Council candidates respond to questions from The Miami Laker

Government By Alexandra Herrera, Reporter Friday, September 30, 2022

 

Of the seven candidates running for town council seats in Miami Lakes, only four chose by 5 p.m. on Sept. 30 to fill out a questionnaire that describes their biographies and positions on town issues. Candidate Carlos O. Alvarez filed his on Oct. 5 and his responses are included below.

If Josh Dieguez or Ian Anthony Medina send in their questionnaires, this story will be updated again.

The Miami Laker is publishing candidates’ answers in full.

The responses from candidates Miguel Comesana III, Angelo Garcia, Ray Garcia and William Perez were provided prior to the town council’s decision on Sept. 27 to lower the millage rate to 2.2664.

Candidates are scheduled to appear at a forum on Monday, Oct. 3 at 6:30 p.m. in Miami Lakes Town Hall.

Former Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas, a Miami Lakes resident, will moderate the event that will be open to the public and livestreamed on town social media pages.

Carlos O. Alvarez, 45, lives in Miami Lakes but declined to list the community. He is an incumbent candidate seeking re-election Seat 6.

Education Master’s degree in Educational Leadership from Nova Southeastern University; Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from St. Thomas University; Associate in Arts degree from Miami Dade College.

Occupation Principal of COHEA Career and Collegiate Academy in Hialeah; president/board chair of Pinecrest Academy Inc. Schools; president of CIVICA Educational Foundation, chief academic officer/educational Consultant of the CIVICA Network of Schools.

What were your accomplishments in your first term on the town council?

Properly funded our police department to keep our neighborhoods safe; added light-up pedestrian crosswalks; incorporated the “Drive Like Your Kids Live Here” campaign and invested in projects to bring beauty and quality of life for residents. Ongoing achievements are sidewalk repairs town-wide and supporting funding for cul-de-sac repairs. 

Promoted town-wide educational programming and recreational options.

Worked with state legislators to secure funding for canal bank  stabilization project and additional turning lane on Northwest 154th St. 

Invested and secured bonding and state funding to address over 20 drainage projects town-wide to alleviate our residents’ flooding issues. 

Led and worked with other councilmembers in incorporating playground lighting in our parks, upgraded equipment, upgraded shade canopy for playgrounds and supported incorporating a pickleball court in Miami Lakes Optimist Park. 

Keep taxes, fees, and millage rate low. Attract private investment and businesses for local job creation. 

Employment History 2008 – Present: Principal of COHEA Career and Collegiate Academy; 2020 – Present: President of CIVICA Educational Foundation, Chief Academic Officer/Educational Consultant of the CIVICA Network of Schools; 2020 – Present: President/Board Chair of Pinecrest Academy Inc. Schools; 2006 – 2008: Mater Academy, assistant principal; 2003 – 2006: Jose Marti Middle School, dean of discipline; 2000 – 2003: Ben Shepard Elementary School, 5th grade teacher.

Have you ever been arrested, charged, or convicted of a crime?  No.

Have you ever been a plaintiff or a defendant in a civil action, including bankruptcy or foreclosure, or had a restraining order issued against you? No.

Do you belong to any professional or civic organizations? Florida Education Foundation Board of Directors.

Have you ever run for office before? 2018 for Miami Lakes Council, Seat 6.

Do you have any political action committees? Yes.

How much money have you raised so far? [Editor’s note: The candidate did not supply this information. According to the report he filed with the town, he has raised $6,300 as of Aug. 31.]

Do you have any endorsements? If so from who?  Miami Lakes Mayor Manny Cid; State Rep. Alex Rizo; State Rep. Tom Fabricio; [Miami-Dade County Commissioner] Sen. Rene Garcia; School board member Roberto Alonso; Police Benevolent Association; Fraternal Order of Police.

Why are you running for this office? I am running for this office to continue and finish what we started.

What are the top three issues for Miami Lakes and what are the solutions? 

Blasting: Continue working with state legislators to put policies in place that will lower the impact of the blast.

Continue to address traffic issues: Study the traffic on Northwest 154th Street and Northwest 170th Avenue to identify if additional officers need to be provided to help with traffic flow during peak traffic hours.

