Sam Anderson, a police officer with the Apopka Police Department, presents to the Apopka City Council on August 19, 2020

By Reggie Connell 

In recent weeks, the Apopka City Council has taken on elements of dramatic theater not often seen from a governing body. It started with a mid-term resignation of one of its commissioners, then moved to an anonymous letter regarding merit pay for Apopka police, and finally culminated in an epic plot twist by City Attorney Michael A. Rodriguez at the conclusion of Wednesday’s meeting.
As they say on a social media video: Keep watching to the end.
Just over two weeks ago, Apopka Mayor Bryan Nelson, City Administrator Edward Bass, and three members of the Apopka City Commission received an anonymous email from the address “” that was critical of the budget as it related to the Apopka Police Department’s merit-pay program. The author of that letter came forward Wednesday night at the City Council meeting.
“My name is Sam Anderson, and I’m here regarding next year’s budget. I wrote the letter that you all received on the topic of the merit program. And I stand behind it.”
Anderson is an 11-year veteran of the APD. He’s been a police officer for 14 years and is currently a traffic homicide investigator. But tonight he did not wear a police uniform, nor did he state that he was speaking on behalf of APD officers. He did, however, explain the why of anonymity in regard to the letter.
“I didn’t sign it for several reasons. First of all, I believe it represents the general mood within the police department and not the feelings of one person. I don’t think anyone could have written a letter that captured everyone’s feelings perfectly. But someone has to be the voice for those who have concerns or who fear retaliation for speaking up. And it served its purpose – it got a conversation started. Writing and sending that letter, and being here tonight, are not acts of cowardice.”
Anderson began this pushback about merit-pay in 2018 when he spoke before the City Council with dozens of APD officers and their families in attendance.  Despite the passion he and others displayed that evening, he believes nothing has changed.
“I stood here in 2018 and mentioned just about everything in that letter. It’s extremely frustrating that we have to fight this battle for the second time in three years. And it’s not just about COVID. I believe the proof is in the numbers. Commissioner (Kyle) Becker recently asked why we didn’t address this sooner, or have discussions with him. I feel like it’s the Police Chief’s job to have those discussions and lobby for us. But when I asked the Chief about it, he said he didn’t hear about these proposed cuts until  Mr. Bass (Apopka City Administrator Edward Bass) put them up on a PowerPoint. We seem to have no liaison or effective communication.”
According to his research, Anderson says other agencies are out in front of Apopka, despite not having merit pay.
“When you hear from other municipalities that aren’t getting a COLA (Cost of Living Assessment), you may be missing the bigger picture that they have either merit or tenure-based plan. I spoke with the D/C at Winter Park PD last week. Their officers with 0-5 years of service get 5% raises annually. Their sergeants get a 3.5% raise and their lieutenants making $75,000 or more get a 1% raise.  So even though you may have heard that a particular City isn’t giving a COLA next year, there are almost certainly other built-in retention incentives.”
According to Anderson, Nelson sent out an email to employees on July 31, with the proposed budget attached that itemizes a $3-million shortfall in sales tax revenue and a property tax increase, which will generate $900,000 of additional income.
“The mayor’s email references a remaining $1 million deficit and states that the sale of the property at Sandpiper and Rock Springs will close “most of that gap,” Anderson said. “If you go on the City’s website, you’ll see this parcel listed for $1,267,500. You may call this being conservative, but I’ve listed major discrepancies in just one email from the Mayor.”
Anderson closed his four-minute comment with a final suggestion for the APD budget.
“I don’t mean to come up here and gripe… but people are not exactly knocking down our door to become cops if you haven’t seen the news recently. And on that topic, we have 98 filled positions of 112 that were authorized. The question is, do we have those funds? Could we not fill three-quarters of those vacancies, and the funding that you have for the remainder, use as a retention incentive for the people you have here, now, rather than the revolving door, rather than the $100,000-plus dollars that I think it’s estimated to cost to hire a new police officer. Why not just keep the good people, the dedicated people that we have here to keep them happy? It just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, but I appreciate your time.”
Apopka Mayor Bryan Nelson wished to clarify specific issues with Anderson’s presentation before moving on to other public comments.
“There are a  couple of things that you may have misunderstood,” Nelson said to Anderson. “We might get $1.2-million for Sandpiper… and if we do, it will all go either toward reducing outstanding liabilities, or toward raises, or capital improvements… but other than that, yeah, what you said is pretty accurate.”
“At any rate, I think the money’s there, I don’t understand,” said Anderson.
“So, wait a minute, so where is the money, then? I’m just trying to understand,” said Nelson.
“Well, we gave up somewhere between a half-million and a million dollars revenue from a red light camera program with absolutely no plan to replace it,” said Anderson.  And I’ll quote you on that ‘The police will have to write tickets to make up for that.'”
“I’m not sure that’s a quote, but okay,” Nelson said. “And I don’t think that the net revenue from – if you go back and look at the numbers from red-light cameras, I don’t think the net revenue is anywhere near that number.”
