Animal Shelter Is A Micorcosm Of Williamson County/Republican Style Government - Blame Their Incompetence On Someone Else [UPDATED]

Posted in Had Enough Yet?, Commentary, Williamson County at 1:32 pm by wcnews

Reading through the accounts of how the disaster at the Williamson County Animal Shelter came about it should be shocking. But in the case of Williamson County’s government it’s just par for the course. For a while the incompetence that has infested our county’s government could be chocked up to growing pains - Williamson County going from a rural county to a more urban county, and is one of the fastest growing counties in the state and nation. Not anymore, it’s time for responsibility and accountability in our government.

The county, in an effort to save money, decided to take on sheltering animals itself and no longer contracting the services of the Williamson County Humane Society.

You may have heard about the Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter (WCRAS) in the news recently. The Humane Society of Williamson County (HSWC) is not affiliated with the WCRAS.

The HSWC recently helped WCRAS with basic animal care after conditions at the WCRAS prompted that shelter to issue a plea for assistance.


Prior to the opening of WCRAS, the county contracted with HSWC for many years to provide animal sheltering services for our community. The Humane Society of Williamson County became a private, no-kill shelter in March 2007 when the WCRAS opened. Since then, HSWC volunteers and staff have focused their efforts on high volume pet adoption, low-cost spay/neuter and pet retention programs. We believe that our services compliment the public services provided by WCRAS. Pet overpopulation is a community problem that requires the local municipal shelter, the local Humane Society and a network of animal rescue groups working together with the community to address. HSWC is committed to helping the WCRAS address their current situation and will continue to work closely with the WCRAS to build a strong animal coalition in Williamson County.

They decided to build a “state-of-the-art” facility and performed a nationwide search for a shelter director. Only to underfund and under staff the facility, and then blame the new director for the problems after turning down her professional recommendations regarding what should be done at the shelter. This from the letter that Melanie Sobel, the professional hired by the county, sent to the AusChron about her resignation:

I concede that I was naïve in thinking that if the County was willing to spend $4 million on the animal shelter, it followed that there would be a sincere desire to do what it would take to make this project successful. I was continuously reminded there had been references to how dissatisfied the County was with the services being provided by the Williamson County Humane Society. This led me to believe they wanted to create a more progressive and operationally sound venture with this project. They did a national search for a shelter director and hired me because of my past experience with progressive animal welfare programs, which impressed upon me that they wanted an outstanding program. Not only was I not able to implement the types of progressive programs that were my strong suit in the past, but I was unable to fulfill the basic operations required to properly run an animal shelter and adhere to the current state laws governing shelter operations.

The whole thing smacks of a bunch of incompetents getting in over their head and, instead of admitting their mistake and fixing it, trying to blame it on someone else.

There’s much more from today’s AusChron on the animal shelter issue, . But it wouldn’t be Williamson County without some cronyism and nepotism.

Perhaps Sobel’s actual difficulty was that she didn’t understand how county government is often practiced in Williamson County. Boehm, Sobel’s replacement, is also the niece of former Commissioner Frankie Limmer; Boatright’s daughter Trista reportedly worked at the shelter for two weeks at the front desk; and the shelter just hired Jack Shannon Newsom, corrections officer and brother of Sheriff’s Office Capt. Shawn Newsom. Sobel said Boatright previously invited her to lunch – to meet a woman he suggested she hire as shelter manager. Had she done so, perhaps both she and the animals would have fared better. Repeated attempts to contact Boatright to respond to Sobel’s charge were unsuccessful.

Read this and remember that both Birkman and Covey are up for reelection in 2008.

Commissioners vociferously defended the shelter, but they also complained of recent staff resignations and found it necessary to approve a 68% increase in the operating budget, from $411,260 to $692,209, as of Tuesday’s court action. “I did see some problems at the shelter,” said Precinct 1 Commissioner Lisa Birkman – citing only a broken door on an expensive clothes dryer. Precinct 3 Commissioner Valerie Covey, who also serves on the shelter board, said the shelter has plenty of donated food and pleaded with the public to stop donations, though the revised budget still has no line item for food. The court did authorize the immediate hiring of an administrative specialist and animal-care attendant, while cutting the shelter manager position.

