General%20Information/Wildlife%20Information#Wildlife.
There is a balance to be maintained and everyone is trying their best to find it. But, it requires cooperation from everyone.
The California Department of Fish and Game provides specific guidelines on addressing public safety with wildlife at http://www.dfg.ca.gov/news/issues/publicsafety.html.
The cities in the County provide similar information. The City of Fountain Valley has resources on its Police Department website:
IMPORTANT INFORMATION ON COYOTES
The Fountain Valley Police Department shares citizen concerns about the local coyote population. We want our neighborhoods to remain safe while co-existing with coyote populations in their natural habitats. We have teamed up with the Department of Fish and Game, Orange County Animal Control and the Park Rangers at Mile Square Park to identify issues that require resolution while informing and educating the public on how best to avoid inviting wildlife into our neighborhoods.
If you observe a coyote in town, please call the Fountain Valley Police Department at 714-593-4485/86 to report the sighting. We have begun augmenting the Department of Fish and Game tracking the reports. Naturally we also want you to call if you observe any kind of aggressive or vicious activity on the part of a coyote, or any animal for that matter.
We have also been reminding our citizens to un-invite wildlife visitors to our neighborhoods by participating in the following tasks:
- Remove food sources from outside your home
- Store dog and cat food inside your garage or home – keep it covered
- Pick up ripened fruit that has fallen to the ground
- Cover trashcans
- Bring cats and small animals inside at night
- Do not leave food out for stray animals
- Encourage your neighbors to take these steps
Just last night www.OC180NEWS.com produced this good news: “Los Alamitos Completes Trapping of Coyotes – Snares 3 Males” (see http://www.oc180news.com/article/West_Orange_County_Features/Coyotes/Los_Alamitos_Completes_Trapping_Of_Coyotes_Snares_3_Males/22944). Here is a portion of the piece:
On August 4th, RPMT contacted City Manager of Los Alamitos Jeff Stewart who stated that Los Al has concluded two weeks of coyote trapping by Wildlife Management Specialists. The trappers snared 3 male coyotes (one male coyote that was extremely large).
Jeff Stewart determined that the brazen attack by a coyote on Rochelle in Los Alamitos was very concerning as to the welfare and safety of residents. Mr. Stewart’s determination in having the trapping commenced was to "make residents feel safe". The City of Los Alamitos plans to conduct coyote trapping on an annual basis.PLEASE continue to turn on lights before entering your backyard, carry a stick and enter first before your pet. ALWAYS escort children and pets in backyards. Do not leave food, water or pets outside. Coyotes have a keen sense of smell and will return to the backyard of its kill or attack.
Editor’s note: The following is a portion of a letter the Rossmoor Predator Management Team sent to the Orange County Board Of Supervisors.Commencing in May of 2010, the Rossmoor Community in Orange County experienced 40 pet deaths, 19 pet attacks and four coyote stalkings of Rossmoor residents. As a result, Rossmoor residents formed a group as neighbors and entitled themselves the Rossmoor Predator Management Team currently consisting of 860 neighbors. The Rossmoor Predator Management Team, hereinafter RPMT, provides instant e-mail alerts of coyote activity along with lost and found pets accompanied with crime alerts in the Rossmoor Community. We are extremely appreciative of Board of Supervisor John M.W. Moorlach who has initiated coyote pilot grates over water control channels, improved gates, fences and foundations to channels, expeditiously handled the contract to trap coyotes in our community. However, through all of Supervisor Moorlach’s efforts, communities within Orange County continue to be plagued with the continued coyote attacks and killings. These attacks have resulted in residents being physically harmed and bitten in attempts to protect their pet from being killed by a coyote. We are writing to request the creation of an Orange County agency to monitor, regulate and control the over-population of coyotes. The coyote population has expanded beyond control in urban areas largely populated with children and household pets. Los Angeles only developed an Agricultural Commission after the death of a young female child killed by a coyote in 1981. To continue to ignore the overpopulation of coyotes in Orange County with no governing agency to handle this issue is an absolute threat to the safety of children and senior citizens. The Rossmoor Predator Management Team David and Rebecca Lara Rossmoor
FIVE-YEAR LOOK BACKS
The front-page, top-of-the-fold article that appeared in this edition of the Orange County Business Journal created quite a splash. Rick Reiff engaged me in a rather lengthy interview. It was probably the longest article the OCBJ had printed to date. I received feedback from Sacramento and all four corners of the County, which indicates the wide readership of the OCBJ. It was one of the rare times when I was blown away by the reactions of those who read it and decided to contact me. The piece was titled “Moorlach reform, politics, Citron, Wall Street, et al.” and I’m providing it in full in case you’re enjoying a lounge chair on your favorite beach with your laptop. For clarification, had Merrill Lynch and the others settled sooner, then the introduction would probably have occurred. The rest was an incredible walk down memory lane for me. For those new to the MOORLACH UPDATE, this will provide you with my early Treasurer-Tax Collector career accomplishments.
