in Houston, Texas
Daughters of the Republic of Texas misused state funds, failed to preserve Alamo, attorney general finds
Wednesday, Nov 21, 2012, 11:47AM CST
By Mark Lisheron
Alamo

Judging by a Texas Attorney General’s report, the only thing the Daughters of the Republic of Texas weren’t responsible for at the Alamo was killing off Crockett, Bowie and Travis.

The volunteer custodian for the Alamo for more than a century failed to preserve and maintain the shrine to Texas independence, misused and used state funds for its own benefit and violated state nonprofit organization laws in the process, according to a 38-page report provided to the Texas Legislature.

(You can read the entire report here.)

The Attorney General’s office released the report more than a year after concluding an investigation that began with a complaint of mismanagement by the DRT made in June 2010, the report says.

Daughters of the Republic volunteers continue to provide services at the Alamo, but under the direction of the state General Land Office, given authority over operations by the Legislature in 2011.

Even then, the report says, DRT leaders were not altogether honest in describing their stewardship of the Alamo to lawmakers.

Only because the Legislature removed the DRT from direct control of the Alamo is the Attorney General’s office refraining from legal action against the group, the report says.

Karen Thompson, president of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, told the San Antonio Express News the organization was shocked “at the outrageously inaccurate conclusions within the report.” Thompson said the report was not an accurate picture of her organization today.

The Attorney General’s report makes clear that much of its criticism is directed at DRT leadership.

“This report recognizes that the DRT and its members have committed countless volunteer hours to serving the Alamo and the State of Texas,” the report says. “Indeed, generations of DRT members have demonstrated tireless commitment to the Alamo.”

***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo of the Alamo by flickr user Rhubarble, used via a Creative Commons license.

Texas attorney general steers clear of San Antonio streetcar debate
Tuesday, Sep 18, 2012, 02:44PM CST
By Steve Miller
streetcar

Is a streetcar line the same thing as light rail? The state Attorney General has declined to rule on the question asked by state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, who is battling officials in Bexar County who want to use special district funds for downtown streetcars.

Wentworth and a group of others say that a sales tax measure approved by voters in 2004 to create the Advanced Transportation District specified that the proceeds were not to be used for light rail, and that an effort to spend some of the sales tax proceeds on a streetcar project violates the referendum.

Supporters of the $190 million VIA Metropolitan Transit streetcar project, who say it will help with downtown development, claim that streetcars are not the same as light rail and therefore are fair game for some of the proceeds of the quarter-cent sales tax.

Wentworth in March asked Attorney General Greg Abbott to rule on the matter, after Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff asserted in a letter to Wentworth and state Rep. Lyle Larson that the tax money could be spent on an urban streetcar project.

In his letter to Wentworth, Wolff said that “a light rail system is NOT the same as a street car system. Street car systems are slower than light rail, make more frequent stops, utilize smaller vehicles, and operate within the inner city.”

“I believe they are parsing words,” Wentworth said in an interview with Texas Watchdog. “They do have a contract with the voters. They didn’t keep their word.”

Wentworth noted that the top two proponents of the streetcar project are Wolff and San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro.

In 2000, voters emphatically rejected a light rail system, 70 percent to 30 percent. The supporters came from the business community, the same place that much of Wolff’s campaign funding comes from.

Wolff’s contributors for the first half of this year include:

  • Bart Koontz, who owns and operates a number of development firms that have ownership in millions of dollars in Bexar County property.
  • William Sneckner, of Star 7 Properties, which owns retail store properties.
  • Sam Barshop, co-founder of La Quinta Inn hotels.
  • Dan Leyendecker and Derek Naiser of LNV Inc.,  a consulting firm and engineering company for developers.
  • Rio Perla Properties, which owns millions or dollars of properties around the downtown San Antonio area.

***
Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.

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Photo of streetcar by flickr user M. Ortiz Gallery, used via a Creative Commons license.

