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Bake Bethesda A Pie Contest Returning This August

by Aaron Kraut | July 24, 2014 at 1:45 pm | 127 views | No Comments

Bake Bethesda A Pie 2013Central Farm Markets’ annual Labor Day weekend pie-baking contest is returning for a fifth year.

The Bake Bethesda a Pike Contest matches up some of the D.C. area’s best amateur bakers in a competition that has featured more than 200 pie creations of very different types.

Pies in this year’s contest will be judged in a sweet and savory category. There will also be a kids division for bakers age 7-17 and for the first time, a division specifically for culinary students.

The event is set for Sunday, Aug. 31 at the Bethesda Central Farm Market, held at Bethesda Elementary School (7600 Arlington Rd.). A $5 registration fee per pie submission will go to the Manna Food Center.

This year’s three judges will be pastry chef and writer Lisa Cherkasky, Black Restaurant Group pastry chef Susan Wallace and Stratford University School of Baking and Pastry Arts professor Peter Brett.

After the judges taste and rate the pies will be what’s probably the audience’s favorite part of the event — the cutting of the pies. For a small donation to Manna, anybody can taste the pies.

Market chef Lynn Foster, market owner Debra Moser and market blogger Diana Ash will bake another 25 peach and berry pies in honor of the contest’s fifth year. Those pies will be for sale and all proceeds donated to Manna.

Registration for the contest is open through Aug. 27.

Report: Dave & Buster’s Has 30 Days To Leave White Flint Mall

by Aaron Kraut | July 24, 2014 at 12:40 pm | 7,553 views | 9 Comments

White Flint Mall

According to WTOP, the Dave & Buster’s at White Flint Mall lost its court fight against the mall’s owners this week.

A federal judge agreed with White Flint Mall that Dave & Buster’s violated a requirement that prevented it from opening another restaurant location at Arundel Mills Mall in 2006. The judge, Roger Titus, also threw out Dave & Buster’s challenge to an eviction the landlord apparently issued.

The court fight started when Dave & Buster’s sued White Flint Mall for what it claimed was a violation of its lease because of the mall’s redevelopment plans. Lord & Taylor filed a similar suit last summer.

WTOP: Dave & Buster’s has 30 days to leave White Flint

New Bethesda Office Building Still Looking For Tenants

by Aaron Kraut | July 24, 2014 at 12:25 pm | 1,005 views | 9 Comments

Construction on the gleaming new office building at 4500 East-West Highway is nearing its conclusion, but in another sign of the area’s struggling office market, the building doesn’t yet have any tenants.

The nine-story building from Carr Properties includes 220,000-square-feet of Class A office space, an expansive rooftop terrace, green roof and bike storage area that developers promoted as an environmentally-friendly future landmark in Bethesda.

It will be delivered in September, said Transwestern’s Phil McCarthy, who’s handling leasing for the property.

McCarthy said there’s been “a good deal of activity,” for the property, but no leases signed yet.

McCarthy pointed to leasing activity at the renovated Akridge Class A office building nearby (7550 Wisconsin Ave.). That building is about 70 percent leased after sitting vacant for nearly eight years before Akridge and Rockwood Capital bought it for $12.5 million in a federal auction in 2010.

There are 190 office properties totaling 8.3 million square feet in downtown Bethesda, according to the Montgomery County Planning Department. Nearly half of that inventory is in 19 large Class A office buildings in the Central Business District.

At the end of 2013, the average office vacancy rate in downtown Bethesda was 10.7 percent. Infill properties long ago envisioned as new offices in Bethesda’s “Metro Core” are now being pitched as mixed use residential buildings.

There was, however, some more good news earlier this month for property owners with office space in North Bethesda/White Flint. Bank of America Merrill Lynch announced it had signed on for 40,000 square feet of Federal Realty’s new 80,000-square-foot Class A office building part of Phase 1 of the Pike & Rose project.

A Federal Realty official said the building would be up to 75 percent leased by the time it opened.

As for 4500 East-West Highway, Transwestern is also looking for a replacement for the one tenant many thought would stay — a McDonald’s that became a landmark of its own before being demolished to make way for the project.

McCarthy said Transwestern is looking “for a high quality restaurant which would be an amenity for tenants in the building and the neighborhood,” something that might disappoint lunch-seekers from nearby Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School.