Bob Citron was elected Orange County treasurer seven times. His successor, John Moorlach, says he’ll probably stop at one.
"I don’t plan on it. My plans are to go back to real life," Moorlach said when asked if he would seek re-election when his first term expires in 1998. Moorlach was defeated in June 1994 by Citron, but was appointed to the treasurer-tax collector position 10 months later after the county bankruptcy forced Citron’s resignation; he ran unopposed this past March to fill out the term.
The man who correctly warned, when hardly anyone would listen, of impending doom in Citron’s investment portfolio said he’s been gratified by the public support he has received and surprised by the dedication of many in government. It’s just that he can do without the hassles, the low pay and the family strains caused by politics, he said."I miss the firm, my relationships with my clients," explained Moorlach, a CPA who had been with Balser, Horowitz, Frank & Wakeling in Costa Mesa. "I worked for the firm for 18 years. I had built equity, I had a great salary, I had freedom. I didn’t have to worry about being quoted on things. I would like to spend more time with my family and get on a more regular schedule." Moorlach said he sees himself as a "citizen politician" called to a specific task — cleaning up the treasurer’s office — which he says he is well on the road to achieving. "But I’ve started to understand why these guys keep running," Moorlach said. "It’s their job. There’s the insecurity that they might lose it." Moorlach touched on many themes during an interview, in the process reinforcing his reputation as a frank, outspoken maverick. He complained about restrictions that make it difficult to run a county like a business, and detailed steps he has taken–including restructuring his department and driving harder bargains with banks and consultants–which he says have saved several millions of dollars from the Citron operation he inherited. He reserved some of his harshest criticisms for Supervisor Marian Bergeson, generally seen as a county "reformer" but who during the 1994 political backlash against Moorlach resigned as his campaign co-chairman. And he also took a shot at the county’s business establishment, contending that the Orange County Business Council has been "consistently wrong" in the positions it has taken regarding county government. Here are excerpts from the interview: OCBJ: Is county government different today than it was before Dec. 5, 1994? We’ve seen massive layoffs, we’ve seen downsizing. Certainly every county employee would tell you that the place is different. But we’re also seeing some people hired back and retroactive pay raises. It looks like things are getting back to normal. I agree with the point. I don’t want be defensive, but some of these employees have borne a lot, and the issue is, on whose back do we carry everything? Government employees are really fascinating– they have a union, they have a real sense of security in their job. And there’s no competition, theoretically, unless you start bringing in privatization. So they can get a little comfortable, you know, come in at 8, Leave at 5. But then, the other side of the equation is we still need to hire the best employees we can and we need to motivate them and give them some kind of incentive and I don’t have the incentives in the county that I did when I had my own business. I can’t give bonuses, profit sharing, it’s just not there. There are a lot of things that work real well in the private sector that I can’t transfer over to the public sector. Are there other differences between the public and the private sectors that you’ve encountered? Well, I come from a business where my employees were revenue centers and I could bill their time out. When I had a lot of work, I could hire more employees and bill it out and make a profit. Now I am not allowed to hire any more employees, so projects suffer. Some things just don’t get done as quickly as I would like to see them get done because of the restraints. A bureaucracy works to the point until I’m being told, "We’ll reimburse you for that business meal, however, we don’t pay for the tip." I’ve just never encountered that before. You can’t buy my meal because, you know, it’s a gift and you do work with the county because I subscribe to your newspaper. I think there’s something in between a total gift ban and Don Roth. It’s an embarrassment for me, coming out of the business arena. Then, whether I get that reimbursed, probably not, so it’s cost me several thousand dollars in those little sundry things. That makes it difficult. It doesn’t, I believe, encourage some of our top business people, our Fortune 500 company executives, to want to run for office. I think that’s unfortunate. We need to have accountability, but we can’t be so constricting that the job doesn’t appeal to the kind of quality of people we need in office. What kind or grade would you give Citron as an administrator? I’d probably give him a "D." Mr. Citron, how I gather it, was not an active manager. He spent most of his time talking to brokers on the phone, for why I don’t know, spending all kinds of time with