Lydia E. Lavelle | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week

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Lydia E. Lavelle

Candidate for Carrboro Alderman


Name as it appears on the ballot: Lydia E. Lavelle
Full legal name, if different: Lydia Ellen Lavelle
Date of birth: 3/16/61
Home address: 8107 Kit Lane, Chapel Hill, NC 27516
Mailing address, if different from home: same
Campaign Web site:
Occupation & employer: Assistant Dean of Student Affairs, North Carolina Central University School of Law
Home phone: 919-942-5640
Work phone: 919-530-7464
Cell phone: 919-302-9609

1) What do you believe are the most important issues facing Carrboro? If elected, what are your top priorities in addressing those issues?

Among the many issues facing Carrboro, paramount among them is the need to relieve the tax burden on homeowners. Our property tax is 89% residential. Toward this end, my priorities are the following:

  • Explore and support commercial or true mixed-use development nodes in northern Carrboro. The unprecedented growth in that area has created a large and growing population base that desires light retail and non-intensive commercial services;

  • Attract new business by strengthening our Economic Development Office and being prepared to help potential entrepreneurs capitalize on the opportunities for goods and services that Carolina North will create;

  • Support current businesses through continuing the Shop Orange campaign and only allow larger retail if it does not compete with existing, locally owned enterprises. For example, REI would harm Townsend Bertram, but since there are no general shoe stores in Carrboro, a DSW might be acceptable.

Second, Carrboro should carefully steward its growth and development in a way that maintains the quirky charm that it cherishes, and provides an infrastructure that is both efficient and environmental. My priorities in this regard are to do the following:

  • Use “Smart Growth” principles such as thoughtful land use planning, incorporating mixed-use development, creating well-designed connector roads, and encouraging the preservation of open space;
  • Continue efforts to control the spiraling home prices in our area. We need to aggressively promote a variety of affordable housing and avoid creating a town where only the wealthy can live;

  • Monitor all development for inclusion in access to public transit;

  • Foster the creative energy of our town and encourage the activities that give Carrboro its funky identity. Our residents and visitors love the Farmers Market, the Film and Music Festivals, Weaver Street Market activities, and our artists and musicians.

Finally, Carrboro needs to develop and maintain a vibrant greenway system. The following are my priorities in this area:

  • Use my extensive experience, gained primarily through years serving with the Durham Open Space and Trails Commission, to help the newly established Carrboro Greenways Commission determine its mission and goals;

  • Devise standards for the acquisition of land and develop uniformity of width and continuity of surface types for the various greenways and trails that will be built;

  • Designate responsibility for the ongoing maintenance needs of greenways and establish guidelines for uniform signage on trails;

  • Maximize the opportunities greenways provide for non-car based transportation. Encourage the use of the greenway system by making it connected, accessible, easy to navigate and safe to use.

2) What is there in your record as a public official or other experience that demonstrates your ability to be effective on the board? This might include career or community service; but please be specific about its relevance to this office.

I would like to point first to my efficient work style and my organizational abilities, both of which enable me to get things done. Being on the Board of Alderman (BOA) involves a staggering amount of research, reading, and behind the scenes preparation in order to be an effective participant in the weekly, time-consuming meetings. The clearest example I can point to is that while working full-time for the city of Durham, I attended law school in the evening for four years and graduated on time in 1993. This took commitment, tenacity, organization, and an ability to set and follow priorities. All of these are required for effective service on the BOA. Additionally, attorneys are trained to think through problems analytically and critically. I research, assess, examine issues from all views, advocate for my position and move forward no matter what the outcome. I believe this is what our town leaders are elected to do.

I also have a more recent example that demonstrates my ability to be effective on the BOA. When Carrboro annexed approximately 300 households into the town early last year, I worked to ease that transition, advocate for my neighbors, and form working relationships with town staff and elected officials. For financial reasons, I would have preferred not to be annexed, and I remain concerned that the town has not yet been able to provide some of the services that arguably should have been in place before the annexation (road maintenance and a fire station, for example). However, I love funky, progressive Carrboro and I am proud to call it home. I therefore chose a non-adversarial, collaborative approach to the annexation. I was elected chair of the New Horizons Task Force (NHTF), a temporary group created to serve as a liaison and communication conduit between the town and the newly annexed residents. A fellow task force member, Charlie Buckner, recently said that I “did a very good job of guiding us from a vaguely defined charter into some productive output.” I am proud of what the NHTF accomplished and I believe the BOA would benefit by having someone from the annexed area join them in service.

