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High Taxes are Just a Symptom

Short-term solutions to stabilizing taxes have to be coupled with longer range vision and planning for Stratford's future.

As a candidate for Town Council in the 9th District, I expect to be asked a common question: How will I reduce taxes in Stratford?

The simple answer is: I won’t vote for budgets that raise taxes; support bonding we can’t afford; or give unlimited license to free-spending politicians.

However, it’s not that simple. The words “accountability” and “fiscal responsibility” are tossed around in campaigns, and I agree that oversight is a big part of the equation. But it doesn’t address the actual plan to reduce taxes; what voters want to see, hear and examine.

I don’t think we can get to the planning until bigger issues are addressed, as higher taxes are merely symptomatic of long-term structural and systemic inefficiency. The road to mitigate rising taxes begins with a strong economic development, business growth and marketing strategy designed to attract and engage commercial enterprises that can contribute to the grand list.

Let's start by hiring an experienced Economic Development Director. There was strong advocacy for this position, from a variety of stakeholders, and it once appeared in Mayor Harkins' budget. But recruitment efforts were stalled and the position disappeared as a line item last year. In fact, Mayor Harkins has said that he would proactively pursue economic development out of his office.

But another new pizza place or deli will only fill our bellies and not our wallets. There seems to be a lack of a larger vision. Economic growth and re-development is being approached here as a random filling of spaces, rather than a strategic plan to support Stratford's future.

This passivity seems to have infected Stratford's leadership. The prime example is the Army Engine Plant, where we have allowed ourselves to become victims of the Army, waiting for them to try every imaginable scenario with a one-dimensional benefit instead of us proactively engaging higher levels of Connecticut leadership who can influence better solutions. The Army’s reluctance to subdivide the property, which would enable Stratford to sell some less toxic parcels more quickly, further underscores our lack of ability to influence the Army and their lack of regard for the interests of Stratford.

Dogstar Studios was touted as the catalyst for spurring a whole new growth industry in Stratford, but this project languishes too. A visionary leader who believed that the film industry would leverage Stratford's proximity to New York, Boston, New Haven, I-95, airport, railroad, beach and forest film settings, and quaint New England locale would be busy courting the ecosystem to support the burgeoning growth.

We shouldn't be waiting to see what businesses we attract; we need leadership who has a strategic vision for the kind of town Stratford can be, and which industries will yield the most growth, jobs, opportunities and contributions to the tax base. And then put together the right plan with the right team to go get them.

So, how I will help reduce taxes in Stratford? I will work toward a long-term solution that will help stabilize property taxes now and ensure benefits for Stratford's future. I'd start by applying the same principles to the municipal budget that many of us have had to do during these last few years: eliminate waste, inefficiency and unnecessary spending.

It would require a line item audit of the budget, sometimes making deep cuts -- not at the expense of town services -- but often requiring just some skillful, surgical precision. (Has anyone seen how much each department spends on printing alone??) Some of the lightning rod expenses, as examples:

The Board of Education budget holds the town hostage every year, as health insurance and salaries rise. Has there been a health service provider review, comparison or even an exploration of self-funding?

The Town Attorney's office has consistently drawn attention as a bloated expense, yet there are lower cost alternatives for those services. What's the rationale for maintaining this system rather than seeking savings?

A savings opportunity was lost when Fire Department contracts were re-negotiated without controls to reduce pensions and diminish the unbalanced burden placed on taxpayers. Additionally, as long as the FD remains understaffed, overtime will continue skyrocketing. Democrats have advocated to significantly reduce the $2 million overtime by hiring the minimum number of staff and scheduling annual tests to maintain a qualified list of candidates. Was that plan or a viable alternative even considered?

Those are just a few ideas. My main focus will be to end the out-of-control spending where taxpayers are the last stop, and to promote “honesty taxation” so you always know where your money goes before we ask for more.

I won't pretend to have all the answers so I invite your ideas and thoughts. You can share them with me on my Facebook page. As Peter Drucker said, "The leader of the past knew how to tell. The leader of the future will know how to ask."