Michael Stamenson. I believe Mt. Citron was a shy person who went beyond his limits. To the outside world he appeared to be egotistical, abrasive, arrogant, but I think he was just lucky until the bear market of ’94. He was not a mentor-type person, he wasn’t hands-on. So the treasurer’s department is different from when Citron ran it? It’s probably night and day, a 180 degree turn, from having the most aggressive investment policy in the nation to one of the most conservative; from not marking to market to marking to market daily; from having no accountability to now having a lot. Not only is there an oversight committee, there’s an advisory committee, the board (of supervisors) being more proactive, the media being more proactive. We’re probably the most-watched treasurer’s department in the nation. Our reporting, our accounting, some of it is still not up to par where I’d like it to be because we’ve gone through the bankruptcy and we’ve been distracted by a lot of bankruptcy-related issues, but we’ve improved our cash-flow management, we’ve improved our banking relationships, we’ve reduced our banking costs. We’ve reduced our investment management fees by 50%, we’ve laid off 12% of our staff. … How much in savings have you achieved? For the first year I could identify probably $4.6 million — $1 million in budget cuts through layoffs, $1.5 million in saving costs with Salomon Bros., $1 million just by doing better cash-flow management, $300,000 in reducing our banking costs, $850,000 in renegotiating my investment software contract for the next four years. The savings were out of a total budget of how much? It was about $7 million, but the $1.5 million related to Salomon Bros. was not in the budget. That was an emergency expense. Explain the software. I was frustrated with the vendor. I just said point-blank, "I’m gonna fire you. Convince me why I shouldn’t." So they bent over backwards, met all my demands, including an incredible new contract. They were charging a little over $20,000 per month, a quarter of a million a year, and in ’96 they’re charging me $1 for the whole year. They can’t make money doing that. No, but they don’t have the national distinction of having been fired, either. And they are a good firm. SunGard is a national firm with some considerable stature. They’ve really bent over backwards to help us. In fact, they’ve met every deadline on time. We even took their contract for $1 and said if you don’t get these things done, you’re paying liquidated damages. We did pay for certain things that we felt were proprietary to just Orange County, but they wanted us to pay for some other things. I said, "No, you can sell this around the country, I’m not paying for your R&D." And they agreed! Explain the savings in bank costs. We pulled in a new employee, a certified cash manager. Her name is Leysa Amador. She used to be the treasury manager for Chapman University. A local girl. Stanford grad, MBA from the University of Chicago. We gave her two targets: reduce our costs by $300,000 and have everything invested; we only want our compensating balances at the bank. So we said, "Get up to 99%, we don’t want more than 1% of our balance on the table." She’s been working on that, doing that valiantly, and then going through and just redoing all kinds of costs, from merchant banking costs to just about everything. We got a lot of one-time reductions. After she was on the job for about six months we pulled in Bank of America out of Chicago, their cash-flow management consultant firm. Usually they work on Fortune 500 companies. They worked for us gratis and they came through, flew in for a couple days, and there wasn’t much they could find where we hadn’t already turned over the rocks. Why were they willing to work gratis? Again, just taking a fresh look at our relation with B of A. B of A came in and said, "Mr. Moorlach, we want to remind you that we’ve been working with the county for over 40 years and we really want to maintain the relationship." I looked right at the executive from B of A and said, "Boy, if that isn’t a good reason to change I can’t think of a better one." I had to pick him up off the floor and straighten his tie out. We appreciate our vendors but it’s new ownership. We’re re-evaluating everything. B of A wasn’t watching our account. They weren’t coming up to the plate saying, "Mr. Citron and Mr. Raabe, here are some ways you can cut costs." We told them that we didn’t appreciate that. We want them to come to us. So, this is one gesture they made that I appreciated. How about the cash flow? It’s going much better. We have worked out quarterly relationships with our banks instead of monthly. If you have a good month and you’ve been good to the bank, you get no benefit. If you get a bad month where you’ve gone below your company’s balance a little bit you have a charge. We’re saying, "No, let’s even those out over a 90-day period instead of month-by-month." You mentioned Salomon Bros. One of the first lunches I had was with Chris Varelas and he said, "We’re gonna reduce our asset management fee from 10 basis points to five." Which, in my mind, was a good thing for them to do because it’s