I also chose to serve Carrboro by applying to the Planning Board, and I was pleased to be appointed. I have served on the Planning Board for over a year, and this service has enabled me to learn about the planning process and become familiar with Carrboro’s Land Use Ordinance (LUO) – both of which are vital to effective BOA performance. The learning curve for a new alderman is formidable; my recent service to the town will help me effectively contribute more immediately.

3) How do you define yourself politically and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?

My campaign slogan is “Levelheaded Leadership,” and I feel that defines me politically as much as words like progressive, liberal, Democrat – all of which are also true. I am passionate about advocating for equal rights, campaign finance reform, greenway development and protecting our environment. My political philosophy includes the notion that we must approach problems with an open mind and a collaborative spirit, for this is the most effective place to start the process of finding solutions.

My past achievements include being elected as president of the North Carolina Association of Women Attorneys (NCAWA), a group with a membership of 600+. This presidency came after years of increasing leadership responsibility within the organization. My political philosophy includes the understanding that growth and change can take time. We developed various initiatives over these years that eventually culminated in our highest membership and largest budget during the year I was president. During that time, we also welcomed our largest and newest chapter (Charlotte). NCAWA is a progressive advocacy group for women’s rights under the law, and has adopted a number of resolutions over the years that relate to my political philosophy (for example, resolutions regarding the Equal Rights Amendment, reproductive freedom, second parent adoption and public financing).

I believe my campaign platform illustrates my philosophy. As it says on my homepage (, I believe a candidate must show that they will be able to help shape Carrboro by listening and leading. They must have more than just a desire to serve, but must have the experience, sensibility and creativity to work with the entire town government to find solutions to challenges that face the community. I have demonstrated these skills during my recent service on the NHTF and in my present role as a member of the Carrboro Planning Board.

Finally, I feel it is important to mention something else about my political philosophy. I believe that diversity on the BOA contributes to more inclusive and better decision-making. As a member of the gay community, a group that has historically been discriminated against, I have a unique perspective and sensitivity to the importance of examining decisions in light of all the populations those decisions will affect. I have further developed this perspective and sensitivity through my years working at a historically black university. My success at NCCU speaks to my ability to work beyond differences and to celebrate joint concerns and goals. In a town like Carrboro, which prides itself on its commitment to diversity, I believe I would be a welcomed and effective addition to the Board.

4) Identify a principled stand you might be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.

I have already taken a principled stance that may cost me not just popularity points, but actual votes. As a candidate from the newly annexed part of Carrboro, the support of residents in nearby neighborhoods is vital to me. However, my support of Carrboro’s connector roads policy (which could use review, although not as it relates to this instance) has cost me the favor of some residents in nearby communities.

The town’s connector road policy requires that new developments have roads linking them to other neighborhoods and roads. There are two pending developments in my area of town that are going to have significant traffic impact on several existing neighborhoods. The policy will benefit one set of neighborhoods by creating another route for traffic (currently, there is only one road of ingress and egress for three – and a proposed fourth – neighborhoods). However, the same policy that will benefit these neighborhoods will have a negative impact on another neighborhood by opening it up to traffic from other places – its current roads primarily serve only its own residents.

I recently received an email from a resident of the neighborhood that will be negatively impacted. The writer challenged my position supporting the connector road policy, calling it inflexible. He asked why I did not take into account the thoughts of the people living in the neighborhood. He stated his feeling that each potential street connection should be judged on a case-by-case basis. Although I certainly could have placated him by assuring him that I would do as he requested, I felt it more ethical not to mislead him in any way. The truth is that I support the connector road policy, and I told him that in my response. The policy gives objective guidance into what is in the best interests of the town. It was created because neighborhood-by-neighborhood decision-making tends to be emotionally based, site-specific decision-making, and it tends to only serve the best interests of a small number of town residents. That said, I do support responding to the concerns of residents in impacted neighborhoods. Where possible, the Town should mitigate the negative impacts the connector road policy creates. Any needed traffic calming or enhanced safety features should be addressed prior to the connector being opened.