Increasing police budget: to assure with the increased units of apartments in Main Street, the opening of the Northwest 170th Avenue, the future projects in the Miami Lakes Golf Club, and the mixed-used space on Commerce Parkway. We continue sustaining low crime rates with additional dollars for overtime of police officers or determine if additional officers need to be included in our budget.

The council is considering hiring more officers to address the increase in car burglaries occurring at night. What is your position on adding additional officers?  Do you believe the added cost will be justified? I am in support of hiring additional officers. The cost will be justified.

Blasting affects many residents on the west side of Miami Lakes. How would you motivate state representatives in Tallahassee to reduce the impact upon property owners? 

Our state representatives are in full support of addressing the blasting issue. We plan on working with State Sen. Bryan Avila to make sure we can mitigate the impact of blasting, with the outcome of decreasing the damages to homes.

Do you support the proposed $19.5 million bond issue to fund improvements for Optimist Park? Yes, I am in full support.

Traffic is an issue within the town. What plans do you have to help with the increasing number of cars in town?  Please refer to my response to the question about the three issues.

Miguel Comesana III, 29, lives in the Celebration Point community. He is a first-time candidate seeking Seat 4, and is running against incumbent Councilman Josh Dieguez. 

Education Miami Dade College, Associates Degree, 2014.  

Occupation Case manager at a personal injury law firm.

Employment history I have worked in many industries, from bartending at Italy Today in Miami Lakes to being a personal translator for the CEO of a tile company to dispatching trucks. I enjoy trying different careers and I finally found what I really enjoy, working at a law firm.

Have you ever been arrested, charged, or convicted of a crime? Never, and hopefully it stays that way.

Have you ever been a plaintiff or a defendant in a civil action, including bankruptcy or foreclosure or had a restraining order issued against you? No.

Do you belong to any professional or civic organizations? I served on the board of the HOA of my community in 2021. 

Have you ever run for office before? No.

Do you have any political action committees? How much money have you raised so far? I don’t have any and I have $300 in the account.

Do you have any endorsements? If so from who? None yet.

Why are you running for this office? If you are running against an incumbent, why? I’m running for office for the same reasons I ran for my HOA. To better my community and keep improving our properties and so that we stay a safe and prosperous neighborhood.

What are the top three issues for Miami Lakes and what are the solutions? First, we need to fix the way permits are done in our town. I have gotten many permits for my condo but it is always such a hassle and always delayed. I can only imagine how much worse it is for our homeowners and business owners. Second, I believe the damages to properties caused by the blasting has to be addressed and fixed. It has been years, and nothing has been done to fix this. More homes are being destroyed with cracks all over the walls. Do we wait until a house collapses and kills everyone inside until something is done? Lastly, I believe our local businesses need to be helped. We have so many businesses going under its ridiculous. I understand competition and that not all businesses survive, but they are failing at an alarming rate. For example, we had a Johnny Rockets go under, we had Beverly Hills CafĂ© go out of business and Grace’s Flower in a Pot shop be forced to shut down.

The council is considering hiring more officers to address the increase in car burglaries occurring at night. What is your position on adding additional officers?  Do you believe the added cost will be justified? I believe officers are a major help in deterring and stopping crime and we have such amazing officers now in our town. But in this instance, I don’t think adding more officers will deter the thefts. We had a theft of multiple cars in the parking lot in front of the police station. I think we should add cameras in main public areas and have people watching them 24/7 so that when thefts occur, police can be dispatched quietly without notifying the would-be burglars and have them caught in the act instead of waiting for footage of the incident.

Blasting affects many residents on the west side of Miami Lakes. How would you motivate state representatives in Tallahassee to reduce the impact upon property owners? 

I believe the owners of the quarry must be held accountable for the destruction of all the homes affected and pay for their damages. If they do not agree to it, I would push for a class action lawsuit against the quarry and have them held accountable for the property damages they are causing. I would even join with Pembroke Pines and parts of unincorporated Miami and get together to assist property owners to move against them in the appropriate court of law.

Do you support the proposed $19.5 million bond issue to fund improvements for Optimist Park? I believe in supporting and bettering our community, but I would want to see where those funds are directly going because $19.5 million is a lot of money and I would want to ensure that those funds are not misused in any way.

Traffic is an issue within the town. What plans do you have to help with the increasing number of cars in town?