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Kip Steele October 04, 2011 at 08:17 PM
How have you created new jobs in the past in your previous roles of employment?
George E. Mulligan October 04, 2011 at 10:35 PM
Political Realities: 1) Republicans control the Majority of Town Council & BoE Votes. - 2) Some Democrats are closet Republicans & visa versa, voting as RTC & DTC dictate, due to variety of leverage, usually jobs or money. - 3) I believe there is a master plan related to AVCO & Bridgport's plan to Develop 744 acres of their East End. Google the air view of Bridgeport / Stratford. Simply connect the dots: Remington Woods > GE Boston Avenue > along River / East End > To - Past Remington Arms > To I-95 > To new Ferry Dock > To - Past Direktor Ship Building > To Pleasure Beach > Add Long Beach West to be sold by Town Council, repaying Bond > to EXPANDED Air Port > to Reminging Gun Club > to AVCO massive redevelopment, exempt from Town Zoning of 60 foot maximum building height as long as NOT is FAA Flight Path > To Shakespeare Theater > To Development Center > To I-95 # 33 / Moses Wheeler Bridge > To Raymark Ball field / Dump Sites > To Ashcroft / Dresser, likely to close > To Sikorsky which may close (Drones will eliminate need for Helicopter Gun ships, like Infared Satellite detection destroyed the value of Tanks, proven in Gulf Wars to awestruck Soviet Tank commanders, who had overwhelming number superiority to NATO TANKS.) Sikorsky is kinda close to Remington Woods which Stratford owns a piece, but Bridgeport owns the majority of the Woods. - It's logical with insights into political, military, & lawyerly perverse & miscreant ways of thinking.
Robyn Greenspan October 04, 2011 at 11:48 PM
Thanks, Elizabeth. The wasted potential is sad and maddening. That site you point to does have a lot of great ideas. Maybe instead of having such an adversarial relationship with Bridgeport about the airport we should be thinking about how we can partner for the region's benefit?
Robyn Greenspan October 04, 2011 at 11:53 PM
Kip, I am not in a "job creator" role although I do expand our human capital when given the opportunity - I work more often on content creation. I will say, however, that I will not create more unnecessary or redundant positions within Town Hall or public services.
Jezebel282 October 06, 2011 at 11:48 AM
Ms. Greenspan, Excellent start! Actually the best I've heard to date from any candidate. Unfortunately you are correct in identifying a large part of the tax burden as "structural". The last Charter revision crafted by the Democratic and Republican Town Committees left almost all decision making to the mayor save final budget approval. This is easily circumvented by numerous budget "transfers" during any fiscal year. The Council, however, was given the power to conduct investigations. Are you stating that you would propose such actions, including department audits, in your term? It seems to logically follow "so you always know where your money goes before we ask for more." But again, great start. I look forward to more as well as some other candidates with the courage to state a position.
Robyn Greenspan October 07, 2011 at 01:46 PM
Thank you, Jezebel. I know the high standards you place on public servants, and the taxpayers should rightfully have equally high expectations that their interests are met first. In any organization where I've worked, there has to be an accounting of money spent before more is allocated. Why should municipalities function any differently? If there is consistent and gross inefficiency, let's hire an organizational development specialist to assess the entire system, who will make recommendations and implement dramatic improvements. We'd likely recoup the money we spend on the one-time larger consulting fee from the waste we eliminate from every department.
Mike Reynolds October 07, 2011 at 01:52 PM
I find it refreshing that an endorsed candidate from the Stratford DTC is engaging with Jezebel without crying about anonymity. That is not the typical response from the Miron influenced DTC. Does this mean that the DTC has made a break from Mr. Miron's influence? Has the light finally been seen? That could spell trouble for Republican candidates this year.
Jezebel282 October 07, 2011 at 02:08 PM
Mike, So far, based upon Ms. Greenspan's actual positions, Mr. Kubic (her opponent) doesn't stand a chance. And yes, it is a pleasure to actually discuss issues instead of dealing with personal attacks.
Robyn Greenspan October 07, 2011 at 02:17 PM