certainly something I would have gone after in the open market right away. It’s hard to beat five, although you might find someone to do it for 4, 3 1/2. That reduced my monthly bills from over $400,000 to a little over $200,000. Run down the supervisors, one by one. Roger Stanton meets with me every three weeks and we go through the department and I give him an update on everything. He took the initiative to schedule that. I find it very productive and appreciate it. Jim Silva and I speak pretty regularly. We get along quite well. We agree on a lot of issues. Saltarelli is very astute with his business background. He’s a former stockbroker so he was a real breath of fresh air when he came through our department. We enjoy having him look at our research and make comments. He understands our department, I think, the best. Mr. Steiner, we don’t really get together regularly but we have a good working relationship. Marian Bergeson, we don’t meet too often with her, either. She could still use a little more educating on my department and maybe, when issues come up, spend some time asking questions before a board meeting. Bergeson is often perceived as the reformer among the supervisors. She’s for open bidding, for example. You’re suggesting she’s the laggard. I think it’s easy to posture, it’s easy to say no, but if you don’t have the credible alternative or even a reasonable understanding of the issue, then it’s not beneficial to the discussion. What’s an example of that? One day, I was on the podium on one issue and she decided to talk about another one. She said, "I see you’re investing in repurchase agreements with Chase in your budget." I said, "What budget are you talking about?" "You know, the budget for your department." I said, "There’s nothing about repurchase agreements in the budget. What are you talking about?" "Well, that monthly report you give us." I said, "That’s not a budget, that’s our portfolio performance. That’s our monthly report we give you." "OK, well, that report. You’re investing in repurchase agreements. Why are you doing it?" I said, "Because my investment policy that you approved allows me to do that. And in fact, the yield curve is inverted right now and that’s the best place to be to get the best yields. It’s reverse repurchase agreements we can’t invest in." It was like, "Marian, why do we have to talk about this in public? You could’ve given me a quick call." Wisdom or counsel, we don’t get that. We get this torpedo on the side that shouldn’t have ever been fired. Is there more to it than meets the eye? I don’t know. I don’t worry about it. I think we both have the same goals, and that is to make this a better county and be real efficient and be prudent and do open bidding and we’re working real hard on that. How about CEO Jan Mittermeier? She’s been a real joy to work with. She’s a CPA, so we communicate well. She’s got a great assistant in Bob Wilson. I’ve always had accessibility. I respect the fact that she has to make some changes. I don’t understand them all yet so I’m still kind of waiting and giving those time. But I have to thank her because she has at least allowed me to pursue cost savings in the fact that we wanted to pull the (investment) funds back in-house and she’s at least given us the green light and allowed us to pursue that. I didn’t have that kind of support from her predecessor (William Popejoy). She’s much more detailed, has got her finger on a lot of activities and seems to be doing a very commendable job. What’s the investment portfolio breakout between you and Solomon Bros.? There is about $2.2 billion under management now and $100 million of that is in-house. We’re investing it and at the end of July we’ll pull another $200 million in. Then we’ll go up in bigger increments. Currently the money that we have pulled in, in terms of yield — which is kind of scary to get back to being worried about yield — we are outperforming Salomon Bros. right now. Are you taking more risks than Salomon Bros.? We’re taking the same risks, with the same investment policy statement. So why are you out-performing them? You tell me. I need to give it a little more time to see what’s going on. Right now I guess our research or our timing has just worked out a little better. How do you make those investment decisions? We meet once a week, the investment committee, and we review the marketplace, what’s happening. The investment committee is myself; the assistant treasurer, Dan Hempel; Judy Jacobson, our investment officer: and our interns. We have some college students who are processing data and maintaining market research and history on computers where we don’t have staff time for it. We utilize a lot of charts that we can generate from our Bloomberg service. We also have some proprietary charts, things that members of my committee devised that work or at least have been some kind of indicator so that we can find some trends before they happen, which have been pretty good. On March 1 we said to Mittermeier, "Hey, look out. Rates are going up. We think the trend’s broken." We called it and by March 8, the market jumped up 30 basis points because of the unemployment numbers.