I regret losing any votes, but I believe in principled leadership and direct accountability. I believe these values apply to my campaign, and will apply as well to my public service if I am fortunate enough to be elected.

5) Large building projects like that under way by Main Street Partners and the Greenbridge development just across the line in Chapel Hill will change Carrboro’s landscape and it character in the near future. What is your vision for the town’s long-range development? What are the pros and cons of commercial and residential development?

I am excited about Carrboro’s Main Street project as well as the Alberta project. Both of these Carrboro developments will have mixed-use features that will help the town’s commercial tax base, and locate more people downtown to use these services. Additionally, Chapel Hill’s Greenbridge development will provide more consumers for Carrboro restaurants, stores and office space. Proactive economic development will help our existing businesses capitalize on these opportunities for growth, and incentives should be explored to encourage new enterprises downtown.

Pros from these ventures are that we will generate more commercial and sales tax, as well as residential property taxes from residences in these projects. Another pro is that these exciting projects will bring more people downtown to restaurants, events at the Arts Center and Cat’s Cradle, and other stores or services that are created as they are built. As the town infrastructure rebuilds in a way that is exciting and aesthetically pleasing, visitors to our town will want to return frequently.

One con to consider is that parking will be at a premium. Although the East Main Street project will have a parking deck, it is my view that the town will need to further bolster and encourage transit options. Additionally, the town should consider building its own modest parking deck to accommodate persons who are not able to take the bus, walk or ride their bikes downtown. A parking deck could also take the burden off of business owners in that our ordinance could be revised to allow new businesses to contribute toward such a structure, rather than requiring parking spaces on size-limited lots. The deck would need to fit in with the Carrboro look, and could perhaps have a municipal amenity on top, such as a simple amphitheatre.

Another con is that such growth may change the funkiness that is Carrboro. But, the fact is, Carrboro has changed from the little mill town it was twenty years ago. It has been able to retain its character as it has grown. Many enjoy the community feeling evident in our downtown. With careful stewardship, I believe we can maintain our town’s charm as we grow and revitalize.

6) How will you deal with growth in Carrboro given its limited physical boundaries? By extension, what are your viewpoints regarding high-density housing and its placement?

It has often been stated that Carrboro has the highest population density in the state (and even if this is not true any longer with the annexation of northwest Carrboro last year, the Town is still physically limited). Areas of town not yet developed must be nurtured with an eye toward projects that encourage transit, and walkable neighborhoods and communities. Carrboro residents have spoken loud and clear at forums and on surveys about this priority. Ideally, dense neighborhoods that are developed will be on or near streets that are considered corridors; most obviously Homestead Road, but potentially Old Highway 86, Rogers Road and Eubanks Road.

Areas of town that are already developed will see more infill proposals (residential and commercial) in the years to come. These must be evaluated with regard to the impact on nearby neighborhoods (such as the recent Shoppes at Jones Ferry proposal) but balanced with the need to increase commercial tax revenue in Carrboro. Placing development in or near town makes sense to discourage sprawl, and with a rural buffer in place, we have an identifiable marker where “rural” begins. The decisions we make now about land use planning will be in place for decades to come.

While studies have shown that commercial development has less municipal cost than residential development, using smart growth principles (which includes dense development) mitigates municipal infrastructure investment. A concern sometimes expressed by taxpayers is that density (i.e., more homes) costs taxpayers more in the long run because it means more children for the school system, and thus a need to build more schools.

The Schools Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (SAPFO) is the mechanism the local municipalities and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system came up with in 2003 to monitor growth as it affected the school system. Basically, no new residential construction can be approved that would push schools over agreed-upon capacities. While not perfect, this document does help check development in a way that assures there is room in the schools for our students. Some have suggested increasing the impact fee (currently, a “flat fee” for the type of housing and not proportional) to raise more money for the school system, and others are beginning to debate the possible transfer tax/sales tax proposals that could be on the ballot next year. The fact is that we live in an area that is desirable for many because of its school system.

7) How should development be handled in the Northern Study Area, and would you support any future moratoriums there?