Mike, I am willing to engage in intelligent dialogue - no matter the source. I haven't seen any Mirons at a DTC meeting for a very long time, so I don't know what influence is there. I invite anyone to attend - first Mondays, 7:30, Baldwin Center - and become involved in the open exchange of ideas and discussions. The DTC has attracted a lot of new people who share the same frustrations and want to influence positive change. With the exception of Miron's short tenure, the Republicans have long-controlled the Council, BoE and have the majority representation at the State. Harkins makes this a completely GOP-led town. There needs to be shared responsibility for progress in Stratford - with people who really want to make improvements and put the town first.
Dave Fuller October 07, 2011 at 02:35 PM
Jezebel, you are absolutely correct that much of the budget is structural (long standing contracts, state and federal mandates, or waiting until last minute ot do major infrastructure or school repairs). Since the last charter revision, the Council has been made structurally weak in relation to the mayor. And, yes, often budget transfers become de facto ways for approvals of budget transfers. Also consider that Charter enforcement is weak. I questioned the hiring of the EMS Director based on the grounds that the Council must approve funding under Charter articles 2.2.5 and 2.2.6. The Council utlimately voted on it retroactively. Transfers in many ways act the same way. But, there are things that can be done. I was on the Council for only a short period of time, but I sure did learn a lot of how government works and does not work. I think there ought to be mandated audits of all departments, or perhaps a board or commission or committee that acts as an independent auditor to the books (Shelton and Monroe has these as elected positions). Also, there should be more reporting to the Council level of transfers, anticipated deficits and surpluses, etc. It may require a Charter revision, and that often leads to resistance to seeing such things done. You have to start with transparency so you can identify what needs reform.
Jezebel282 October 07, 2011 at 02:50 PM
Mr. Fuller, "But, there are things that can be done." You have had that power for quite a while now: "Power to Investigate and Procure Information. [Amended 11-4-2008] The Council shall have the power to investigate town affairs. In exercising this power, the Council shall have the power to require any town elected or appointed official, officer, director, department head, or employee to furnish the Council or its designee all information, contracts, reports, papers, documents, records, or other material which is in the possession of the elected or appointed official, officer, director, department head, or employee, and which, in the opinion of the Council is necessary to enable the Council to discharge the duties imposed upon it by this Charter, or to properly and completely investigate town affairs." As for the appointment of an EMS Director, it was obvious that something needed to be done. You can't give away $600,000 worth of business and stay around. However, Harkins handled it in a completely arbitrary way and we are seeing the consequences played out.
Ron Moreau October 07, 2011 at 04:31 PM
Ms. Greenspan, "The DTC has attracted a lot of new people who share the same frustrations and want to influence positive change. " While it is refreshing to hear of changes taking place in the Stratford DTC membership, it would be nice to know what membership changes have taken place. Pehaps you might be willing to publish a current DTC membership list.
George E. Mulligan October 07, 2011 at 04:33 PM
I believe Stratford is analogous to ENRON, which supplied facts & figures to AUDITOR Arthur Anderson. (completely exonerated<>completely destroyed) - "Pirates of the Caribbean" quote: "You can always count on dishonest people, to do dishonest things!" "It is the honest people who you have to wonder about? They are unpredictable." - I like Dave Fuller & Robyn (anyone over Kubic) However Diane Buda, Eleanor Burke, and I ran for office and didn't come close. - As long as Stratford's and America's citizens are content to be ignorant, apathetic, & civically uninvolved the the political parties political prostitutes are going to continue to run, essentially unopposed. - EVERYONE pretty much NOW HATES both political parties, wants to VOTE OUT the INCUMBANTS, and are STARTING to come to the REALIZATION "90 % of the ALTERNATIVES to VOTE for are as BAD or WORSE!" - Years ago I predicted a couple Senators & Congress people would be shot, & I am AGAINST VIOLENCE! I was very surprized to learn the lady married to the astronaut was the FIRST Congress person to be SHOT. We had a few Presidents/Candidates who were killed. - Ed "Beefy" Hargus who wouldn't hurt a flea made a stupid remark about someone who bought a gun to a Town Council Meeting and thought he might do the same. It was VERY BADLY PHRASED. NO WAY would ED threaten people. - Henrick & Crudo had Ed arrested. Broke Ed's heart. Just before Ed died! I pray Ed wasn't prescient!