You seem to occupy a unique place in the legal battle between the county and Merrill Lynch. Are both sides trying to use you? I’ve had about four days with Merrill Lynch, depositions. I haven’t even had a chance to proof my depositions — six volumes, about four inches of reading. Right after the (Citron) election, I wrote down something to the effect, "The people have approved the investment strategy, which is unfortunate because when it hits it will go through like the Laguna Beach wildfire." The Merrill Lynch attorney asked me, "Did you write this?" Then I read on Bloomberg afterwards where the attorney says, "We have the smoking gun. Everyone was warned." Yet the county is using my candidacy and comments in newspaper articles and letters to make the their case — "The issues were raised, so how come you guys (Merrill Lynch) contributed to Bob’s candidacy and how come Merrill Lynch still underwrote the July 4 TRANs?" Merrill Lynch should not have put us in this position in the first place. We should not have been gambling with public dollars. How much do you think Merrill Lynch will pay to settle with the county? I better stay away from that one. Explain how the Orange County Employee Retirement System has changed since you joined the board. They had proposed to buy land from the Irvine Co. for $1.7 million and I just didn’t feel it was my duty to build another government building, especially when there’s adequate commercial space available throughout the county. The first time it appeared on the agenda that I recall, I voted no and lost that vote 8-1. Later, because we were negotiating, we voted once more to continue the process and it was 7-2 with Bert Scott voting with me. Sometime around December ’95 we started to have concerns about the pension plan’s administrator, Mary Jean Hackwood, which generated some media attention and the press was in the room when we voted one more time on this project and this time Mary Abbott voted no, so it was 6-3. But once it hit the press that we were going to spend $5 million — $1.7 million for the land and $3.3 million for the building — there was a public outcry. About that time Chriss Street came on board. I had submitted his name to the board of supervisors; for me it was nice because Chriss was a supporter. He’s CEO of Comprehensive Care and was able to get square footage at a good rate and he couldn’t see what the board was doing. I requested an agenda item to withdraw from escrow. It passed unanimously by a voice vote. I always say it’s nice to be negative but you’ve got to have alternatives. So I recommended that the pension board retain GSA’s real estate division to find us a suitable location. We came really close to getting a great location that fit all our needs and we could have bought the whole building for less than the $1.7 million we were going to pay just for the raw land, but it just didn’t work, the landlord called it off. We’re also going through an RFP process for our financial analyst. We’ve been using Michael O’Leary from Callan Associates. It’s a great firm, national firm. If Mike O’Leary gets it again, great. But I just felt it’s time to check everything out. We’re going to pursue an RFP for our actuarial services, too. It’s not that I want to dump everybody, but I just want to make sure we’re getting what we should be getting and nobody’s getting hosed. What’s your opinion on county reform? I am, I was, big on reform from day one. But it’s been real easy for people to take potshots — Orange County government is dysfunctional and all those kinds of comments. It’s kind of getting to be the trend and that doesn’t help anymore. We’re way past that. What really can be done now that we’ve analyzed everything? We’ve already cut this puppy by $180 million. What more can we do? I’ve looked as much as I can at privatizing in my department, my area. Certainly it should be done everywhere else. You’ve privatized? We’ve done some. I’ve tried to determine if I could privatize our remittance department and the bids we got were much higher than what it costs us internally to do it, so that didn’t work. We have privatized tax collection for taxpayers who are two years delinquent or more, so that my staff can concentrate on the warmer collections. But even our vendor there is saying, "You know, we didn’t bid this high enough. We’re not making a profit on you guys." And so I think we’re gonna have some fun next year on that. And then I have to re-evaluate. Can I upgrade with my department and with the tools available, the technology available? Can I provide better data to my staff so that we can out-perform and be more competitive without outsourcing