Since we can’t open up more streets, I think we should continue with the Freebee vehicles and promote their use around town, so residents go and use them to go grocery shopping or to head back from a restaurant. We need to do a better job of promoting a higher level of public use. These services are free, and I am certain that most people in Miami Lakes are not even aware that this service exists. I think the word of the availability of this service should spread and the increased usage will assist in lowering our street traffic.

Angelo Garcia, 61, lives in the Royal Oaks community.  He is a first-time candidate for Seat 6, and is running against incumbent Councilman Carlos O. Alvarez.

Education High school diploma and a degree in Mixology.

Occupation Safety Technician.

Employment history I have owned several bartending schools and I now transitioned over to my current occupation, which is a safety technician.

Have you ever been arrested, charged, or convicted of a crime? No, I have not.

Have you ever been a plaintiff or a defendant in a civil action, including bankruptcy or foreclosure or had a restraining order issued against you? No, I have not.

Do you belong to any professional or civic organizations? No, I am not. However, I am willing to look into different organizations available here in Florida.

Have you ever run for office before? No, and hopefully I can bring in new and better ideas to the town council as a town activist. I also hope to bring back the professionalism and etiquette in attending all, or most, town meetings as required by the charter.

Do you have any political action committees? How much money have you raised so far?

I have never started a PAC. In my campaign, I have raised $17,615.  

Do you have any endorsements? If so from who? 

I have endorsements from the Cuban American Press Association, Councilwoman Marilyn Ruano and various concerned Miami Lakers that I have been able to meet while walking door-to-door throughout my campaign.

Why are you running for this office? If you are running against an incumbent, why?

I am running for office because the town leaders are failing at keeping true to doing what’s best for the Miami Lakers. I am running for the people of Miami Lakes, and I want to ensure that the resident’s voice is heard. I’m running against the incumbent because absent leaders are not the leaders that the Miami Lakers confided in when they voted him in. 

What are the top three issues for Miami Lakes and what are the solutions? 

Blasting. The solution to reducing the blasting impacts is expanding the efforts of the Blasting Advisory Board and ensuring that the town is involved in statewide talks and [with the] state-wide legislature about blasting because it is truly destroying our property foundations.

Broken sidewalks caused by trees. One of the main things that I will be focusing on if elected to office is ensuring that an ordinance is passed editing parts of the tree ordinance. This will allow our residents to be able to properly maintain trees without fearing unjust fines for trying to maintain their trees properly without also having to worry about the trees encroaching onto their sidewalks and property lines. I will also make sure that, in the next budget deliberations, there are special budgetary allocations towards fixing the broken sidewalks and ensuring that the town does its part in properly maintaining the trees.

Lowering our property taxes. I believe that if there is no necessary need to increase property taxes, then we should not increase them. These past couple of budget sessions have been terrorizing having to think that our property taxes may be increased because of the millage rate staying the same as last year (when our property values have skyrocketed). However, I’ve been making sure to talk with some of our elected officials and making sure that they make the best choice for the Miami Lakers. With these efforts and the efforts of the council, the mileage has been decreased by 2%.

The council is considering hiring more officers to address the increase in car burglaries occurring at night. What is your position on adding additional officers? Do you believe the added cost will be justified? 

As the most conservative candidate for Seat 6, I am extremely pro-police. With this said, I do trust the professional opinion of Police Major Javier Ruiz. During his presentation for the budget, he had noted that the amount of police officers is adequate to the workload in the Town of Miami Lakes. It won’t be justified because it’s not currently needed. I trust the professional opinion of Police Major Ruiz, and if he mentioned that more police were needed, I would completely support the initiative.

Blasting affects many residents on the west side of Miami Lakes. How would you motivate state representatives in Tallahassee to reduce the impact upon property owners? 

I am an active advocate for the reduction of the intensity of blasting in our community as a member of the Blasting Advisory Board. I went up to Tallahassee this past legislative session and I was able to land a meeting with the chief financial officer. This meeting was used to talk on behalf of the Miami Lakers about the solutions the state can take on the issue of blasting.

Do you support the proposed $19.5 million bond issue to fund improvements for Optimist Park? 

No, I do not support taking on a $19.5 million mortgage, which will ultimately increase the taxes of our taxpayers. However, I do support the initiative if the money comes from different means, such as grant monies or private-public contract(s) to raise the money needed. The only thing that will be needed is a revision of the Joint Use Agreement (JUA) to allow the town to collect the money from outside investments.