Olivia Gombar October 08, 2011 at 05:33 AM
Another languished area of growth is the Shakespear Theater. This theater could be a great shared resource. Might make a nice college of the arts. The airport runway safety issue needs to be resolved. How many lives is that bend in the road worth? I see the need for some immediate attention paid to run-away spending, decreasing neighborhood crime and stopping the rate of general town-wide depreciation. To me bonding is backward economics and backwards spending. Makes no sense. I too would NOT support a budget that spends money it does not have. Neighborhood Watch Associations involve neighbors in a safe and effective way to deter crime. We used to have them in Stratford. It's almost like the "If you see something, say something" idea. Districts need to be cleaned up of blighted property. More neighborhood beautification incentives are needed. Perhaps poster contests for the kids. More PR on the attractions Stratford has to offer. Some immediate efforts to advertise Stratford's small town qualities might help attract more interest in economic investment. Bpt has a really nice TV commercial. I support trusting long term financial strategies to the advice of independent experts. I would not vote for a budget that spends money it does not have. Politics in this town is strictly personal in my opinion and the reason why Stratford is headed in the wrong direction. But there is hope in new ideas and in people that really care about Stratford. Thanks Robyn
Olivia Gombar October 08, 2011 at 05:52 AM
George, I understand your post and truly appreciate your unique efforts at communicating facts figures and your opinions. You are relentless in your efforts to single-handedly shed light and increase the political and financial awaresess of Stratford's citizens and candidates. Thank you! Olivia
Jezebel282 October 08, 2011 at 12:14 PM
Ms. Gombar, Thank you for posting. I noticed that your last post concentrated on the words "perhaps" and "maybe". While it is certainly more than Mr. Dempsey has stated (you are winning so far), it only superficially describes problems facing Stratford for decades. Do you have any specific plans in mind or is your position that perhaps you might maybe do something?
Olivia Gombar October 08, 2011 at 01:24 PM
Dear Jezebel, Okay, here's what I would do. First, determine an accurate accounting of what money we have to spend. Guaranteed funds available. Second, itemize the town's expenses in order of obligations first, then priorities. Third, audit each department including salaries and find out just where the money goes and why. Every cent of it. Eliminate waste. No exceptions - strictly business. Fourth, hire the financial planner to develop a spending plan - long term and short term. No new debt. Fifth, hire the economic director. Use the money from the streamlining of gov departments to pay for them. Stick to the plan. No secret deals. Evaluate progress and use the advice of the financial experts to make adjustments where needed. Sounds simple but it makes sense to me. It's all about accurate financial planning for the future. I would be willing to support the BOE in finding foundations and grants. Hartford did. I would be willing to support research of how other solvent towns and states manage employee benefits. We live in one of the richest counties in the US. Let's coordinate resources. It's insane to keep doing what we always have done (mainly waiting) expecting something different to happen. Thanks for giving me this opportunity.
Robyn Greenspan October 08, 2011 at 07:06 PM
Olivia, thanks for clearly articulating your ideas. It seems like the Dem candidates are strongly aligned and with the voters' support we can really be a force for positive change.
George E. Mulligan October 09, 2011 at 08:27 AM
Olivia - I respected you due to past Letters to the Editor content. I have a well deserved mistrust of people on RTC & DTC. My respect for your increased exponentially by positions you've posted. - "Thank you for your praise" per to my bringing "financial facts to public awareness." - Credit to Matt Catalano, for getting the Mayor / Finance to post the Town's monthly expenses on the Webiste. Almost NO ONE looks at or understands Expenses post: Malloy, Gavin & Connors R $ experts Except Stephanie Philips, Matt, & Dave Fuller: reference expenses relative to specific issues. > 1 of "my Mayor issues!" I pounded lack of $$ Transparency. > I used PAST COUNCIL'S rejection of Finance Department usurping Town Council's duty under Town Charter. Responsibility for ALL MONEY issues except SPENDING within: Departments & Bored of EduKation.. - If Stratford was run by WOMEN who don't have financial benefit within Stratford Treasury (directly/indirectly), I believe it would be far less corrupt. - Marcia Steward Sylvia Guberman Diane Buda & Eleanor Burke virtually single handedly created 1991 PUBLIC INITIATIVE which created the 1991 REFERENDUMS. > I believe the political parties usurped / eliminated PUBLIC INITIATIVE with TOWN CHARTER changes, increasing Town Attorney Budgets 300-400% since START. > Stratford & USA becoming combo: Police State; Party=upper class; worse than MAFIA/WARLORDS - Many LADIES have more courage/integrity than Stratford's men!