AG denies Houston Airport System’s request to keep secret an embarrassing federal review
Tuesday, Sep 18, 2012, 11:20AM CST
By Steve Miller
plane

Under protest, the Houston Airport System has released a federal review questioning the agency’s flimsy fiscal arrangements with the city of Houston, including payments for software that was never used.

A local watchdog requested a copy of the 12-page letter from the Federal Aviation Administration to the Houston Airport System. He first went to the FAA, which denied his request because the review had no signature. He then turned to HAS, which appealed to the state Attorney General, claiming exemption under section 552.116 of the Texas Government Code, which pertains to audit working papers of a state agency by a state agency.

In a letter ruling issued Aug. 14, the AG denied HAS’ request to withhold the review. The exemption the airport system cited did not apply to the requested records.

The audit at issue is being conducted by the FAA, a federal agency, not the state auditor or the auditor of a state agency, an institution of higher education, a county, a municipality, a school district, a hospital district, or a joint board. Accordingly, section 552.116 of the Government Code is not applicable, and the system may not withhold the submitted information on that basis. As you claim no other exceptions, the submitted information must be released.

The sternly worded letter notes that a $20 million contract between HAS and the Houston Police Department, entered into without any memo of understanding, opens the door to a number of accountability problems.

Also noted by the FAA is a $345,000 expenditure by HAS for three years’ use of the city’s geographic information system, which no one at the airport system uses because it is “inferior to the one already in use at HAS.” Same for the $100,000 annual cost of the city’s phone system - but that estimate is tenuous because “the city has not revealed the exact cost to the airport.”

And finally, the FAA voiced concern over the marketing expenditures of HAS with three local economic development agencies, with no invoicing. It asked for some help in order to understand the arrangements and for a more complete accounting of expenditures.

A Houston Airport System spokeswoman declined to comment on the report. Texas Watchdog has requested the HAS’s official response.

***
Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.

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Photo of plane by flickr user MichaelB in Houston, used via a Creative Commons license.

Recall petition in Sinton, Texas, must be released, AG rules
Thursday, Sep 13, 2012, 02:00PM CST
By Mike Cronin
AG

The city of Sinton must release a recall petition, the attorney general has ruled. The city failed to show that the information could cause harm to a city employee or that its release would violate a law shielding the personal information of police officers.

Supporters of the petition want to recall three Sinton City Council members who “fired City Manager Jackie Knox without explanation Tuesday,” the Corpus Christi Caller-Times reports. That was after an unsuccessful move to fire Sinton City Secretary Betty Wood.

Knox accused the city council members -- Mayor Eloy Lopez, Linda Guzman-Alaniz and Michelle Soliz -- of meeting in secret to arrive at their decision to fire him. Lopez denied any closed-door meetings.

***
Contact Mike Cronin at mike@texaswatchdog.org or 713-228-2850. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelccronin or @texaswatchdog.

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After prodding, Houston Community College posts trustees’ campaign finance reports online
Wednesday, Apr 18, 2012, 12:50PM CST
By Mike Cronin
checkbook

It took a while, but Houston Community College officials finally are coming around to the notion of providing information defined by Texas state law as public. To the public. Without a hassle.

But they still have a ways to go.

Unlike many other public entities, HCC spent at least three months and an unknown amount of taxpayer money to block the release of HCC board members’ and board seat candidates’ home addresses.

Home addresses for candidates for public office are important, among other reasons, to ensure they live at a residence that qualifies them to run.

Texas Watchdog reporters and local blogger Charles Kuffner requested in August the home addresses and other personal information contained in campaign-finance reports for nine HCC board members and one candidate.

State law allows HCC and other Texas entities funded by taxpayers to redact home addresses of its elected officials and employees only if those officials or employees requested that in writing within 14 days of taking office.

But when Texas Watchdog asked in August whether that had occurred, HCC staff attorney Jessica Saldivar replied in an e-mail that “the Texas Public Information Act does ‘not require a governmental body (HCC) to create new information, to do legal research or to answer questions.’”