This project was screwed up so bad that our “conservative” court members only fix is to throw money at the problem. If this wasn’t so sad it would be funny. This can be stopped these people must go.

[UPDATE]: Incompetence has it’s rewards, County officials can expect raises.

Williamson County Democrats Taking Action

Posted in Take Action, Williamson County, Uncategorized at 11:49 am by wcnews


Grass Roots Action Democrats (GRAD), an organization founded in 2006 by a handful of Williamson County Democrats, began its 2008 Voter’s Registration Drive at the sneak preview of “Sicko” on June 23 and its nationwide opening on June 29. We are deputized to register both Williamson and Travis County voters and also dispense mail-in cards for those moving to other counties in Texas. Scroll down to see the pictures from Austin, Texas (right after Bensalem, Pennsylvania). The first eight pictures after the words “Austin, Texas” are of GRAD members Liz Bleier, Keefer McKee, Tracie Storie, Dennis Dadey, Robin Meade, and Henry Kight registering voters and several new voters signing up. Before the 2006 General Election we registered over 1500 voters in just a few months at venues that drew Democrats. Starting this early we know we’ll register many more.

Great job!! This is exactly what we need and more of it to take back Williamson County.

More pictures below the fold, and to see many more click here.

Read the rest of this entry »

Rick Noriega Announces Exploratory Committee

Posted in Election 2008, 2008 Primary, Around The State at 10:35 am by wcnews

Here’s his statement, via Off The Kuff:

On July 4th, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was signed by delegates to the Second Continental Congress. The Declaration states that all people are creatures equal under God, with rights and liberties that cannot be violated. This signing was an act of treason under British law, carrying the threat of execution and utter ruin for entire families. We recognize this day as a celebration of patriotism and of the courage it takes to stand up to the sitting government when it is wrong.

This day I share with you my intent. My intent that, in the days to come, our family forms an exploratory committee and joins with me in my choice to run for the United States Senate. Why?

Why, on the first Independence Day I have spent at home in four years, would I risk a safe legislative seat, take a leave of absence from my job, sell property to lend money to a campaign. Why would I ask my family to allow me to be gone again?

Why? Because as Americans, it is our duty to stand up and speak when things have gone off the rails. It is in our very fabric, our soul; it is God’s requirement of us as heirs to the legacy of this country, to exercise the right to speak out as our forefathers taught us.

Our nation is headed in the wrong direction. It is lead by those whose choice is to divide Americans to maintain power. It is the vision of the powerful that are either unwilling or unable to unite people, to foster common ground for the common good.

We as a nation have been the envy of the world when we have maintained our moral compass. I believe we have begun to let that slip away.

Our mismanagement of the war on terror, the acrimony of the national debate on immigration issues, the squandering of the environment, the inability to provide reasonable health care, the decay of our respect for human rights, the refusal to improve education, the willingness to sacrifice the many for the few….we are losing our global moral leadership.

This day reminds us of our legacy as Americans to stand up when things have gone wrong. This call to duty runs in our veins lives in our very bones, as both Texans and Americans. The thing that has always pushed my button is bullies. I have always been compelled to step in when wrongs are being perpetrated, when a group is headed in the wrong direction.

The draft effort asking me to run for the United States Senate has been an astounding honor. I and my entire family are humbled by it. We have prayed about this call. We have asked God every day that if we undertake this immense and necessary task, that it is for the right reasons. That I meet this challenge for God, for Texas and for the country we share and love, not for myself.

This is a daunting endeavor in a multitude of ways. When someone exhibits leadership, they invite attention. No one is perfect, certainly not any of us. We are a regular family that has grown into leadership and responsibility through a commitment to public service. I see it like being a soldier. My wife sees it as a calling, like the ministry.