City Commissioner Kyle Becker, an opponent of red light cameras, clarified the program’s net revenue.
“That particular line item is just the ramping down, the closure, that’s the remaining infractions that were still outstanding from my understanding,” said Becker. “But generally speaking, during the height of that program, the City was netting just shy of a million dollars a year.”
He also wanted to hear a more specific counter-proposal from the APD employees.
“I’ll just carry on from the conversation I had at the last meeting… what is the ask? For this year, knowing where we’re at… what’s the middle ground here that we can start talking through? Like we’ve all said, the final final date isn’t until September 9, so there is still some opportunity for us to discuss this at the Council level.”
“I think we’re all sensitive to that,” said Anderson. “I don’t think we have any sort of unreasonable or unrealistic expectation. But if you remove a merit-based program, then you remove incentives for performance, right? It’s not a show up to work and get a raise, that’s not the way we do business, we never have.”
“I don’t think anybody disagrees with that,” Nelson said. “I would not disagree with that. I would love to have a merit base. I’d love to be at four or five percent. But we felt like the employees deserved something, but you know we’ve got 500 employees, and every one (percentage) point, everybody figured across the board from public services to administration to fire and police, is $300,000.”
“The frustration lies in the fact that, when I asked the Chief about this he said the first he heard about these budget cuts were on a PowerPoint last month,” said Anderson. “I don’t know if that’s true or not. It’s frustrating that we have no voice, no liaison, and that’s why you see us going in the direction of collective bargaining. I’m not saying we want it. That’s a double-edged sword – we’re all aware of that – but we want to talk. We want to communicate. We don’t want to be blindsided.”
“I can tell you there’s not been a blindside,” Nelson said. “We’ve been as completely transparent and open on the process. I’m surprised that you’d say that (about Chief McKinley). He came in with a list of things he needed to have. A list of wants, a list of things that he’d love to do, and some additional benefits for the police. And fire has the same thing, and public works, but it’s like, okay guys, here’s where we’re at, we’ve got this we’ve got to do. Then there’s what we’d like to do, and raises were part of that, merit raises, whatever you want to call them, were part of that discussion. I don’t know how we get there. And it’s not to say in January, if we’re wrong and the sales tax comes back, it’s not to say we can’t do something at that point. So I think we all want to get to where you want to be, and I don’t think anybody’s here opposed to giving raises. But man, it’s just a tough time to look for money when the constituents are struggling at least as hard as you guys are.”
“I wouldn’t ask for, or expect… even though I think our millage rate is artificially low, and it’s too late now… but, if you sold that piece of property Mayor, for more… may I have your assurance in front of everybody that money will be applied toward a retention program?” Anderson asked.
“Well, I’m only one vote, so I can’t,” said Nelson. “But, I will suggest that we take a look at that, absolutely.”
Before Anderson left the podium, Commissioner Alexander H. Smith clarified his description from the previous City Council meeting in which he described the anonymous writer of the letter as a coward.
“I was the one that made that comment last week, hoping that whoever it was would come forward,” said Smith. “And the reason I did was because there were several officers who also emailed and said that they were not a part of that letter, and they were perfectly happy, and so I wanted to see who it was that actually wrote the letter.”
 “I’m only aware of one Commissioner, do you know of any others?” Anderson asked.
“Yes, there’s more than one,” Smith said. “And as I looked at the letter, there were at least two things that I agree with you on. I agree that the deputy chief position needs to be filled. The Chief asked for two additional officers because of the growth of our city, and I believe he needs those two officers. So I’m not in favor of only hiring one-third of those and leaving the others vacant if we need them. I appreciate the fact that our police department patrols our City, takes care of its citizens, and solves crimes. Those two items in your letter I agreed with. I understand the fact that you really want the merit pay… and it’s not that we’re taking it away… all we said, is that based on our budget this year, that we’re not able to give the merit that you’re desiring this year. And all we’re asking is that you to work with us, let’s be team players and allow us to get through this budget year and see what next year looks like, because we don’t want to fight against one another, we want to work together.”
“Well Commissioner, with all due respect, I think something very similar was said two years ago, and we had a one year pause, in which, be honest, someone in this room got a big raise,” said Anderson. “And here we are in the third year, fighting the same battle. So, again, respectfully, that’s a politician’s promise.”
“Well, I’m not a politician. I’m a servant,” Smith said.
“As am I, and I don’t make false promises,” said Anderson.
“And neither do I,” said Smith.
Becker, who had earlier reserved his comments on this subject, still saw room for compromise between the Council and the APD.