Only after the Texas attorney general ruled on Nov. 15 that HCC officials must release that information did they do so.

They chose to respond to the attorney general’s order by posting the board members’ campaign finance reports online. Still, it took HCC officials until February to get it done – long after HCC board Chairman Richard Schechter suggested last summer that trustee campaign finance reports be made available online and well past the 10 business day deadline in the law.

And instead of telling Texas Watchdog precisely when HCC created its trustee campaign finance form website, Saldivar again replied in an e-mail, “Under the Texas Public Information Act, I am not required to answer questions, and therefore I cannot provide you with a statement regarding your questions.”

Dan Arguijo, the HCC spokesman, at last supplied the answer on Tuesday in an e-mail.

Board members approved posting campaign finance reports online in September, but no action took place until after HCC officials received the attorney general’s ruling on Nov. 18, Arguijo said.

The delay occurred, in part, due to HCC employees being on vacation during winter break from Dec. 19 through Jan. 3, Arguijo said.

“HCC did everything logistically possible to meet posting this important information for the public's benefit,” he said. “Moving forward we are committed to make the (campaign-finance reports) available on a timely basis.”

Past reports dating back to 2010 are available for past and current trustees, Arguijo said.

***
Contact Mike Cronin at mike@texaswatchdog.org or 713-228-2850. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelccronin or @texaswatchdog.

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Photo 'Woman Balancing Her Checkbook' money by flickr user SurvivalWoman, used via a Creative Commons license.

Creative Commons License
Like this story? Then steal it. This report by Texas Watchdog is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License. That means bloggers, citizen-journalists, and journalists may republish the story on their sites with attribution and a link to Texas Watchdog. If you do re-use the story, e-mail news@texaswatchdog.org.

El Paso school district holds up records over typo in public information request
Tuesday, Apr 17, 2012, 01:45PM CST
By Steve Miller
keyboard

A battle over open records continues between the El Paso Times and the  El Paso Independent School District.

Or is that bewteen?

The newspaper says it has sought preliminary results of a federal audit of the district via an open records request.

District officials sought a state Attorney General opinion, and lost the ruling in a Feb. 14 decision, according to the newspaper. The district and the U.S. Department of Education appealed the matter again last week, focusing on a four-page report of findings.

Not the accepted practice; once you lose at the AG’s office, you can’t go back.

But the two appealing bodies claim they have a reason, according to the Times, and for this we have to let the newspaper tell the story:

[The newspaper] asked for "any and all information provided to the U.S. Department of Education in response to its Dec. 7, 2010 request for information" and "any follow-up correspondence bewteen the district to the U.S. Department of Education."

In a letter mailed Thursday to the state's attorney general seeking to keep secret the preliminary audit results, Anthony Safi, the district's lawyer, excluded the word "between" in his characterization of the types of documents sought in the El Paso Times' open-records request.

Why?

District spokeswoman Renee de Santos defended Safi's characterization of the Times' request in his letter to the attorney general.
De Santos said in an email that technically Safi did not exclude the word "between" in his letter to the attorney general because "in fact, the word 'between' was not in the El Paso Times November 15 request for information."

De Santos pointed to the typographical error in the request that misspelled the word as "bewteen."

Safi did not return a call immediately.

***
Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.

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Photo of computer keyboard by flickr user trustypics, used via a Creative Commons license.

Documents on Galveston councilman's potential conflict of interest withheld
Monday, Mar 19, 2012, 04:09PM CST
By Steve Miller
galveston

The city of Galveston refuses to hand over information it collected in determining if a city council member voting in a conflict of interest.

The city’s ethics commission announced earlier this month that Councilman Rusty Legg had no conflict when he voted on an issue regarding the Galveston Housing Authority. That’s the same conclusion the city attorney’s office reached in November.