SHA To Finish Bradley Boulevard Pedestrian Crosswalk This Weekend

by Aaron Kraut | July 24, 2014 at 9:30 am | 172 views | 1 Comment

Bradley Boulevard (file photo)The State Highway Administration is in the final stretch of a project that will bring a flashing light pedestrian crosswalk to Bradley Boulevard.

Beginning Friday at 7 p.m., SHA’s contractor for the work will begin the final paving for the project at Bradley Boulevard and Strathmore Street in Chevy Chase. Weather permitting, the removal of the top layer of asphalt, resurfacing and painting of new pavement markings should be done by noon on Sunday.

Parking restrictions may be in effect during the work and the SHA wants neighbors to know the work can be loud and disruptive. The resurfacing will mean a single lane closure, possibly in both directions throughout the weekend.

More than 22,000 vehicles use the section of Bradley Boulevard a day, which is also a popular pedestrian crossing spot for those traveling from apartments and condos to downtown Bethesda.

The $425,000 project includes the installation of a flashing signal for pedestrians wishing to cross Bradley Boulevard and the installation of a median.

The SHA contractor for the project is D.C.-based Fort Meyer Construction.

Morning Notes

by Aaron Kraut | July 24, 2014 at 8:35 am | 743 views | 5 Comments

Sidewalk work along Norfolk Avenue

Website: Bethesda The No. 2 ‘Snobbiest’ Small City In America – The latest city ranking list from real estate website Movoto uses media home prices, household income, college degree rates, private school numbers and fast food restaurant numbers to decide which is the “snobbiest” small city in the U.S. Bethesda comes in No. 2, Rockville in a “tie” for No. 8. [Movoto]

Youth Soccer League Sues BOE Over Field Selection Process – The MSI youth soccer league is suing the Board of Education over its bidding process for three high school turf fields around the county. According to MSI, officials part of the school system’s process were biased in favor of other leagues because of personal connections and because the leagues chosen represented wealthier communities. [Bethesda Magazine]

British Man Gets Year In Prison For Ripping Off Bethesda Company – Darren Oliver Raymond Charles Defoe, 40, was sentenced to a year and a day in prison for ripping off $275,000 in rented equipment from Bethesda film production company Visual Edge Productions. Defoe and a co-defendant pleaded guilty to providing bogus insurance information before taking the rented cameras, lenses, tripods and batteries straight to Dulles Airport and on a plane back to the United Kingdom. [The Gazette]

Bear Sighting In North Bethesda On Wednesday

by Aaron Kraut | July 23, 2014 at 4:30 pm | 2,313 views | 1 Comment

Bear climbs down tree near NIH on June 19 (file photo)There’s been another black bear sighting in the area, this time on Wednesday afternoon along Tuckerman Lane in North Bethesda.

Paul Peditto, from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, said the department got a call from Montgomery County Police about the sighting, which happened at about 2:30 p.m.

Reader Stephen Shaffer got an email from his wife Barbara at 2:35 p.m. in which she described seeing the bear on Tuckerman Lane before it ran into the Luxmanor neighborhood. She called police, who said they were getting to the area.

As many learned during last month’s high profile incident involving a black bear at NIH, a black bear sighting in populated areas of Montgomery County is rare but not a complete surprise. Peditto said DNR has gotten recent reports of sightings from all around Rockville, mostly from the Tower Oaks section of office buildings just east of I-270 and north of Montrose Parkway.

“So we know there’s one wandering around that area right now,” Peditto said. “If you’re near it and you have reason to be concerned, literally clap your hands and make noise. Don’t run. If you clap your hands and make noise the bear’s going to run away. It’s more afraid of us then we should be afraid of them.”

In the NIH incident, Peditto and other DNR officials scared a black bear off a tree limb before tranquilizing it and returning it to a more appropriate habitat in a wildlife management area in western Montgomery County.

Peditto also advised to avoid putting out anything that could serve as an attraction to the bear, such as birdfeeders, barbecue grills and trash.

“Anything that has a scent to it,” Peditto said. “Bears have a remarkable, if not one of the best senses of smell of any of the wildlife in our region.”