“I want to empathize a little bit on both sides here, just to lay the groundwork of how we’ve gotten to where we’ve gotten thus far. Going into our budget workshops… that to me is our time to air this stuff out. And I’ve heard what you’ve said in terms of communication. There is a general unawareness. Again, if that’s a top-down messaging issue or just general awareness, there was a miss because we’re having this conversation now, not during the budget workshops. Because during the budget workshops we should have been saying, ‘If we’re not doing these merit increases commiserate to what our benchmark cities and other agencies are doing, we stand to not even be able to fill positions; we stand to attrite additional positions’. So we’ve missed that opportunity. But we’re here today. There were comments last week, comments by yourself, comments from the previous speaker in terms of merit, and I disagree that we have to stay where we’re at between now and September 9. I think there is room for us to put a little bit more, in terms of merit, in addition to the COLA that we’ve already budgeted for.”
Anderson agreed with Becker that more negotiations might be better than other options.
“I may be the only one, but I agree that we could probably bypass collective bargaining,” Anderson said. “The cost that’s associated with that, the red tape that’s associated with that… if we could have constructive conversations rather than being caught off guard, one year, and then three years later.”
Commissioner Doug Bankson, now in his fifth budget cycle as a member of the City Council, was surprised by the anonymous letter and Anderson’s objections.
“I always, of course, have had a heart for our first responders, and want to do what we can do. I know that that is our heart. And I think it kind of hit me like, you just got served with divorce papers and you didn’t even get asked to the counselor… you know? What I seemed to hear was they’re not sure how to approach that, and it was a frustration that was boiling, and not sure who to come to, and as you said, I think that, hopefully, we can work together. I don’t know where it is in the process now, so I held any comment. I think the heart is there for the City. I think this is a challenging time for us, and as you pointed out, we don’t want to put that on the backs of the taxpayers, that many of them have lost jobs. We’ve already had to raise that, and my concern is, is it enough? Because we still have variables. But I think there are some areas we can look at, and I want to be sensitive to that. I think that’s what they’re saying, is, does this City care about them and their future? And I think we do, and we do have time to address those, so I’m just hopeful that we’re not put into a corner that will keep us from being able to work with that.”
Smith also pointed to all of Apopka’s employees.
“I want to make sure that the police, fire, and general employees understand that we value all of them,” Smith said. “And when I say that we value all of them, we don’t want departments pitting against one another. We value all of our employees. We understand that each has their roles, and they have different requirements, and some are more high risk than others, but we value them all, and just want to make sure that they understand that.”
After public comments concluded, City Attorney Michael A. Rodriguez informed Council that he had received a notice that the employees of the Apopka Police Department had taken steps to unionize.
“We did receive receipt from the Florida Public Employees Relations Commission (PERC) that they received a request, a petition, for what’s called “registration and certification of a union” on behalf of the Police Department employees. It was filed by the Police Benevolent Association and now, just before the meeting, Chief (Michael) McKinley did hand me, that right now, he’s been served with the paper work.”
“So are we already down that road, and no ability to make a u-turn?” Bankson asked. “I know there’s 46 employees that apparently signed on. What’s the process there?”
“We’re at step one,” said Rodriguez. “They have filed. There are two options when you have employees that are trying to organize: They can attempt to organize and then ask the City to voluntarily recognize them as the bargaining unit; or they can go straight to PERC and file their petition for registration and certification. These employees went straight to PERC.”
Rodriguez went on to say he doubts that collective bargaining will be a part of the negotiation for this fiscal budget.
“I think based on the timeline, I mean I could be wrong, but based on the timelines that we now have for filing, for any objections, and how long PERC usually takes, any potential collective bargaining with the employees units probably is going to affect the fiscal year 2021-2022 budget. I don’t think there’s going to be enough time for them to be able to negotiate for fiscal year 20-21.”
“And are we no longer allowed to have discussions now that they have gone to PERC?” Bankson asked.
“At this point, I would want to err on the side of caution. I want to take a conservative approach on that.”
“I’m respectful of our charter,” said Becker. “I don’t mean to instruct any employees how to do anything, but obviously you’ve seen here, employees feel empowered to voice their opinions, as a resident of Apopka. I just want to make sure… I don’t want to misstep.”
“I wouldn’t advise you to not listen to employees, but I think it’s important not to take a position of offering a negotiation because, with all due respect to the officer who did come and speak here earlier, I don’t know if he’s been authorized. I don’t know if he’s one of the names listed. Neither does this Council know if he’s an authorized person to speak on behalf of a group of employees who are attempting to organize. Not to put this in the police aspect but, you know, ‘you have the right to remain silent so that none of your statements can be used against you.’ That’s why I always like to err on the side of caution and be conservative in that aspect.”
Comments and dialog above have been edited for length. For the full recording and details of the August 19 Apopka City Council meeting, go here