Jezebel282 October 09, 2011 at 12:22 PM
Ms. Gombar, Much better! Just a comment on the audit process. There are audits and then there are audits. Many audits are simply a matter of counting the beans that have been bought and the beans that have been consumed. As long as one column equals the other, you pass! The question in this Town is where those beans went and why. I hope the latter is the kind of audit Ms. Greenspan and you are talking about.
Robyn Greenspan October 10, 2011 at 12:29 AM
Here is the current DTC membership list: Rick Marcone - Chairman Beth Daponte - Vice Chairperson Secretary - Ariana Fine Treasurer - Ken Bishop Deputy Treasurer - Kent Miller Bruce Alessie Janice Andersen Meg Bachtel Terry Backer Ann Alice Baker Ben Barnes Peggy Barnish Frank Bevacqua Ken Bishop Robert Bradley Adam Brill Emma Brooks Richard Brown Edward Buckmir Rich Buturla Immacula Cann Susan Collier Jean Collier Jim Connolly Ann Coonley Beth Daponte Janice Daponte Robert David Sonja Devitt Laura Dobosz Vincent Faggella Larry Farrell Maria Ferrera Ariana Fine Dave Fuller Robert Galello Olivia Gombar Laurie Goodsell Robyn Greenspan Judy Hampel Ronald Hojdich Alicia Huggins Howard Johnson Lloyd Johnson Ralph Jowers Richard Kennedy Irene Kostzewski Aubrey Kyburz Ron Langdon Flo Langdon John Sib Law Maryann Manera Rick Marcone  Terry Masters Kim Meuse Dan Milewski Kent Miller Edward Monroe Dave Mooney Denise Nelson Mary Northcott Gerald O'Leary Marjean O'Malley Alvin O'Neal Joe Paul Stephanie Philips Barry Powell Joan Pruzinsky Mary Ray Bonnie Reynolds Anthony Ross Betsy Ross Peggy Russ Jason Santi Kathy Santi Anna Scala Judy Scala Anthony Schirillo III Jim Sheridan J. Roger Shull Patricia Slauson John Sober Amanda Soderberg Pat Sorrentino-Galello Helen Tashjian Paul Tavaras Kevin Weiss Tara Wexler Eileen Wilson Mary Young
George E. Mulligan October 10, 2011 at 04:57 AM
Until there are a majority of Town Councilors, Bored of Edukation, & Zoning who are unanimously selected by RTC & DTC, Stratford has problems, unless those people have uncompromising integrity & without interest conflicts. Olivia & Robyn post very well. Can they get elected? I'm among the most qualified people to be on the Town Council. I would be the most equitable Mayor or Town Manager, if the oath of office & pledge of alligiance were yardsticks. Only Ed Hargus has done more for Stratford than Diane Buda & Eleanor Burke, with my hat off to Marcia Stewart. We can't & wouldn't buy or leverage votes by Town or BoE jobs or via steered Contracts. including kited pricing &/or change orders. > Not that those happen in Stratford or anywhere else in the U. S. - I NOTE there is very little difference between "OMERTA" & the "BLUE WALL" of Justice/FBI; State Prosecutors/Police; Town Attorneys/Police; Elected Federal / State / Local, & appointed or contracted. . The DIFFERENCE between the MAFIA and the respective government personnel, is that the MAFIA is NOT HYPOCRITICAL. . There are a vast majority of great, good, & decent people in government & politics There are also traitors & criminals in government & politics. - While the TEA PARTY was captured by PALINdrone & usurpers, this Occupation Wall Street (so far) disdains both political parties abuses as well as Business & other abusers. - I & they aren't anachists, but want honest government?
Ron Moreau October 10, 2011 at 02:15 PM
Robyn, Knowing WHO is behind a candidate running for political office is as important as knowing the candidates positions on town issues. Thank you.
TheAntiMiron October 11, 2011 at 02:29 AM
Ms. Greenspan, You are right to identify "high taxes" as "just a symptom" of systemic problems. What is unclear from your article is what you plan to do about those problems beyond the typical, politically convenient answers Democrats tend to offer: "waste, inefficiency and unnecessary spending" are bad (is anyone for those things?), taking a scalpel to the budget that will (magically) cut only things "not at the expense of town services" is good, and we should have absolute faith that the best "leader" with the most brilliant "strategic vision" can pick "which industries will yield the most growth, jobs, opportunities and contributions to the tax base." All of those things were in fact promised by candidate Barack Obama in 2008. During his first two