Photographer On A Mission To Chronicle Downtown Bethesda

by Aaron Kraut | July 23, 2014 at 3:05 pm | 544 views | 2 Comments

Maybe it’s his interest in city planning, his eye for architecture or the challenge of making good photos out of old, unremarkable buildings.

Perhaps it’s sentimental. He’s not sure exactly why, but Potomac-based photographer Boris Feldblyum is on a mission to chronicle downtown Bethesda in the midst of substantial change.

Feldblyum immigrated to the area from the former Soviet Union in the 1970′s and in the last 10 years, has shot a variety of downtown Bethesda buildings as a side project and displayed them on his website.

His regular clients include architecture firms and real estate developers. But when he’s strolling through downtown Bethesda, he often finds himself pulling out his camera and snapping shots of structures most probably don’t give a second thought to until those structures are being torn down.

“It’s hard to think of present in the past tense,” Feldblyum said. “I realized, here I am with a camera and there is an opportunity and it doesn’t matter right now whether the building is attractive or not. I have a camera. I take a photo.”

There are photos taken last winter of the one-story brick building at 8008 Wisconsin Ave., the former space of Ranger Surplus that’s up to be razed and redeveloped into a 14-story apartment building. There’s a photo of 7900 Wisconsin Ave., a mid-century office building few would describe as endearing. It’s slated to be redeveloped into a 17-story apartment building with some striking architectural features.

“A building like that, there might be no architectural or aesthetic value to it, but the building was there,” Feldblyum said. “People got used to it. It was part of an everyday routine. Buildings are a part of memory, streets are part of our memory.”

Feldblyum said his interest in photography, especially of the architectural variety, probably started when he was 11 or 12 growing up in the Soviet Union. Feldblyum would take the photos, which he later realized was rooted in his interest in the history of changing landscapes and communities in the country.

Upon one of his first visits to Bethesda with American relatives, Feldblyum remembered seeing the Crown Books that used to be located at Wisconsin Avenue and East-West Highway. It was the first mega-bookstore that he had ever seen.

Some years after it had closed, he wondered why he didn’t take a photograph of it.

“I started thinking about the lost opportunities,” Feldblyum said. “Now especially, I look at buildings as potentially future has-beens.”

Since, he has taken photos of downtown Bethesda, Silver Spring and Rockville, all with the goal of chronicling what was there by photographing what’s there now. In a rapidly redeveloping Bethesda — where there are at least 20 new building projects recently completed, under construction or in the pipeline — he’s not the only one interested.

A few times a year, Feldblyum will get inquiries for photos of old or existing Bethesda buildings, mainly from commercial clients in search of photos of former offices or peeks into Bethesda’s not-so-distant past.

“It’s hard for me to realize why I take photos,” Feldblyum said. “It’s just something that I do.”

After some more reflection, Feldblyum came up with another possible explanation: “Part of what we like about the past is that we were young,” he said. “Maybe this is the easiest way to handle this.”

Photos via Boris Feldblyum

My Two Cents: Redistricting Could Help Schools Fix Capacity Issues

by Joseph Hawkins | July 23, 2014 at 1:45 pm | 501 views | 3 Comments

My Two Cents is a weekly opinion column from Bethesda resident Joseph Hawkins. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of BethesdaNow.com.

Before moving on, I wanted to revisit the issue of changing school boundaries. By ruling out boundary changes and sticking to the limits of current high school clusters, the Montgomery County Board of Education misses opportunities to save money. That’s important.

And the Board also misses opportunities to guarantee that new schools opening are economically and racially diverse. That’s super important, especially when it’s possible to achieve such an outcome.

In the MCPS construction pipeline is a second middle school for the Bethesda-Chevy Chase cluster. Let’s turn back the clock and revisit the decision-making around this second middle school — with the assumption that boundary changes are on the table and seriously in the mix.

Joseph HawkinsThe Bethesda-Chevy Chase cluster now has one middle school, Westland, located on Massachusetts Avenue. This part of Bethesda is fairly affluent, with homes commonly selling for a million dollars or more.

This wealth is reflected in Westland’s demographics: Westland’s FARMS rate is 11.9 percent. (FARMS stands for free and reduced meals and school systems use FARMS as a stand-in for judging a school’s poverty rate.) Based on the numbers, Westland is not a school heavily impacted by poverty.