Tarris Woods, a former city councilman who lost in a runoff election to Legg in 2010, appropriately asked the city for “all information used to provide a legal decision that Rusty Legg did not have a conflict of interest with GHA.” He was told by the city that the information fell under attorney-client privilege, although that’s not for the city to decide.That’s why the state has an excellent system via the state Attorney General.

And the Daily News points out that the report exonerating Legg was cited in a public meeting, making it a public record.

Some believe that because Legg is vice president of Charna Graber, a real estate firm that takes money from the public housing trough, he should have recused himself. Legg voted last year to give the housing authority $25 million to help rebuild some public housing, provided it not be done in areas with mixed-income housing. He stated that building in mixed-income areas would hurt the smaller property owners who rent to tenants with housing vouchers.  

This seems like an obvious case of abstaining from the vote to at least avoid the issue of a conflict.

Woods has referred the situation to the local District Attorney's office.

***
Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.

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Photo of Galveston Beaches by flickr user galveston.com, used via a Creative Commons license.

After year of throwing roadblocks at El Paso Times, city of Socorro releases settlement with former city manager
Friday, Mar 16, 2012, 11:09AM CST
By Steve Miller
roadblock

It took a year and a state Attorney General’s ruling, but the city of Socorro has released a settlement with its former city manager to the El Paso Times.

The $91,000 agreement with former city manager Carol Garcia was ruled a public record by the AG’s office shortly after the March 2011 settlement as part of a wrongful termination suit by Garcia, the paper writes.

But the city still refused to release the document. The Times filed a complaint with the El Paso County District Attorney’s office, which ordered the release.

Socorro City Attorney Jerry Wallace initially cited attorney-client privilege in withholding the agreement. He then told the AG’s office that the city did not have a copy of the settlement. Next, Wallace tried to refer the Times to the Texas Municipal Liability Pool.

Times Editor Robert Moore said, "The city of Socorro should have made this settlement public almost a year ago. Texas' Public Information Act specifically states that lawsuit settlements involving governments are always public record. This sort of evasiveness in the face of a clear legal responsibility rightfully undermines public trust in Socorro's municipal government.”

Wallace has appealed a number of open records requests to the city and other government entities over the years. In the fall, he failed to file an appeal within the lawful timeframe, and the city was ordered to give up police records.

Garcia is now a project coordinator at the El Paso Collaborative for Community and Economic Development. Her bio lists her as the current city manager of Socorro.

***
Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on de.licio.us, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpace, Digg, FriendFeed, and tumblr.

Photo of roadblock by flickr user xxxtoff, used via a Creative Commons license.

Texas AG probing Medicaid program for dental work; see the WFAA series on corporate jets, ‘orthodontic transportation’ that triggered the scrutiny
Wednesday, Jan 25, 2012, 11:14AM CST
By Mark Lisheron
braces

The Texas Attorney General’s office is investigating an attempt to build the state’s social safety net out of $185 million in dental brace materials.

Investigators are looking into fraudulent Medicaid billing by 31 orthodontists after state health officials discovered spending on braces and dental visits for low-income children shot from $102 million a year in 2008 to $185 million in 2010, the Dallas Morning News has posted on its blog this morning.

David Maxwell, deputy director of law enforcement for the Attorney General, disclosed the investigation during testimony before the House Public Health Committee Tuesday at the Capitol.

Thomas Suehs, executive commissioner for the state Department of Health and Human Services, testified that program heads were tightening requirements that had allowed some orthodontists to bill for an average of 22 visits a year from children receiving Medicaid dental benefits.

Almost 80,000 children got orthodontic care through Medicaid in 2011, the committee chair, Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, said.

"Some of our providers out there gamed and manipulated the system," Suehs told the Committee. "I won't use the word fraud. ... Clearly, we didn't have some of the controls we should've had."

Suehs submitted to the Committee a 34-page report outlining their findings. You can find the specifics of the dental case abuse here, on pages 24 through 31.