  1. I’m not sure if Officer Anderson is lobbying for “Merit Pay Increases” or guaranteed cost of living increases at different rates for differing ranks? Having been a union contractor for a lot of years in a northern state, I was able to personally witness how the union worked for the employees and how it worked against them. While there were benefits for the employees, there was absolutely no consideration for merit pay increases, which lent to disparity among the union employees themselves as all journeymen were paid the same wage and received the same benefits. The problem was, there were union members that were very qualified and tried to do a good job all the time, however there were others that were just as qualified but just slacked off most of their time and yet received the same pay scale. In many cases the employees had to work as a team and when not everyone is pulling the same weight, this creates a problem and dissension. In the ranks of the police department, there are many instances in which a team effort is necessary,. and to not have everyone doing their share, now possibly puts lives in danger. Just be sure to consider all the pros and cons before jumping to conclusions that being unionized is going to be a cure all. I see a population here in Apopka that appreciates what our officers do for us, and I would imagine all of us residents want to see them compensated properly, but I’m not convinced that unionizing is necessarily what the officers are looking for. Merit Pay is exactly that, compensation for exemplary effort and the union won’t give you that option.

  2. I am not anti-union, but I think to try to push that issue during this horrible pandemic, with all the economic impacts, and financial shortfalls is very unreasonable of the unionizing APD. My mother was a life long union member, and proud to be in the union. She was a long- time employee of Southern Bell Telephone Co., which later became AT&T. She was a long distance telephone operator, obviously not a supervisor. I remember her staying out of work, and at home during the strikes, and also participating in the protest lines in Orlando, where she worked downtown, right across from Lake Eola, and later way out on the South Orange Blossom Trail. There were employees who would cross the picket lines, to go in to work, and I remember her calling them scabs. They would not support the union, but would reap the benefits. The whole situation is very disruptive, and divisive. In my mother’s case, she worked for a private corporation, not a government entity, although I know the government employees can unionize too, such as the teacher’s union, as an example. As I said, my mother was a dedicated life long supporting union member, CWA, which stood for Communication Workers of America. When my mother passed in 2006, I called the local union office to inform them that my mom had passed away. I was expecting to receive a sympathy card from them, maybe some flowers sent to her funeral, or maybe the usual bibles in a wooden box, that my mom used to get from the union, when her dad died, her husband, who was my father, when he died, and when her mother died, but I got nothing, absolutely nothing, no acknowledgement of her years and years of support of the union, financially and otherwise. Maybe, I expected something I should have not expected….I don’t know, but it disillusioned me, and kind of changed my view of unions. Since I inherited my mother’s belongings after she died, I have quite a collection of bibles in wooden cases, just not the one that was important to me….one for my mother. Having a union, is not a fix-all, that is for sure. Also, I know there can still be retaliation for forming a union, even though they claim, they are protected against retaliation by law. We will have to wait to see how that plays out. For that police officer to stand up there at the podium before the city council, as he did in the past years, as well as recently, and to complain about dry cleaning costs the city doesn’t pay for, and to complain about not having a paid car washing account, just seems so darn petty, as well as more money toward increased raises he wants during this economic downturn, seems so darn petty IMO, and very unappreciative of the jobs the city has given them, plus OMG, their very expensive health insurance costs the city covers for them 100%, even though that amount increases a lot yearly, OMG, something like $8, 220.00 per year currently, per employee, I believe that was figure…OMG, do you all realize just how lucky you are? Wish I was that lucky right now, with health benefits paid for 100%!

