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Thread: Article 2 @ Town Meeting

  1. #1
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    Thumbs down Article 2 @ Town Meeting

    The tabling of Article 2 at Town Meeting this week continues to demonstrate the troubling influence of certain groups in town. Anybody who denies this divide should strongly consider their position based on the shenanigans associated with this political maneuvering. In addition, Fred Turkington's role in this controversy begins to seriously call into question his impartiality as someone serving all residents of the town equally and fairly.

    My question is how such a move is seen by others and what people think it does or does not do to the problems Wayland is currently suffering from related to deep fissures in the communal nature of our small town?

    I post the text of a Wayland Voters' Network story (not impartial, I know, but the only written narrative of the incident that I've seen to date) on the Article 2 controversy at this week's Town Meeting as background. I had heard about this from several people who were in attendance, and finally saw it myself (FULL DISCLOSURE: I was unable to make the beginning of the meeting, and caught the recorded version post 9pm when I finished a long day in the office).

    Dear Wayland Voter,

    Annual Town meeting began with yet another example of divisiveness and
    intolerance in Wayland politics.

    The next WVN newsletter will round up highlights of a 39-article meeting that
    stretched into three nights. This edition is about the way Town Meeting began.

    AWARDS SABOTAGED

    The first few minutes of annual Town meeting are customarily devoted to
    ceremonial matters as voters drift in and take their seats. The recently
    deceased are remembered, retiring employees are thanked and the Public
    Ceremonies Committee honors persons or groups.

    Wayland really did the last part differently on Monday night. As six recipients
    of the newly named Lydia Maria Child Award for community service stood near the
    dais, framed certificates in hand, a carefully orchestrated maneuver by the
    town's established powers derailed the proceedings.

    Article 2, expected to take four minutes, consumed more than 40, ending in the
    only counted vote of the evening and setting back the crowded schedule of the
    39-article Town meeting.

    "Mean spirited" and "appalling,"one voter said of those who opposed the awards.
    Speaking for the other side, another voter alleged, without presenting any
    evidence, that some of the recipients had cost the town hundreds of thousands of
    dollars.

    Why these bitter feelings? The committee had given the awards to six citizens
    "who we identify here as `Watch Dogs in the Public Interest,'" former selectmen
    George Harris and Linda Segal and four WVN reporters, Betty Salzberg, Tom
    Sciacca, Michael Short and Molly Upton.

    Harris was cited for "his diligence in monitoring strict adherence to the Open
    Meeting Law."

    Segal was cited for tireless work over the years on the Dow Chemical site, the
    effects of the Danforth housing project on Cochituate and a host of
    environmental issues.

    WVN was named for "dedicated coverage of numerous issues of continuing
    importance to Wayland's future including the Town Center development, our
    schools, water supply, property assessments, budgets and much more."

    Keeping an eye on government. Sounds pretty dangerous, doesn't it?

    The committee devoted much of its presentation to praising Mrs. Child
    (1802-1880). Surely one of the most important figures ever to live in Wayland,
    she is remembered today chiefly as the author of "Over the River and Through the
    Woods." But she was also a best-selling writer, at least until she began
    attacking slavery as early as 1833. Her trail blazing cost her sales and
    friends. She was equally praised and reviled.

    (Even during the Civil War, many of her Wayland neighbors, while fervent about
    saving the Union, disparaged emancipation.)

    As in previous years, the names of the April 13 Town Meeting award recipients
    weren't printed in the warrant. But once the Public Service Committee voted its
    choices in early March and submitted the names to officials, opposition efforts
    began.

    On March 18, more than two weeks before the recipients received notice of the
    awards, Town Administrator Fred Turkington wrote in an email to Public
    Ceremonies Committee Chairman Richard Turner that Linda Segal might be an
    acceptable candidate for such an award but the others were unworthy.

    Turkington accused Harris of "selective zeal in pursuit of his self-appointed
    role as advocate for OML and public records regulations." Harris, a lawyer, has
    pointed out violations of the Open Meeting Law and has encouraged government
    disclosure and transparency.

    Though the selectmen boast of transparent government, Wayland was not among
    towns, including Wayland peers, that recently received awards for informing the
    public. Many town websites routinely contain information that isn't easily
    available to Wayland voters, such as specific salary information.