Let’s not forgot Westland is overcrowded and jammed to the roof lines. This reality is not being questioned, and is one of the reasons behind the plans for a second middle school in the cluster.

The new B-CC middle school, the yet-to-be-named B-CC Middle School #2, will be constructed at 3701 Saul Rd. in Kesington. Exactly two miles north from the site sits Newport Mill Middle School also in Kensington. Newport Mill was renovated in 2002 and has capacity to enroll 825 students. At the end of the 2013-14 school year, there were 614 students enrolled, meaning Newport Mill is a rare Montgomery County school that has significant capacity remaining.

Exactly 2.7 miles from Newport Mill is Sligo Middle School in Silver Spring. Sligo has capacity to enroll 937 kids. At the end of the 2013-14 school year, there were 446 students enrolled. So this middle school has excess capacity of 491 seats.

(more…)

Town Of Chevy Chase Wants To See Data On Purple Line Ridership Projections

by Aaron Kraut | July 23, 2014 at 12:40 pm | 349 views | 7 Comments

Rendering of the Bethesda Purple Line station, via Maryland Transit AdministrationPurple Line foes in the Town of Chevy Chase are questioning the validity of ridership estimates for the state’s light rail project and will request details of how a consultant developed the numbers.

The Town of Chevy Chase Council voted on July 9 to submit a Maryland Public Information Act request to the Maryland Transit Administration asking for “the methodology and models used to develop ridership estimates for the proposed $2.37 billion light rail system.”

The Town, which is officially opposed to the Purple Line, said past requests to MTA for the data were refused, as the state cited “proprietary issues of the engineering firm [Parsons Brinckerhoff] that was paid to conduct the research.”

MTA officials weren’t immediately available for comment Wednesday.

The firm projected riders on the 16-mile Purple Line would make up to 68,000 trips daily. But the Town of Chevy Chase, apparently buoyed by a recent anti-Purple Line column from the Wall Street Journal’s Mary Anastasia O’Grady, questioned if the numbers in the final environmental impact statement “were revised from previous estimates in response to concerns expressed by state officials about underestimations.”

The Town’s press release cited O’Grady’s column, which questioned if the ridership projections were overinflated and if the state should instead pursue a bus rapid transit network near the proposed Purple Line route.

In 2008, around the time of the Purple Line’s draft environmental impact statement, Purple Line officials said planners increased all daily ridership estimates by 20,000 to take into account potential Purple Line trips made by Metro and MARC riders.

“The justification for the Purple Line light rail train is reminiscent of the wildly inaccurate process used to estimate ridership on the Intercounty Connector,” said Town of Chevy Chase Vice Mayor Pat Burda.

The Intercounty Connector, a state highway built to connect Montgomery County and Prince George’s County, has fallen short of toll revenue forecasts made in 2005, when state lawmakers voted to increase the state’s debt to build it. Those forecasts have since been revised downward.

“These ridership numbers have changed over time yet have been substantially endorsed and quoted as valid by advocates and elected officials,” Burda said. “Since past efforts to access this information have been rebuffed, we are pursuing an official inquiry through the public information act process.”

The Town of Chevy Chase earlier this year entered into a $350,000 contract with a group of lobbying firms to work against the planned Purple Line route, which in Chevy Chase would run along the existing Georgetown Branch Extension of the Capital Crescent Trail.

The Town also donated $10,000 to a nonprofit group to finance a study of endangered critters the group said would be harmed by the construction of the light rail.

That group recently joined with a major environmental organization in threatening the federal government with a lawsuit if it doesn’t perform more environmental studies of the area. The Federal Transit Administration endorsed the Purple Line project earlier this year when it issued its Record of Decision on the MTA’s final environmental impact statement.

The MTA hopes to pick a private concessionaire to help build and to operate the Purple Line, with construction starting in 2015.

Rendering via MTA

Board of Education Committee Recommends Eliminating Credit Card Use

by Aaron Kraut | July 23, 2014 at 11:10 am | No Comments

MCPSAfter a few months of embarrassing revelations about members’ use of school system-issued credit cards, an ad hoc committee of the Board of Education on Tuesday recommended substantial changes.

The committee recommended eliminating the usage of school system-issued credit cards by Board members, implementing a per diem for members attending professional conferences, limiting home office expenses for Board members and establishing a list of pre-approved public events Board members can attend.