Traffic is an issue within the town. What plans do you have to help with the increasing number of cars in town?

I plan on making sure that the town does not approve unnecessary developments that will bring in more traffic to our town. I plan on also making sure that the Northwest 154th Street bridge is not opened to general traffic because if it is, it will continue to ruin the stability of driving in the town.

Ray Garcia, 50, rents an apartment on Main Street in Miami Lakes. He is seeking to represent Seat 2.

Education Miami Dade Community College, Associate degree, studied Business Administration, 1994.

Occupation Health Insurance Manager, 240 FL Health Insurance Licensed Agent.

Employment history 2011-2022 manager, direct to consumer, Centene Insurance; 2005-2010 manager, direct marketing services, Humana Health Care; 2001-2004, director of parks and recreation, City of Hialeah Gardens.

Have you ever been arrested, charged, or convicted of a crime? Never.

Have you ever been a plaintiff or a defendant in a civil action, including bankruptcy or foreclosure or had a restraining order issued against you? 

Never.

Do you belong to any professional or civic organizations?

I am a proud former member of the Neighborhood Improvement Committee and Blasting Advisory Board of the Town of Miami Lakes.

Have you ever run for office before? 

Yes, in 2020 for Miami Lakes Town Council Seat 3 between myself and Councilwoman Marilyn Ruano. It was one of the closest races in town history, with one percentage point between us. It was a clean positive campaign of which I am extremely proud. She was very gracious during the campaign, in her victory, and is doing an excellent job for the residents.

Do you have any political action committees? 

No.

How much money have you raised so far? 

About $5,000.

Do you have any endorsements? Yes, If so from who? 

I am honored to have Miami Lakes Mayor Manny Cid, Vice Mayor Jeffrey Rodriquez, Councilman Carlos Alvarez, and Councilman Tony Fernandez’s support.

Why are you running for this office?

 The answer for me is simple. I have been volunteering in the town in one way or another for over a decade, from coaching baseball at Optimist Park to delivering food to the neediest seniors during the pandemic, to serving on the Neighborhood Improvement Committee, Blasting Advisory Board, or as a candidate for town council in 2020. As your next councilman,  I want to continue to serve the wonderful residents of the Town of Miami Lakes to ensure your family’s safety and improve their quality of life.

Are you are running against an incumbent, why?

No, Seat 2 is an open seat.

What are the top three issues for Miami Lakes and what are the solutions? 

The residents have told me that keeping their homes and families safe from crime and speeding cars in their neighborhood is the number one priority. This includes the delays in the morning and afternoons when they are taking their kids to school and going to work.

I would ask our police department what they need and give them what they require to fight crime, speeding, traffic issues and let our amazing men and women in uniform do what they do best. I also believe that we should continue to encourage community policing that collaborates closely with parents, HOAs; local principals Miami-Dade School Police; our public safety and other committees so our officers can identify areas of opportunity quickly and target resources to stop it.

Keeping taxes low. Cost of living increases and the rise of insurance is also a priority for our residents. I encourage the town council to give relief to taxpayers with a 1 to 2% drop in the millage rate and 1 or 2% tax rebate to help residents on their tax bill.  Miami Lakers' expectation is that the streets in front of their homes do not flood every time it rains hard. They want the sidewalks fixed quickly when they are damaged. Tree trimming done in a timely manner and our parks maintained to the standards they deserve. Working to strengthen our relationships with our county, state and federal representatives to bring grant and infrastructure dollars yearly to the town, for years to come, is crucial to meeting the needs of our residents. Finding public/private partnerships to bring in private sector dollars to help absorb the cost to the residents for town improvements is key. Leveraging technology like the Miami Lakes Connect App so residents can access information and open a ticket to resolve an issue easily is important. The town should raise its standard of customer service to always be a resource to residents and never a hindrance to improve their quality of life.

The council is considering hiring more officers to address the increase in car burglaries occurring at night. What is your position on adding additional officers? Do you believe

the added cost will be justified? 

Investing in public safety is always justified in my book! I trust that Major Ruiz and our brave men and women in our police department can meet our residents’ needs with what he has requested in his budget. I would support adding more officers if requested by our police department.