We are a regular family. We aren’t perfect and we don’t want to hold ourselves up as perfect. It remains to be seen if a regular family can offer themselves up for service to their country without being overwhelmed by money or criticism.

In Texas, we tell our children that if they work hard and play by the rules, they can do anything. We are about to find out if that is true. We are regular Texans like you, answering a call to service, and hopefully, we have prepared as a family for the inevitable onslaught. As Americans the greater good is more important.

Today is the right time for all of us to stand up and say that there has got to be a better way. When our forefathers created this country, they risked their lives, their families, their property and their futures. This is going to take all of us, all of you-our time, our treasure, our patience, our faith. I am answering your call, and that of my Maker, and I am asking you to come with me.

As we jump in, it is because we know that we have the support and prayers of all of you. God bless each of you this July 4th, bless the United States of America, and God bless Texas.

Rick Noriega believes what many of us know. Our country is in deep trouble and only when we are willing to risk everything, as he is, to make this country what our Founders meant for it to be, can it become what they meant it to be.


231 Years Ago Today

Posted in Take Action, Had Enough Yet?, Around The Nation at 2:13 pm by dembones

The people stood up to tyranny.

In CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

It is a document that remains hauntingly relevant today. Read the rest here.

Democrats Need Your Help To Take Back Williamson County

Posted in Take Action, Election 2008, 2008 Primary, Had Enough Yet?, Williamson County at 12:03 am by wcnews

Ask not what the Williamson County Democratic Party has done for you, ask what have you have done for the Williamson County Democratic party.

When you point a finger, there are four pointing back at you.

If you want something done right you have to do it yourself.

Keep those in mind while reading the article below.

Democrats in Williamson County made historic gains in 2006. Almost knocking off an extremely powerful incumbent state representative in Texas state house district 52, and coming close to winning the commissioner’s race in Precinct 4 as well. To the outside observer that might not seem like anything special but to Democrats in Williamson County it was huge. In 2008 that same state house seat is even more winnable for a Democratic candidate and the Precinct 1 commissioner’s race is in play as well. The good news about the gains last year is that they were accomplished with very few volunteers doing ALL the work. The bad news about the gains last year is that they were accomplished with very few volunteers doing ALL the work. Which means that while great gains were made, with more support those two seats would now be held by Democrats. This is a call to action for all those in Williamson County that are fed up with the current unaccountable, tone deaf, and arrogant elected officials that keep getting elected in this county. They can’t be voted out unless YOU get off the couch, away from your yard, and get out and talk to your neighbors, friends and family about changing the status quo.

The running joke used to be, “I didn’t know there were Democrats in Williamson County”. Well nobody is telling that joke anymore, everyone now knows there are Democrats in Williamson County. Don’t believe it, ask Mike Krusee. Many people have been asking, why the Democrats in Williamson County don’t run a candidate in every race. In years past it was hard to get well qualified Democrats to put themselves and their families on the line with little organization, money, and party infrastructure to help them with their campaign. That has changed in the last couple of election cycles as the Democratic gains were made. A foundation has been built to enable future gains, but in order to begin winning we need more help for the work that’s still to be done.

A hand full of volunteers with very little money can only take a political party so far, whether Democratic or Republican. 45% of the vote, in targeted races, with better candidates may be as far as we can go with our current resources, people and money in Williamson County. We need more people to register voters, work at local festivals to raise money and awareness, block walk, phone bank, talk to neighbors, work on campaigns, become a sustaining member of the WCDP. And more than anything we need everyone who has been asking why there’s not a Democrat in every race on the to look at themselves and make the decision to run for judge, attorney, constable, clerk, sheriff, etc.. As I keep hearing from Democrats, the one good thing the Republicans have done since taking over in Williamson County is raise the salaries to a very comfortable level. These are now well paid positions.