The Northern Small Area Plan is currently under review by the Northern Study Area Plan Implementation Review Committee (NSAPIRC). This plan was created in 1997, and this ten-year review is an opportunity to revise the plan in a way to better influence the development that will occur in the NSA. The “floating mixed-use zones” that were suggested by the 1997 plan have resulted in no commercial development to date. It is my hope that the final report from the NSAPIRC will include a recommendation of specific areas to zone for light-commercial in the NSA. The neighborhoods in that area have indicated a desire for this, but the areas where this could happen are few and far between and need to be identified soon. I would also advocate that we continue with our smart growth principles in this area; planning in a transit oriented fashion with environmental considerations in mind. On the Planning Board, I manifest these principles by looking at prospective site plans with an eye toward footprints of houses, placement of open space and greenways, locations for future transit, and consideration of Bolin Creek, its tributaries, and other sensitive areas.

I would support continuation of the current moratorium if the legal burden for extending it can be met. I believe, at the very least, the BOA could extend the original date two more months, as it is my understanding that the moratorium did not actually take effect until it was signed off by Orange County. I would also advocate, in either event, for a status report to be given from the NSAPIRC to the BOA as soon as possible.

8) What important town departments or agencies have been, in your opinion, chronically underfunded? What have been the ramifications of that shortage? If elected, where would you find the money to more fairly fund these areas? Conversely, what department or agency budgets could be cut?

This spring, the BOA asked those of us on the NHTF for comments regarding the Town’s proposed budget. I went over the budget line-item by line-item, and had over 40 questions I posed in written format. After some clarification, I still had questions that required more discussion, as I tried to analyze the budget based on my experience working in municipal government. When all was said and done, I felt like I had a good understanding of the challenges each department faced in preparing their yearly budget.

As for a department that is underfunded, I have first-hand knowledge of how strained the staff of the Carrboro Planning Department has been this year, even given staff vacancies they have had. I consider this department the workhorse of the town.

The Planning Department is the catalyst to many of the new challenges facing the town in the coming years, such as re-working the land use ordinance to meet the requirements of the Jordan Lake Rules, working with the BOA on the implementation of the revised Small Area Plan, and establishing regulations and connections for the town’s greenways system.

There are other initiatives that have been delayed that fall under the auspices of the Planning Department; for example, a subcommittee comprised of members from the Planning Board, Environmental Advisory Board and Transportation Advisory Board has been trying for several months to work on establishing “green standards” and sustainability measures for developers of commercial and residential projects. For efficiency, this initiative will require input from town staff. However, this effort has been delayed because of the time planning staff has had to devote to the NSAPIRC these past several months. Likewise, when the new Greenways Commission was established, there was a concern about how staff time would be devoted to this group. Again, in order for this group to be effective, communication with town planning staff is essential, and the constructive work that this group could provide should not be ignored. Another area that needs examination is the town’s affordable housing policy, and how that is working or needs to be revised.

A final example of a delayed initiative concerns the town’s LUO. In other towns, ordinances regarding land use are usually arranged by zone, rather than by regulations, a somewhat irregular way the LUO is set up in Carrboro. The town has received feedback from developers that rearrangement of the LUO with searchable features would be very helpful in addressing the planning work that has to be done in the early stages of a prospective development. Time devoted to this task would be time well-spent.

As for finding money that might help further fund the Planning Department, I have a proposal that I would like to explore if elected. The state of North Carolina has an incentive bonus program (the SIEBP program, N.C.G.S. §143-345.20) for its employees that I would like to model in Carrboro. The details of such a program would have to be worked out, but the basic principle is this: employees develop ideas that benefit the town financially and receive an intangible or monetary percentage reward (with the state plan, the idea is evaluated after 12 months to determine the actual money saved). If elected, I would be willing to serve on a subcommittee to work out the guidelines for this “engaged workforce” program (for example, how to determine the Suggestion/Evaluation Committee, who will coordinate ideas for each department, and how to screen for appropriate projects). In an effort to make this program as financially efficient as possible, I would suggest using a volunteer base of experts from our community to comprise the Suggestion/Evaluation Committee.

This proposal could identify savings in other departments; thus, areas that could be cut. Another proposal to further fund the Planning Department could be to lobby the state for temporary money to deal with the Jordan Lake Rules (see my discussion about the Jordan Lake Rules below), or to include a temporary greenways acquisition/development position into a future greenway bond proposal, such as was done in Durham when I was on the Open Space and Trails Commission.