it? Because we don’t have some of the issues that a for-profit has. We don’t have to make a profit. We don’t have to issue bonuses. We don’t have to pay taxes. And we have a lot of issues that they don’t, so we’re not comparing apples to oranges. When it’s all said and done, is it the best way at the least cost? If we can do it ourselves, at less cost, then I think that’s viable. How have you been received by the employees? I think I’ve restored the morale in most areas. Overall I think they’ve appreciated a new management style, a new perspective, a little humor. I have made some changes, even recently, that do frustrate certain employees, as they don’t fully comprehend what we’re trying to accomplish. But overall they’ve been real positive. We even get a lot of nice compliments and letters from taxpayers. It was very tense right after the bankruptcy, but the last two cycles they’ve been very positive. I had one comment from Fremont the other day because we did a tax auction. Where Citron would run a tax auction it would take three hours; I can get them done in 20 minutes to 40 minutes because it’s just pure business. I’m not gonna sit and make everybody wait until someone’s paid. We just keep going until we’re too backed up and there’s a real reason to slow down. I think they appreciate that and these guys are flying in from all over the country to pick up "raisins," potential good real estate deals. You’ve been on the opposite side of the Business Council on both the proposed sales tax increase and the charter issue, Measure T. How do you view the power structure/business community? The Business Council also contributed to Bob Citron’s campaign. I mean, they’ve been wrong, and they’ve been consistently wrong. I almost want to call it the Orange County Bureaucratic Council. I’ve really been disappointed. I don’t know what the "body think" is of that organization. I know it’s made up of sincere people, but some of their key leaders work for utilities and so you can probably get into a "government think" there because there’s been, up until recently, no competition in the utilities. But they have made some contributions. None that I think are real earth-shattering or magnanimous. They would have probably occurred regardless of who would’ve taken the initiative. I’m not being critical, someone had to step up and do certain things, but I would hope in the future that they don’t succumb to the easy answers. The sales tax increase was an easy answer but it wasn’t the right answer. If you want to reduce consumer spending, then you raise taxes or you raise interest rates. I wanted to grow out of this thing. It should have been a positive way out of this thing instead of a draconian approach. I mean, these boys knew that we were the second-most highly taxed county in the state, so what made them think we were gonna take on another half percent? The story of how you warned about the Citron portfolio is almost legendary. Do you find that now you have a reputation that precedes you? I don’t know. I was asked to speak at the Bond Buyer Conference in San Francisco last September. The turnout was really good. I went to the bathroom, sitting in the stall, and this one guy says to another, "Well, I came up here just to listen to John Moorlach." I’m sitting there going, "This is really weird." I just see myself as an active participant in the game. I see life as kind of a game. I don’t take it too seriously, but I’m not flippant, either. It’s been really fascinating, even with the bond issue in June, to have to get on national TV and start ripping into Standard & Poor’s because everybody was saying, "Well, you didn’t get a good rating" and I’m going, "Why do I have to defend myself against that company?" and not be cocky about it but just be very matter-of-fact and say, "Wait a second, those guys screwed up so bad two years ago, now they’re screwing up again." I think I have at least a little respect in the community. I don’t think Wall Street appreciated my being opposed to the sales tax. I was in a meeting in San Francisco a few weeks ago and a lot of those guys around the table were potential litigants, so it’s a little awkward with Wall Street. I don’t know what they think about me, whether there’s respect or disdain. But I’m not worried about it. My worry is I need to get a department that’s running efficiently, that’s getting great performance within my investment policy statement that’s safe, liquid and competitive and that I’m getting it for an honest price. If I can save a few basis points here and there, that adds up to a lot of money every year.
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