My gut tells me there are many Democrats in Williamson County that have been voting Republican and working with the Republicans because that was the only game in town. Well, that’s changed and it’s time to come home. If that was the case, there’s no reason anymore to wait in line for someone to decide not to run again and continue to keep quiet and aid the other side. Your needed to run as a Democrat, run a campaign for a Democrat, fund raise for a Democrat, block walk for a Democrat, NOW. Opportunity is knocking with the Democratic Party in Williamson County. Don’t keep waiting in line until the current crony, elected official setting up their retirement decides not to run under an ethics cloud (.PDF).

This is about unchecked power. We need to restore the checks and balances our Founders knew HAD to exist for democracy, not only to exist, but to flourish. Unchecked power allows elected officials to make morally wrong decisions without fear of repercussions - imprisoning mothers and children for $1/day. It allows elected officials to shut out citizens concerns from important county business - see Hutto Citizens Group. It allows elected officials do make decisions that enrich themselves while in elected positions no matter how bad it looks.

Democrats can win in Williamson County. But it can’t happen without your help.


Impeach Bush & Cheney!!

Posted in Had Enough Yet?, Around The Nation at 9:56 pm by wcnews

Since the vice president’s decision to grant amnesty to “Scooter” there’s been a lot of talk about what the American people will take from the decision to allow his former lackey and convicted felon to escape jail. I think there are two main things, no matter what anyone believes, about this that are apparent to every American.

  • The president has decided that his judgment is superior to that of the 12 citizens on the jury, the judge in the case, and that of the appeals court judges as well.
  • This is a luxury that they will never be afforded to them.

Bush apologists and foes of Democracy on the far-right like Sen. Cornyn, Rep. John Carter, et al, can say what they will, and they will, but no matter how “complicated” the case was, 12 of Mr. Libby’s peers, that saw the evidence, and went through the trial understood it all very well and convicted him. The president told them all he knows better then they do.

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal….

Acts of obstruction of justice like this and the many other acts perpetrated by this mis-administration are why impeachment was put in our Constitution. If not used for this purpose why have it as an option at all? It’s past time for this all to end. Impeachment Is the Right Response.


Oh My, This Is A Sad Day For Democracy In America

Posted in Corruption, Had Enough Yet?, Around The Nation at 5:22 pm by wcnews

Judge and jury decide sentence and the Vice President says otherwise, Bush Commutes Libby Sentence. How Orwellian is this?

I respect the jury’s verdict. But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive. Therefore, I am commuting the portion of Mr. Libby’s sentence that required him to spend thirty months in prison.

We’ve always been at war with Eastasia.

Hutto Citizens Group Points Out Hypocrisy of Williamson County Elected Officials

Posted in Landfill, Election 2008, Had Enough Yet?, Commentary, Williamson County at 4:30 pm by wcnews

In a full-page ad, Williamson County’s position on the pending landfill contract doesn’t pass the smell test, in the Austin American Statesman on Friday, the Hutto Citizens Group took Williamson County elected officials to task for breaking campaign promises relating to property rights, open government, fairness and integrity.

County Judge Dan Gattis:

In his campaign for county judge in 2006, Judge Dan Gattis stated The Gattis Pledge, which included these points: Protect private property rights. Conduct all county business in the open. Treat everyone with fairness and integrity. The HCG believes it is very obvious that these promises have been broken by the judge in his leadership position regarding the county landfill issue. (1) Judge Gattis has been reported by media as saying that commissioners court will vote on a new landfill contract before the end of July, but citizens will only be able to review that contract over a weekend instead of a 30-day period, as requested by the Hutto Citizens Group. (2)

Precinct 2 Precinct 2 Commissioner Cynthia Long:

In her 2006 campaign for Precinct 2 commissioner, Cynthia Long was quoted by the Hill Country News as saying, “When we attract new employers to Williamson County, we all win. The impact of new businesses on our tax base is a real plus. More businesses mean a more diversified tax base. It also means that residents and current businesses arent the sole taxpayers in the county.” This statement also is consistent with statements she made in her campaign literature. (5)

Precinct 4 Commissioner Ron Morrison:

In his 2006 campaign for Precinct 4 commissioner, Ron Morrison made this statement on his website: I will listen to your needs and provide 1st class county services to meet them. I will represent ALL of Precinct 4. (7) While Commissioner Morrison has taken the time to talk with members of the HCG about the landfill, those discussions have resulted in no conclusions and did not resolve any major issues. Commissioner Morrison is strongly urged to represent his precinct and become an active, public advocate for the positions citizens in his precinct have taken on the landfill. He should speak out promptly.