It would be premature for me to identify specific department or agency budgets that should be cut because I would need first to sit down with the people involved to understand their reasoning behind their budgets – something I would do if elected to the BOA.

9) Earlier this year, the board heard a fiscal presentation about a pay-as-you-throw trash system. What do you think of the system from a financial, environmental and practical standpoint? If you approve, how would any additional costs be covered? If you disapprove, what are some alternatives?

I do not approve of implementation of a “pay as you throw” (PAYT) trash system at this time. From an environmental standpoint alone, it would seem that implementation of PAYT would certainly result in more recycling, reusing and composting, a worthy goal in any community. However, from a financial standpoint, the cost analysis presented to the BOA during their February 6, 2007 board meeting showed that the costs of PAYT was beyond what the BOA was willing to invest in the program. I agree with that decision, especially given statistically high recycling figures in Carrboro. Practically, my research has shown that there are time-consuming administrative tasks that will need to be addressed if such a system is ever implemented, such as educating the public how to purchase tags for the bags, how to tag the bags, training staff how to accurately account for the number of bags, figuring out how to use current trucks to administer the program, etc. Additionally, there would be concerns about how to correctly charge residents of apartment complexes and townhouse communities. While this could certainly be figured out, the plan will have to address these matters before it is implemented. Finally, some people view garbage collection as one of the services that towns should simply provide, and PAYT as an unfair burden on our low-income residents. At this time, I agree with them.

10) Carrboro emphasizes locally owned, import-substituting economic development. What is your opinion of that policy? Has it, in your view, succeeded? How can it be improved?

I was intrigued by the discussion at the BOA’s retreat this past winter when they brought in Michael Shuman to contrast TINA (“There is no alternative”) and LOIS (“Local ownership and import substitutions”) concepts. I have read Shuman’s book, The Small-Mart Revolution: How Local Businesses are Beating the Global Competition, and the short answer to this question is that I believe Carrboro needs to continue to nurture LOIS policies, as this has succeeded somewhat, but we cannot rely on LOIS policies alone. A few concepts of LOIS follow (drawn from Shuman’s book), and I think they naturally fit for Carrboro:

  • Because LOIS owners tend to stay around for longer, they generate more long term wealth
  • LOIS results in “fewer destructive exits”
  • LOIS generates better laws, regulations and business incentives to protect the local quality of life
  • LOIS pays off with higher economic multipliers (circulation of dollars spent in the community)
  • LOIS principles parrallel “smart growth” principles
  • LOIS businesses tend to be more “green”
  • LOIS makes businesses more socially responsible
  • LOIS establishes self-reliance in a community

Shuman suggests a “top ten” list of ways that consumers can support LOIS principles:

  • Drink local and stop smoking
  • Localize car services
  • Give to local charites
  • Localize household energy use
  • Buy fresh food
  • Use local health care
  • Find local entertainment
  • Eat out locally
  • Halve auto use
  • Localize your home

Shuman goes on to say “[I}f every American household took the above ten steps, more than half of all consumer expenditures would be localized.” He points out that several of these items are discretionary and can be more easily urged, but that others need to be put in place.

Also in the book, he proposes a way to evaluate purchases one makes; has an in-depth discussion about investment dollars and banking; LOIS entrepreneurs, collaboration, support enterprises and ventures, and even TINA collaboration. When it comes to policy making, he suggests defunding TINA, considering anti-TINA ordinances, and subscribing to a new public policy agenda.

I believe the LOIS policy has worked in part in Carrboro. Various town campaigns, policies and programs (such as “Shop Orange;” buying bio-diesel cars and buses, emphasizing transit, biking and walking; and working with the highly successful Farmer’s Market) are based on LOIS principles. Carrboro has varied entertainment venues and restaurants that locals can frequent, and these are continuing to evolve. Carrboro assesses transit need statistics, emphasizes smart growth policies, and has developed a preliminary greenway plan.