    • I am just not sure if Officer Anderson understands he and the other officers are probably going to lose out on the possibility of “Merit Pay” for exemplary performance. There seemed to be a lot of mention of “Merit Pay”. Unfortunately, you can’t have it both ways.

  3. Sounds like merit pay is just the tip of the iceberg for what his wants and demands are. Seems like he wants to be the director over all city finances and decide by himself, where the city coffer money should go….. seems like he forgets we have a strong mayor, commissioners, a city administrator, and we, the public, to answer to. The gall!

  4. That’s what is referred to as “negotiations”. What I have witnessed in the past regarding negotiations to become unionized is that those that are nearer the bottom of the scale as to experience, ability, and outstanding performance are the ones that would like to be unionized because they realize they will probably not ever receive any “Merit Pay” and the union contract will give them a guaranteed amount of income each year with cost of living allowances built into those annual salaries. Without a union, those employees that exhibit higher qualities of work and other higher standards of performance would be rewarded with increased salaries above what the union contract states as a minimum for their qualifications or rank. Generally, those employees with higher ambitions, capabilities, and performance would rather not have a union and be rewarded with increased salaries based on their own merits, hence “Merit Pay”.

  5. I believe the truth is, no amount of money, and extra benefits will please this officer, and the others from the APD, who signed on to unionize. I believe it is for what he, and the other officers believe to be a protection factor by unionizing, in circumstances where they could be accused of alleged wrongdoing, abuse of power, or excessive force. That is the “elephant in the living room”, that is not being discussed on this subject of APD unionization! IMO

  6. There is some truth to that statement. In all the years that I was a union contractor, we never never never fired a union employee because of all the legal litigation that was required even it was a simple matter such as stealing a tool with plenty of witnesses. We would just give them a “lay off”, let them collect unemployment from the state and their other benefits from the union. This didn’t happen very often, but there was enough instances to remember those situations.

  7. Michael, yes, that what you posted above about the union employee stealing tools, with witnesses who saw him do it, and then for him to get laid off in order to collect state unemployment compensation, and union benefits, that is so wrong in my view. Can you imagine that happening here in Florida, when the legitimate unemployed people let go, and laid off, can’t even get their compensation for their honest claims in applying to the DOE, (Fla. Dept. of Economic Opportunity) due the covid 19 lay-offs. News just said that 800 OIA workers now laid off permanently! Well, the unionizing APD members aren’t going to be talking about this subject of unions to the public, or before the council anymore, anytime soon, and the city council isn’t going to be talking to them, trying to make good faith amends to them either, as the city attorney has officially told them to stop talking, stop trying to negotiate. We will have to wait and see what develops. The APD members have a legal right to unionize, just as other APD members have a right, not to join. What happens though if they form a union, is it will cause a very contentious relationship between the union employees of the APD, and those that don’t join, between the union employees and their supervisors, and a contentious relationship between the general employees and the public safety employees, and with the city council and administration, and the public too. Another APD officer stood before the council with a bullet proof vest, and stood up there and knocked the general employees, for God’s sake, and why, this after he stated he LOVED them? I support the police in situations, that I deem to be justified, for their actions, but I am not like the police union, who will blindly support them apparently regardless of obvious wrongful excessive force, and other wrongful allegations. There will be a lot of litigation, increased costs to the city, and who will end up paying for all of this?….the city taxpayers, that is who! That one officer already stood up there before the council complaining about ” the artificially low millage rates” of the city. I don’t call him a hero, at all, like some commenters. I call him unreasonable. I heard his address, but still couldn’t quite catch where he lives. Was it in the city, I wonder? I bet he doesn’t live in the city, since he wants taxes raised here! And there is another person, not a police, who even questions why the city needs an city attorney working for $125,000 a year….is he serious? Social security citizens don’t get 6% raises every year, that compound yearly! That is for sure, as I know that personally myself. UNSUBSTAINABLE and UNREASONABLE, their 6% demands! Who does that officer think he is?!!! There is a world of difference when it is a union formed under the local government, than at a private corporation. After all this ranting and raving, maybe I need to go to the MY AXE PLACE, and throw some axes….LOL