Blasting affects many residents on the west side of Miami Lakes. How would you motivate state representatives in Tallahassee to reduce the impact upon property owners? 

I proudly served on the Blasting Advisory Board for almost two years. The damage blasting is having on our residents’ quality of life is devastating. Town leaders created the Board to be a voice for Miami Lakers for that very reason. The mayor, council, town staff and the Blasting Advisory Board is currently working closely with County Commissioner Rene Garcia, former State Rep. Manny Diaz, state Sen. Bryan Avila, Rep. Alex Rizzo, and Rep. Tom Fabrizio to introduce legislation in Tallahassee to bring our residents relief. This has resulted in a state-backed pilot program to place seismographs surrounding the mines to properly record the blast data to collect concrete evidence to help draft future legislation to lower the blast intensity and allow residents the power to file litigation to recover damages caused by the blasting. I will continue to support the Blasting Advisory Boards' efforts in this endeavor. The mining industry must start showing consideration to Miami Lakers and become good neighbors if they want to continue to operate in Miami Dade County.

Do you support the proposed $19.5 million bond issue to fund improvements for Optimist Park?

Miami Lakers asked and I fully support empowering the residents to decide whether to invest their hard-earned tax dollars in the town’s future. The number one reason the Town of Miami Lakes incorporated in December of 2000 was the lack of services it was receiving from Miami-Dade County. Especially related to the poor conditions at Optimist Park. For 22 years, residents have asked to have a voice in choosing to make the significant investment to improve the park to the standards they deserve. This mayor and council are the first in the history of the town to finally give the residents the ability to make this important choice for themselves on November 8th. The amazing quality of life Miami Lakers currently enjoy was planned over 50 years ago. It is no accident our mixed-use, walkable, tree-lined street community with a park, school and church in every neighborhood is why the town is heavily sought after by people looking to buy or rent a home or apartment and why many of our residents never want to leave. To have our Central Park in such horrible conditions goes against every principal Miami Lakes was founded on. We must continue to invest in our town, especially during challenging times to secure our children's future.

Traffic is an issue within the town. What plans do you have to help with the increasing number of cars in town?

Any candidate that tells you that they will solve Miami Lakes traffic issues overnight is insulting your intelligence. Miami Lakes is an oasis surrounded by a desert of urban sprawl with limited exits and entrances. We need to make sure the Northwest 154th Street bridge does not open. We need to make sure that Hialeah and Miami-Dade County complete the Northwest 97th Avenue extension to Miami Gardens Drive and Northwest 170th Street [extension] to the Turnpike, so their residents do not have to drive through Miami Lakes to get access to the Palmetto [Expressway] and Interstate 75. We need to complete the Northwest 59th Avenue bridge project to give Miami Lakers access to the northeast part of our town (Costco) without having to leave the town and come back. Future Palmetto plans include more underpasses so residents can cross under. We must push county, state and federal agencies to fully fund and start these projects ASAP. We need to bring hundreds of high-paying jobs to Miami Lakes, especially Commerce East, so Miami Lakes residents do not have to commute in and out of town daily to maintain the lifestyle they have now. They can take a short car trip, bike, Uber, Freebee, use scooters, golf carts or even walk when the weather is good.

In the short term, officers and public safety personnel must work in coordination with school police to pool their resources to move traffic flow quicker during drop-off and pick-up. This is a regional problem that cannot be solved by Miami Lakers alone. I would put a moratorium on any new school construction in areas where there are existing bottlenecks and find alternative sights if possible. Are we using synchronized lighting as efficiently as possible? If not, why not? This needs to be addressed immediately. Encourage volunteers to guide biking and walking groups of kids to school on sunny days. Let us encourage a safe way for kids who live a mile or less from school to walk or bike to school. It worked for us growing up. The point is we must be flexible in our solutions, and it will take ideas from all the stakeholders especially the residents and parents to improve our traffic dilemma.

In conclusion, I will always put your family’s best interest first in every decision I make. I want to make the Town of Miami Lakes better for you and future generations to come. I humbly ask for your vote and support Miami Lakers.

William G. Perez, 57, lives in the Loch Andrews neighborhood.  He is seeking to represent Seat 2.