The committee also released a report from attorney Karl Racine of the Venable law firm, who concluded that while the Board’s credit card and expenses rules are weak and ambiguous, there is no evidence that members intentionally used school system-issued credit cards for personal expenses.

Board member Chris Barclay repaid the school system more than $1,900 to cover 16 unauthorized charges over five years. An additional batch of records released by the school system in June showed Barclay and Board member Rebecca Smondrowski charged for hotel stays and room service in D.C. during a conference, despite living within easy driving distance.

The recommendations will go to the full Board of Education on July 28 for review and a vote.

“The Board of Education takes its responsibility seriously and we want to make sure that we are being good stewards of public dollars,” Board of Education President Phil Kauffman said in a prepared press release on Tuesday. “Our review process has shown that we clearly need to improve the review and approval process of Board member expenses. I think our recommendations today will go a long way in ensuring that we have good processes in place to manage expenses.”

The specific recommendations follow, from MCPS:

1.  Removal of Credit Card Authorization.  The Ad Hoc Committee recommends that Board members not have credit cards, even for the purposes of authorized travel outside of Montgomery County. Board administrative staff may continue to use purchase cards for authorized purchases.

2.  Per Diem on Authorized Travel. The Ad Hoc Committee recommends providing Board members a per diem for nonlocal travel. In some cases, the per diem may be given to Board members in advance of travel in an amount not to exceed the per diem allowed for the trip.

3.  Home Office.  The Ad Hoc Committee recommends that Board Members still be provided with the necessary equipment and supplies to maintain home offices, but that the Board no longer grant reimbursements for home office internet service.

4.  Development of List of Pre-approved Events/Meetings for Board Members.  The Ad Hoc Committee developed a recommended list of conferences, events and meetings that Board members would be authorized to attend or travel to for 2014-2015.

5.  Semiannual Reports. The Ad Hoc Committee recommends that the Board’s Fiscal Management Committee review, on a semiannual basis, summary reports on the status of expenditures by Board members and the Board office.  The full Board will receive the reports in their regular Board packets as items of information.

Driver Charged In North Bethesda Collision With 10-Year-Old Cyclist

by Aaron Kraut | July 23, 2014 at 10:00 am | 1,444 views | 12 Comments

Montgomery County police carMontgomery County Police have charged a Bethesda woman for hitting a 10-year-old girl biking in a Tuckerman Lane crosswalk on Friday.

Irina Tsyrlova, a 63-year-old resident of the 6300 block of Swords Way, was charged with passing a vehicle stopped for a pedestrian in a crosswalk, 2nd District Commander Capt. David Falcinelli said.

According to reports, Tsyrlova remained on scene, sobbing on the curb after hitting the girl, who was biking in a crosswalk at Kings Riding Way. The girl was taken to a local hospital with what were reported as life threatening injuries.

Falcinelli said the girl was released from the hospital on Sunday.

According to the driver who stopped at the crosswalk, Tsyrlova drove around him and hit the girl, dragging her along the road.

The crosswalk is part of the Bethesda Trolley Trail, which extends from downtown Bethesda to Woodglen Drive in North Bethesda.

Ken Hartman, director of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center, wrote in a weekly email that new flashing lights are currently under construction at the crosswalk, but not yet operational.

“We remind all drivers to approach crosswalks with caution. No one wants to be the cause of another’s tragedy,” Hartman wrote. “When cars are stopped at a crosswalk ahead or the next lane over, there is abundant reason to slow down and proceed with extreme caution.”

Morning Notes

by Aaron Kraut | July 23, 2014 at 9:00 am | 245 views | No Comments

Flickr photo by Danny Fowler

Bethesda Church Donates Money To Gaza – The Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church recently wired $2,000 from the church’s mission budget to a Jerusalem-based charity that says it’s using the money for a private hospital in Gaza. Hamas, which controls the territory, is in an intense military conflict with Israel. A church official said the congregation hooked up with the charity five years ago because of its concern for residents of Gaza. The congregation raised another $1,350 for the charity – the American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem — on Sunday and a church official says members are raising more. [The Gazette]