Precinct 1, and up for reelection, Commissioner Lisa Birkman:

After her swearing-in ceremony in 2004, Precinct 1 Commissioner Lisa Birkman was quoted by the EyeOnWilliamson.com website (That’s .org, but at least they’re reading EOW) as saying that the new commissioners court should move away from the handshake deal process associated with previous courts. She also has taken positions directly responsive to county citizens on other issues such as a billboard and amphitheater, but she won’t do so on the landfill. This inconsistency requires an explanation. (8)

Their final paragraph is great.

The only solid evidence proving that a political deal has not been cut would be for commissioners court members to square with their campaign promises, open up the contract review process, and talk with us about the serious issues we have tried to discuss with them for several months with no success. Its clear that county officials have been less than forthright with county taxpayers. The firewall should be removed in the interest of open and transparent county government.

It’s been said many times here, but as long as our elected officials in Williamson County feel there will be no consequences for their actions, no matter how despicable, things like this will continue to happen. Until a few of these people get voted out of office and some accountability, via two-party county government, and American-style checks and balances are put in place, it’s guaranteed the people’s opinions will be ignored by our elected officials, except during campaign season.

Perry Op-Ed On HB 2006, Saves Who Money?

Posted in Privatization, 80th Legislature, Had Enough Yet?, Road Issues, Around The State at 12:57 pm by wcnews

The governor must be getting significant backlash over his veto of HB 2006, especially from the rural folk. That’s why he would pen an Op-Ed like this for the AAS last week, Veto saves taxpayers money. Anytime a politician says they’re going to save us money we should be skeptical and look further into the issue.

Perry’s main thrust is to say that this is just a plan hatched by evil trial lawyers that want to take taxpayers money, especially rural taxpayers money. These lawyers, supposedly, want extort money from the state for their clients, involving mostly urban eminent domain projects.

I strongly supported HB 2006 right up until the final days of the legislative session before last-minute amendments were added that would have cost taxpayers more than $1 billion annually and provided condemnation lawyers a new cottage industry to get rich based on frivolous claims.

HB 2006 would have allowed condemnation lawyers to sue cities, counties and the state for any reason and any amount whenever the state acquired land through eminent domain.

Perry also tries to scare us by using overblown rhetoric saying someone could sue for “any reason for any amount” is just hogwash. That’s always the case, no matter what, but truly frivolous lawsuits won’t go anywhere. His claims about construction dust are laughable. These lawsuits will, he says, unfairly impact rural taxpayers.

I have also heard the misconception that HB 2006 would protect rural landowners. In reality, the bill would have affected predominantly high-growth urban properties. Rural landowners simply aren’t faced with the traffic issues that this bill targeted. If this bill had been allowed to pass, rural Texans would have been forced to pay more taxes to fund land purchases in urban areas because of the increases in litigation.

Perry’s main goal with this Op-Ed is to vilify lawyers - which is a long-time GOP talking point, at least until they need one.

When this bill was originally vetoed EOW posted on it and then got into an enlightening discussion with the Texas Farm Bureau about the particulars of this bill - from which will quoted below. (To get up to sped read full post above w/the Texas Farm Bureau). From the Farm Bureau we learned that in the rural areas there is significant risk of diminished access because of the TTC:

With regards to the rural issue with diminished access, it has a huge impact. As the TTC and other toll roads are envisioned, they are limited access roads. They will not have access roads, and they “dead-end” existing state highways, FM roads, and county roads unless the entity building the road finds that the road is “significant” enough to build an overpass. So, rural landowners may find themselves on an FM that stops at the TTC or toll road.

Not to mention the fact that rural property owners could be cut off from another part of their property if the TTC cut through their land. The Farm Bureau did a fine job of pointing out how the condemnation process currently works.