The LOIS policy has also failed in Carrboro. For example, despite the work that has been done to support local businesses, Weaver Street Market (WSM) is moving its base operation to Hillsborough, and taking with it one of the largest group of employees in Carrboro. WSM epitimizes the concepts outlined in LOIS, and yet, Carrboro lost this business. This is why we cannot rely solely on LOIS, because even LOIS is somewhat unpredictable. True, the base operation of WSM is re-locating to another small town with an emphasis on local business, and the financial benefit to WSM cannot be argued. However, to the many employees of WSM that now need to figure out how to get to work each day, this was a fairly “destructive exit.”

Also, despite efforts to the contrary, Carrboro residents do not have a place where they can purchase everyday and regularly occurring non-grocery items. Becaue of this, residents have to go out of town for these items. As I stated earlier, a store located in an appropriate location (such as Highway 54) would give our residents somewhere to purchase these items, contribute to our tax base, and eliminate the need to drive away from Carrboro for these types of purchases.

How could LOIS be improved? I know efforts have been underway to meet with local business owners to review these LOIS principles and to try to integrate them into our community. I support continuing those discussions. And, every resident in Carrboro can implement the basic principles of LOIS as I outlined above. I think our forward-thinking town would benefit by an offering of a “Town Book Club” or “Carrboro Reads Together” effort which encourages town residents to read or re-read this book, or a similar book, that espouses these local ownership principles and benefits.

11) Carrboro is participating in the Jordan Lake Stakeholder Project to help manage this resource, which is polluted and threatened by growth and development. What is Carrboro’s responsibility in mitigating these threats? What policies should the Board of Aldermen enact to help protect water quality and quantity in Jordan Lake?

Carrboro has a long history of protection of waters in its jurisdiction, such as the University Lake watershed. Carrboro has for some time had strict ordinances pertaining to protection of buffers and other water sources, mitigating storm water damage effects long before required to do so by state and federal law. Carrboro’s planning jurisdiction is within the watershed of the Upper New Hope Arm of Jordan Lake and as such, Carrboro monitored the progress reports of the Jordan Lake Stakeholder Project closely. The Jordan Lake Stakeholder Project worked for many years to develop a recommendation that could be presented to the North Carolina Environmental Management Commission to develop a nutrient management strategy for the Jordan Lake watershed. The continued high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen in the lake threaten to create serious long-term adverse consequences if safeguards are not put in place to address these in the near future.

Presentations by the North Carolina Division of Water Quality made to various municipalities and citizen groups this summer outlined the complexities of the implementation of a plan known as the proposed Jordan Water Supply Nutrient Strategy and Rules (the Jordan Lake Rules) to protect this water, not the least of which is the tremendous expense that will be involved. The rules relate to agriculture runoff, new and existing development stormwater runoff, municipal and industrial wastewater, fertilizer applications and protection of riparian buffers across all land uses.

It is understandable that bordering communities must implement these corrective measures for the benefit of all, but this is a regional problem that requires a financial solution through appropriation by the North Carolina General Assembly on an on-going basis. Many of the local governments being asked to shoulder the financial burden for this plan will not benefit directly (for example, Jordan Lake is not a drinking source for Carrboro). The necessary but time-consuming implementation of the plan alone through town and municipal planning staffs will impact those governments fiscally.

As for implementation, in June of 2007 the BOA held a public hearing on an amendment to the LUO that revised stormwater management provisions in anticipation of the Jordan Lake Rules (as a member of the Planning Board, I had already reviewed this amendment). This amendment addressed post-construction stormwater management requirements. Town staff is currently working on ordinance provisions pertaining to stream buffer requirements that will address the Jordan Lake Rules in part; these should be presented sometime this fall. The other priorities outlined above will follow, as staff time and financial impact allow. Certainly fertilizer applications are an area that could next be reviewed closely for their scope and applicability.

It should be noted that other governmental agencies and advocacy groups have urged that the compliance date of the plan be changed from 2016 to 2011 because of the severity of the situation. The BOA will need to urge its legislative delegation to actively advocate and prioritize for legislative funding for this project, as time is of the essence.

A valid point that the BOA made in its comments to the Environmental Management Commission about the Jordan Lake Rules is that the rules are designed to distribute reduction responsibility proportionally among all sources relative to a common starting point of 2001. Carrboro argues that using 2001 as a benchmark is penalizing the town, because they have been working on water management provisions for many years, and thus are already ahead of the curve on these regulations. It remains to be seen if or how this could be considered in the rules (perhaps an earlier start date could be proposed).

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