County Websites Go Mobile – Montgomery County recently debuted cell-phone versions of three county websites: The general Montgomery County government site, a mobile 311 site that allows users to open new service requests and track existing ones and the county’s Storm Operations Site. [Montgomery County]

Outdoor Concerts Rescheduled – Two rained out outdoor concerts set for Veterans Park have been rescheduled for Aug. 7 (Levi Stephens) and Aug. 14 (Gary and the Groove). The concerts, organized by the Bethesda Urban Partnership, happen each Thursday evening throughout the summer. [Bethesda Urban Partnership]

Flickr photo by Danny Fowler

Bethesda Planners Declare Millennial Event A Success

by Aaron Kraut | July 22, 2014 at 3:25 pm | 302 views | No Comments

Attendees at the Streetsense "Untapped Perspective" event last week in Bethesda talk to county planner Marc Deocampo Photo via Montgomery County Planning DepartmentMontgomery County planners were hoping last week’s Streetsense-hosted party would introduce millennials to the downtown Bethesda planning process with the promise of free food, drink and cornhole.

After a few hundred showed up last Wednesday, planners now hope they can keep them interested.

“This was as much to share information, hear their questions and encourage them to be involved in the fall,” said Margaret Rifkin, part of the Planning Department’s team working on the Bethesda Downtown Plan. “We wanted to engage and invite people to be in our feedback loop in the fall, so we weren’t going out with specific questions about planning from our point of view.”

The event was organized by Streetsense, a brokerage, design and development company with a sprawling office at Bethesda Metro Center, after the Planning Department approached the company and developer JBG about more age-targeted outreach.

Until last week, planners hadn’t been able to get much of a response or input from millennials in sessions about the Bethesda Downtown Plan, which will bring new zoning and land use guidelines for the next 20-25 years of Bethesda development.

Streetsense did some basic surveying of what attendees would like to see more of in downtown Bethesda, information that Rifkin said the firm will provide planners in a few weeks.

She said it’s hard to know what portion of attendees work in downtown Bethesda, live in downtown Bethesda, work and live in downtown Bethesda or were representing event sponsors. The event was co-sponsored by Chevy Chase-based developer JBG and Bethesda-based Clark Construction.

“My perception was we got a very good complement of people who were work in downtown Bethesda and a small number who live there and we had just a few who both live and work in Bethesda,” Rifkin said. “But that’s just our staff circulating and talking with people. My feeling is this was a wonderful way to put out a wide net.”

Planners displayed the concept framework plan, a preliminary idea of where new development, parks and open spaces might go. Planners are expected to present their final work to the Planning Board this fall, which is expected to send it up to the County Council in the winter.

“We were really pleased with the number of people who came over to talk with our staff at length about the framework,” Rifkin said. “Although we know that many people would go anywhere for free food, we had a really good number of people who were genuinely interested.”

Photo via Montgomery County Planning Department

County Says It Saved $2.9 Million In Ineligible Tax Credits

by Aaron Kraut | July 22, 2014 at 2:25 pm | 78 views | No Comments

Montgomery County Montgomery County’s finance director said the county has saved $2.9 million in home tax credits since 2012 by identifying rental housing and second homes that were incorrectly receiving the credits.

The savings and the potential to save $3.4 million annually were outlined in a memo this month from Finance Director Joseph Beach to Councilmember Nancy Navarro. Navarro chairs the Council’s Government Operations and Fiscal Policy Committee, which set up the county’s Property Tax Compliance Office in 2012.

Navarro said that office has since worked to identify the correct tax status of residential properties. The office found many properties from absentee owners that were receiving tax credits — the county’s Homestead Credit and Income Tax Offset Credit — that only owner-occupants are eligible for.

According to a Council press release, the office has identified nearly 4,900 ineligible accounts, based on its review of rental housing lists maintained by the Department of Housing and Community Affairs. The office cross-checked those lists with the State Department of Assessments and Taxation to see which accounts were improperly claiming the credit.

The Homestead Credit limits an owner-occupied property’s taxable assessment to a 10 percent increase each year. The Income Tax Offset Credit for 2014 is $692.

County staff says the continued tracking of tax status could mean added additional revenue of $3.4 million per year — though the Council press release claimed the office’s ability to correct the status of more properties depends on the state’s ability “to keep pace in updating its records.”

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