The scrutiny stems from reporting by Byron Harris with WFAA Channel 8 in Dallas, who revealed last year that Texas was spending more annually on orthodontic care than the other 49 states in the Union. He’s also reported on the corporate jets owned by the founder of All Smiles dental clinics -- which collected more than $10 million from the orthodontic program in 2010 --- and the $13 million taxpayers forked over to transport children to orthodontists’ offices.
 
***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo of braces by flickr user phossil, used via a Creative Commons license.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott meets with Houston ISD about Apollo 20 program
Thursday, Jan 12, 2012, 11:55AM CST
By Mike Cronin
abbott

Texas Attorney General -- and possible gubernatorial candidate -- Greg Abbott traveled to Houston last year to learn about the Houston schools' Apollo 20 turnaround program, a visit an Abbott spokesman said sprang from Abbott's interest in education. 

"Studying education policy is not only a personal and professional passion (of Abbott's)—but it must be a priority in the Lone Star State," Sarah Floerke, Abbott's campaign director, wrote Texas Watchdog in an e-mail.

Houston Independent School District spokesman Jason Spencer echoed Floerke.

“Greg Abbott was personally interested in the program, so district officials gave him a briefing on Apollo 20,” Spencer said in an interview.

Asked specifically whether Abbott's interest in Apollo 20 was connected to his possible run for governor in 2014, Floerke said only, "As a state official, General Abbott is interested in programs like Apollo 20 that show promise for improving education for Texas children."

Asked what Abbott thought of Apollo 20 after learning more about it, Floerke was similarly vague: "The Apollo 20 program has yielded some promising results that warrant further review and analysis."

Superintendent Terry Grier has highlighted the $20 million Apollo 20 as a signature effort in education reform for the nation’s seventh-largest school district. Recently highlighted in a major piece in The New York Times, Apollo 20 features extended school days and intensive tutoring to try to help some of Houston's most troubled schools.

Roland Fryer, faculty director at Harvard University's Education Innovation Laboratory, is working with district educators to implement the program.

The program has also been controversial. Critics of Apollo 20 have said that district officials are improperly funding the program with public money and that problems exist in its academic rigor, teaching approaches and the lack of student engagement.

Attorney General senior adviser Erin Hodges accompanied Abbott to the HISD meeting on Aug. 16.

HISD officials did not answer two requests from Texas Watchdog to identify district officials who attended the meeting. An e-mail mentioning the meeting, recently made public by HISD, said Jeremy Beard, HISD's former head of the Apollo program, was slated to attend. Beard left HISD last summer to work for Blueprint, the education nonprofit co-headed by Fryer.

Interviews with five of HISD's nine trustees revealed that none of them knew that HISD officials were meeting with Abbott.

But trustees Mike Lunceford and Harvin Moore also said Grier isn’t obligated to inform the board of every appointment HISD officials have.
 
“Sometimes Terry lets us know when those types of meetings are happening,” Lunceford said. “He didn’t that time.”

Moore said he asked Grier about the meeting after he learned of it from Texas Watchdog.

“The Attorney General heard great things about Apollo 20,” Moore said. “He’s interested in school reform and was very curious about how Apollo was working. As far as I know, he only ever heard good things. He had lots and lots of questions. He told (HISD officials) from beginning to end that he was very impressed.”

***
Contact Mike Cronin at mike@texaswatchdog.org or 713-228-2850. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelccronin or @texaswatchdog.

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Photo of Attorney General Greg Abbott from the Texans for Greg Abbott Flickr account.