years with a completely Democrat-dominated Congress, such that Republican opposition was irrelevant, Obama managed to massively increase "waste, fraud, and abuse," never wielded the scalpel against a single spending increase as apparent from the national government's debt increasing more under Obama than in 8 years of George W. Bush's miserable tenure, and Obama's "social democratic" agenda has, as socialist polices are wont to do, yielded economic stagnation, crony capitalist/corporate socialist corruption with the forced taxpayer subsidization of failed or non-viable financial/"green"/auto and other businesses, devastating increases in poverty and dependency, and violating the civil and economic liberties of every American.
TheAntiMiron October 11, 2011 at 02:31 AM
Forgive me for being skeptical when hearing the same notes of the Democrats' siren song once again. Perhaps you are different. In order for us to judge, we will need to know more about what kind of "leadership" and "strategic vision" are being proposed. You write that "another new pizza place or deli will only fill our bellies and not our wallets." Are you saying that as a member of the council you would look down upon new restaurants opening in Town? Do you not think that the owners, workers, and patrons of such establishments, present and future, contribute to the betterment of their own lives as well as the tax base? Who should decide that Stratford doesn't need another pizza place? Isn't another way of saying "Economic growth... Is being approached here as a random filling of spaces" that entrepreneurs are freely choosing where they expect to be the most advantageous place to start a business, and consumers are freely voting with their feet on whether the entrepreneur was right? Should not consumers, as opposed to council members or "economic development" bureaucrats, be sovereign when it comes to making such decisions?
TheAntiMiron October 11, 2011 at 02:31 AM
Isn't another way of saying "We shouldn't be waiting to see what businesses we attract; we need leadership who has a strategic vision for the kind of town Stratford can be, and which industries will yield the most growth, jobs, opportunities and contributions to the tax base" that Town government should intervene in the market to pick winners and losers, using taxpayer dollars to subsidize supposedly "good" businesses (manufacturing) while ignoring or even raising taxes on "bad" businesses (restaurants)? Your positions are, to my regret, shared by many Republicans. Senator Kelly's positions are based on the same erroneous premises. Connecticut has for a long time had a bipartisan consensus that "economic development" is best planned by government. Such planning by "experts" has given us the Kelo v. New London injustice and debacle, and no private-sector economic growth since 1989. What we need is for Town government to create a freer environment, lower taxes and less regulatory burdens for all, conducive to real economic growth -- the more random, the better.
Robyn Greenspan October 11, 2011 at 07:57 PM
Some very interesting connections you've made. I’ll reply as soon as I am able during an exceptionally busy work schedule this week. There’s an Economic Development Commission meeting tonight and you can show up and ask me these questions in person, if you wish.
Robyn Greenspan October 12, 2011 at 02:56 AM
TheAntiMiron, I stated some positions and gave you some tactical tasks I plan to undertake, as one person in a 10-member Town Council + Mayor that has had a reputation for voting along party lines. I can't speak for Obama.
Robyn Greenspan October 12, 2011 at 03:09 AM
TheAntiMiron, That's not what I said at all. There should be diversity in a business development plan beyond pizza and delis. By the way, I love pizza. Robyn
George E. Mulligan October 15, 2011 at 02:03 AM
Economic Development? Teenage Brother & Sister created myyearbook.com They did low cost promotion with their HS. They got other HSs involved. Sold their company for $ 100 million. They have 33 million members. - Facebook + Twitter + ebay doing pretty well. - Google + Yahoo + Gmail + AOL - Microsoft + Apple + Oracle + Novell - Bloomberg - Buffet - GE - IBM - Hedge funds - Increasingly unique ideas are changing the face of Capitalism, with world wide market for services, which have higher profit margins than products. - The more concentrated the wealth. The more they will attract the intellectual thieves, who are hungrier and more innovative than their hired protectors, who are best placed to raid the predators. The increasing trend of cloud storage, makes it easier for the biggest hit at the wealth of the top 1 % of the top 1 %.. It wil be interesting when the whole truth comes out about the guardians.

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