As far as being left with the “status quo” perhaps I need to clarify a little. HB 2006 had some good provisions on bona fide offers and public use. However, a landowner can rectify that situation under current law by hiring an attorney. I know that no one really wants to hire an attorney, but even had HB 2006 passed, condemning entities would have still bet on this aversion to hiring an attorney. It is their standard operating procedure. They know that a small percentage of landowners will fight. As a result, the bad actors would still have made low offers and taken property for questionable purposes. Even if HB 2006 had passed the landowner’s only true recourse to ensure the law is applied is to take the condemning entity to court. Sad, but true.

With regards to public use, we already have a strong conservative definition due to a Texas Supreme Court case in 1905. The problem is that the condemning entity buys off the property owner before the case gets far enough along in the court system to strike down the condemnation. So, its not that condemning entities can take property illegally, they just make the landowner an offer they can’t refuse to keep the case from the Appeals or Supreme Court. So, even if HB 2006 would have passed with the definition of public use, you don’t stop the condemnation unless you are willing to fight it to the Texas Supreme Court. We would love to find a landowner willing to make such a fight. Believe me.

They knowingly make low offers, and settle with the few that challenge before it gets to the Supreme Court. Just like an insurance company that denies a claim, they know a certain amount of people won’t challenge them. The new law would have actually saved taxpayers money because it would have reduced lawsuits by making the original offer fairer, and more acceptable to the owner. Therefore fewer challenges to condemnation awards:

Oh, one last thing that should be cleared up. HB 2006 would not have enriched eminent domain attorneys. They work on a contingency basis. They typically receive 30% of what they get the property owner above the offer made by the condemning entity. Had HB 2006 worked as we hoped, fewer cases would have gone to court, and there would have been less of a difference between the offer and the condemnation award. The result would have been that eminent domain attorneys would have received less income, not more. It is the condemning entities that force condemnations to court that are enriching eminent domain attorneys. It is interesting that they vilify attorneys who are trying to help property owners protect their property right to fair and just compensation. Shouldn’t the entities taking private property without making the property owner whole be the ones vilified?

At this point it should be clear to all Texans that Gov. Perry has lost all credibility when it comes to any issue that involves the TTC in any way. He will do anything, and say anything, to insure that this abomination moves forward. Including selling out rural farmers.

Bond Rating Service Gives NTTA “Rating Watch Negative”

Posted in Privatization, Road Issues, Around The State at 10:36 am by wcnews

Here’s the story, Fitch Places North Texas Tollway Authority’s Revenue Bonds on Rating Watch Negative. In my less than professional financial analysis what these guys are saying is that this deal will stretch the NTTA very thin financially. They’re also cautioning that if the traffic doesn’t show up, and they expect it will, then there could be big problems.

Fitch also recognizes that based on NTTA’s proposed total debt issuance, the authority would be highly leveraged with an escalating, back-loaded debt service profile. In addition to the SH 121 toll project, additional leverage of more than $1.0 billion is expected to support the development of the Eastern Extension of the President George Bush Turnpike and the Southwest Parkway Segment 1.

Under NTTA’s proposal, toll revenues generated by SH 121 would pay its operating expenses, debt service obligations and generate surplus funds for the authority. However, it is possible in a downside scenario where SH 121 traffic and toll revenues are less than expected; the existing toll system may be called upon to help meet the SH 121’s debt service needs. There is also the potential that the existing toll facilities would cross-subsidize the debt service needs of the Eastern Extension and Southwest Parkway facilities. Under such a scenario, total debt service coverage could decline to levels around the authority’s 1.20x rate covenant. With a tranched debt structure, senior lien debt service coverage could be higher. Given the historic strong performance of NTTA’s facilities and expected growing traffic demand, it is Fitch’s opinion that cross subsidy by the system would not likely be for an extended period.

This whole deal is riding on a the Traffic & Revenue study that are known to have issues many times. Sure hope this one is on the money, shall we say.

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