Like this story? Then steal it. This report by Texas Watchdog is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License. That means bloggers, citizen-journalists, and journalists may republish the story on their sites with attribution and a link to Texas Watchdog. If you do re-use the story, e-mail news@texaswatchdog.org.
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Ted Cruz's first senate term in a nutshell The National Review's Tim Alberta switched to Politico, and one of his opening pieces put Ted Cruz's first term in a nutshell It...
Update:3 years 1 month
Rick Perry vs The World
Andrea Parquet-Taylor named KTVT CBS 11 news director Former KHOU 11 assistant news director Andrea Parquet-Taylor named Vice President, News Director for KTVT CBS 11 Andrea...
Update:3 years 1 month
Mike McGuff
VIDEO: KPRC 2 10pm newscast (1-24-99) ...
Update:3 years 1 month
Mike McGuff
Democrats actually thought Wendy Davis was a serious candidate? Hat tip to Willisms: VIDEO- Wendy Davis being Wendy Davis: https://t.co/SHq3ACGVDJ #txlege— Will Franklin (@WILLisms) January 24,...
Update:3 years 1 month
Rick Perry vs The World
Luke Bryan to sing National Anthem as part of Super Bowl LI on FOX ​ Country music superstar LUKE BRYAN will sing the National Anthem as part of Super Bowl LI pregame festivities at NRG Stadium in Houston...
Update:3 years 1 month
Mike McGuff
Tweets
Karen Townsend | 7 years 9 months
"Patrick F. Kennedy is a career foreign service officer" - http://t.co/GOrCe0IS
Peter Corbett ✈ | 7 years 9 months
I'm at McCarran International Airport (LAS) w/ @almacy http://t.co/KvmId07i
KERA Public Media | 7 years 9 months
TONIGHT at 7pm on KERA TV: Presidential Debate: Learn more at PBS NewsHour. http://t.co/Z9kYdun8
PBS MediaShift | 7 years 9 months
Tech Snafus Make Bill O'Reilly/Jon Stewart 'Rumble' More of a Stumble http://t.co/4OfeBlrG (@kegill | @pbsmediashift) #rumble2012
Will Sullivan | 7 years 9 months
Great addition, been burned too much by bad subs. "Google Play Announces Free Trials For In-App Subscription Services" http://t.co/TOLgRVak
TxDOT | 7 years 9 months
I-35W/North Tarrant Express #constantcontact http://t.co/QDzrQumu
keyetv | 7 years 9 months
Serial shotgun robbers suspects arrested. http://t.co/ka8T4U9B
Karen Townsend | 7 years 9 months
Aren't State Dept career people suppose to be non-partisan? Not the political appointees, the career people. #Libya
San Antonio Current | 7 years 9 months
Go ahead, chalk it up http://t.co/YMWpC5wM #satx #chalkitup
Caller.com | 7 years 9 months
Scanner: Bathroom on fire in 600 block of Virginia, CC fire dept. on the way
Ballotpedia | 7 years 9 months
Does your state offer early voting? Do you qualify? Find out! #election2012 http://t.co/eodxBYVD
Dallas Morning News | 7 years 9 months
Why a Dallas-area cycling coach believed Lance Armstrong was drug-free (video) http://t.co/gURdYkj1
Caller.com | 7 years 9 months
Dozens of illegal waste dumpers sentenced in Jim Wells Co.; others on the run: http://t.co/NgerCdsQ
Karen Townsend | 7 years 9 months
Consistently impressed w/raullabrador when I listen to him in Congressional hearings. #Libya
Cory Crow | 7 years 9 months
Diigo: United raises fares by up to $10 per round trip - Business - http://t.co/kWY8gwPV http://t.co/bw25JP5R
News 4 WOAI | 7 years 9 months
If you see news in or around San Antonio 'SEND IT' to @NEWS4WOAI here: http://t.co/uMqbMXQv OR email us at: NEWSDESK@WOAITV.COM
swamplot | 7 years 9 months
Mining Houston Garbage for Recycling and Compost Gold http://t.co/HMMBArMX
swamplot | 7 years 9 months
Daily Demolition Report: Tulane Highway http://t.co/JXmkSx11
KFDA NewsChannel10 | 7 years 9 months
Obama and Romney: Where they stand on the issues http://t.co/y3VrPfkM
Williamson County | 7 years 9 months
Mental Health Awareness Week FREE Webinar:"Understanding Depression-How to Help You or a Loved One" Thurs,Oct 11@1pm-https://t.co/YUWi19WY
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