Education  Bachelor of Arts, University of Miami, 1986; J.D., Quinnipiac School of Law, 1989; LL.M (Tax) University of San Diego School of Law, 1994; LL.M (Military Law/International Law), The Army Judge Advocate General’s School at University of Virginia, 2001; Master of Social Work, Hawaii Pacific University, 2016.

Occupation Retired

Employment history Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps, 1983-2015; Adjunct Professor, Marine Corps University: National Security Studies, 2016-2020.

Have you ever been arrested, charged or convicted of a crime? No

Have you ever been a plaintiff or a defendant in a civil action, including bankruptcy or foreclosure or had a restraining order issued against you?  No.

Do you belong to any professional or civic organizations?

Retired member, Florida Bar; retired member, Connecticut Bar; member, U.S. Supreme Court Bar; Vice Commander, American Legion Post 144, Miami Lakes; Regimental Training Officer, Young Marines of South Florida; retired member, Judge Advocate Association.

Have you ever run for office before? No.

Do you have any political action committees? How much money have you raised so far? No PACs.  Raised about $7000.

Do you have any endorsements? If so from who? 

Miami Board of Realtors; Fraternal Order of Police.

Why are you running for this office? If you are running against an incumbent, why?

The Town of Miami Lakes is in transition from a small village to a large town. I believe I can bring leadership, governance, and managerial experience to help provide structure and processes to allow the town to succeed.

What are the top three issues for Miami Lakes and what are the solutions? 

Economy and our town budget; security; improving oversight and managerial processes for the town.

Solutions: Reduce the millage rate and pursue other sources of town funding such as federal and state grants. Invest in motion detectors and cameras in our public spaces to deter vandalism. These can be also used to deter car burglaries as long as we have set up an operations center in our town that our police can use to monitor activities and deploy a QRF (quick reaction force) to stop the crime as it is occurring. Require that each town department develop meaningful and quantifiable measures of performance and effectiveness and meet those measures as a prerequisite for any raise in salary or bonus.

The council is considering hiring more officers to address the increase in car burglaries occurring at night. What is your position on adding additional officers? Do you believe the added cost will be justified? 

Based upon the budget workshop, this is no longer the case. However, see above for an alternative to address these break-ins.

Blasting affects many residents on the west side of Miami Lakes. How would you motivate state representatives in Tallahassee to reduce the impact upon property owners? 

I have already done so, although not part of the Blasting Committee. I volunteered as a consultant. I suggested a two-pronged approach to the chair of the Blasting Committee. The first was to gather data, providing causation between the blasting and the damage to homes (this is currently being done with monitoring devices). The second was to meet with [state] Rep. Tom Fabricio and other members of the Blasting Committee and propose legislation that would limit the blasting in areas where there are schools or daycares, due to the plethora of scientific evidence dealing with the negative impacts of prolonged exposure to blasting has on the cognitive and emotional development of children. 

Do you support the proposed $19.5 million bond issue to fund improvements for Optimist Park? 

I do not support it for several reasons. First, taxes should not be raised during a period of inflation and a pending recession. Households are already financially strained, this would only worsen their situation. Second, most of Optimist Park is owned by the school board. Why would we use our taxpayer's money to improve property we do not exclusively own? Also why isn’t the school board assisting financially? Third, there are several federal and state grants that exist to improve parks. I provided a list of those to the town manager. Our grants department should aggressively pursue those, rather than rely on our taxpayer funds. Lastly, some are using #forourchildren to support the bond. My response to this, is groceries have gone up over 25%, so has rent. I think what would be best for our children is food and housing.

Traffic is an issue within the town. What plans do you have to help with the increasing number of cars in town?

Unfortunately, I cannot go back in time and fix poor past decisions such as the bridges deal or the approval of the seven-story residential area at the old golf club without a traffic study. But going forward, I would propose an amendment to our zoning and planning ordinance, making a traffic study mandatory for any development of 25 or more residences. This traffic study would be paid by the developer, but the town would select the traffic engineer and the cost engineer. The results of the traffic study would be required to be presented during the town council hearings on the development. The developer would be required to pay the costs of implementing the traffic study or the impact fee, whichever is greater.

Second, traffic safety issues, we have several pocket parks not located on main thoroughfares. I have seen way too often cars speed in these areas. I would recommend speed bumps to slow the vehicle down and signs “Children Playing” to further alert drivers as to the dangers.

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