  8. I agree – I just don’t see how the APD employees will benefit by unionizing. Seems to me that the ability to negotiate on their own with the city for COLA increases and merit pay would result in better results than what can be done by a union.

  9. I want to once again reiterate the risks and hazards that the general employees face daily doing utility work for the COA. Yes definitely, the police and fire departments certainly face hazards daily, but I am not accepting this notion that police and fire department employees are worth more, when it comes to merit raises, or cost of living salary percentages, rather than the general employees! I cannot overstate to you all enough, about the risks of death, and serious injuries on the job, to some of the general employees, but I am specifically posting about doing utility work for the COA, in this posting. Did you see the news of the Seminole County utility worker killed on the job yesterday in Lake Mary, when repairing a water main break? 3 firefighters also electrocuted trying to rescue him, but they are expected to survive, but took to the hospital. The water main break created a void underneath the ground of a sidewalk, the sidewalk caved in on the utility worker, crushing him against the sidewalk concrete panels, and the water main. Water was filling up the hole fast, and a vac-tor truck was brought in, as well as the “jaws-of-life machine”, and then there was an underground electrical current that electrocuted all of them. I don’t know if the utility worker died from the crushing, drown, or if it was due to the energizing of the electrical current, which came from a transformer, or all of the factors. PLEASE, as a message to all of y’all, don’t ever underestimate the danger all of the city employees face daily, as it is insulting to myself, as the wife of a former general employee working in utility services, and the daily dangers he faced, that I saw for myself, when I saw the duties he had to do on the job, and I am very thankful he is retired. Commissioner Smith said that the city values all of their employees, and that is as it should be. Thank you, Commissioner Smith, and RIP to the Seminole County utility worker killed yesterday in Lake Mary, who was a husband, and father of two, and best wishes to the 3 firefighters injured, and I wish them well, and a speedy recovery. You can read about the incident on Click Orlando, 13 news Orlando, 35 news Orlando, and I think it is on Channel 9 Orlando, as well as, page B1, on Orlando Sentinel Local and State News, top left corner.

  10. I want to post on a different subject, and I don’t have a Facebook account and do not want one. Maybe Reggie will let me post this about problems people around Apopka are having with their Century Link service. I see others are having problems too, like I do. I have a land line with CL and internet service. We went off, and came home after a thunderstorm that apparently had rolled through here, when we were out of town, and our home phone showed “no line”. It was a hassle to get through to the right people, but finally a week later, the repairmen came, and said that lightning had hit the line, and messed it up, and that they would come and be back to put in a new line, and would have to bury it from the side of the house to the backyard corner, and would have to call and get locates for what was underground first, before they dig. A different guy came and looked around and made some pictures next to the side of the house, and indicated he was with the locate company for CL, the contractor they hire to do that. Well, they came back and worked with different lines of the old line, and never put in a new line, but have been back 2 or 3 times since. Our phone service will work for awhile, and then will indicate “no line” especially after a heavy rain. Finally, I called and requested a credit for not having service, and they issued us a very good credit for that month. That is what you should do, if CL repairmen keep coming back over and over, and your problem is not resolved. Right now, I can call out on my land line phone, and punch in numbers to go to different things, I can hear people I call, but they can’t hear me on this phone, and it is not the phone, it is the service. I have had this land line a long time since 1976. I like the company, but something is going on. I have seen the CL repair vans on my street at my neighbors so many times. They are having problems too. I am not sure what to do, but at least ask for a credit, as they know you are having problems, and know how many times they have been out to your home for repairs. All over town, everything is messing up, systems down at stores, banks out of power, cash only, credit only, exact change only, coin shortages, websites down, everything is soooo challenging now days. If the election goes well in Nov. with no mess ups, I’ll sure be surprised.


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