    Turkington threw a few rocks at WVN and concluded, "It is more a collection of
    essays than anything else."

    He urged Turner's committee to reconsider. This the committee did on March 25.
    Turner says the members voted unanimously to proceed.

    Committee member John Dyer acknowledged the pressure to reconsider when he spoke
    Monday night. He called it "inappropriate and misapplied."

    "...everyone should be able to recognize that in our democracy a `free press' is
    essential for an informed electorate," Dyer said.

    As Dyer was speaking, former Planning Board Chairman Bill Steinberg could be
    seen in the audience conferring with Sonja Strong, who actively supports
    establishment positions, recently defended a controversial private meeting
    between Wayland officials and the political action group SOSWayland, and has
    been critical of WVN.

    Steinberg rose to assert that the motion to present the awards was out of order
    on the grounds that it went beyond the scope of the article. Moderator Gossels
    ruled that the motion was in order.

    Then Strong rose to introduce an amendment that would refer the matter to the
    Board of Selectmen for research and a report to voters at the fall Town meeting.
    This would give the town a chance to participate in choosing recipients for a
    2010 award, she said.

    Strong also frowned on the Public Ceremonies Committee issuing awards named for
    people. But Wayland already has such awards, for example one recently
    established in memory of the late Ken Moon of the Conservation Commission.

    She and Steinberg spoke from scripts, which they may have had much time to
    prepare. Turkington, who reports to the selectmen, wasn't the only official who
    was aware of the committee's choices in March.

    As Moderator Gossels noted, the initially small crowd had grown to 400 or more
    as residents came to vote on the town budget and borrowing to continue work
    toward a high school construction project. The amendment passed, 226-137, and
    the amended motion on a voice vote.

    Though the Public Ceremonies Committee is appointed by the moderator, the
    outcome is now effectively in the hands of the selectmen, who have shown little
    fondness for the six recipients.

    Though the selectmen deny a power grab every time they add to their power, will
    they now look for ways to control the Public Ceremonies Committee?

    What WVN expected would be at most a small paragraph at the end of the 2009
    Town Meeting roundup has become a long story, and to many voters a depressing
    story. WVN readers have expressed outrage, but even more than that, incredulity.

    "Decent people just don't take away an award when it's already in someone's
    hand," one said.

    Imagine what would have happened if the powers that be hadn't been so intent on
    squelching disagreement and monitoring of government performance.

    The awards would have been presented to a scattering of polite applause, and
    then forgotten.

    (Quick, who won last year's awards?)

    Here is a thought from Lydia Maria Child, who cheerfully endured criticism for
    her premature abolitionism: "There is nothing I abhor like politics. I believe
    the devil has no other snare to be compared to it for drawing honest souls out
    of a straightforward line into all manner of serpent-like sinuosities."

  2. #2
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    Default One More Account

    I just noticed that the Wayland Town Crier has posted a story on the subject. It can be viewed at http://www.wickedlocal.com/wayland/h...nied-new-award

  3. #3
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    Default And another...

    Sonja Strong wrote a Letter to the Editor as well explaining her position which can be viewed here http://www.wickedlocal.com/wayland/h...-to-the-editor .

    Personally, I find the letter a bit disingenuous. However, a full disclosure of all positions (whether I agree with them or not) seems the fairest thing to do when asking for opinions.

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    I found WVN's coverage of Article 2 to be... I'm having trouble coming up with the right adjective. Do you think they might at least have mentioned upfront that they were the ones up for the awards? They wrote it entirely as though it was about someone else altogether.

    I have known Sonja Strong for years, from our work together for the League of Women Voters, and found her integrity to be without question. I think her concern regarding the article was sincere.

    I think the PCC's decision to attempt to give that award was unfortunate. The awards became something political when they never have been before.

    And what about the way the PCC went about it? Why were they handing out the awards before the motion had even been discussed? They knew their motion was controversial, and yet they tried to hurry through it. The awkwardness of the whole article was the product of PCC's decision to proceed prematurely.

    Imagine, for a moment, if the PCC had decided to honor SOSWayland for their contributions to the town. Do you think that might have been divisive? Do you think others might have been bothered by it, or would the town unanimously and in good cheer voted in favor of such an honor? Answer that honestly, and you'll understand the problem -- those awards are simply not supposed to be political.

    And to answer WVN's question, I remember well last year's award to Pat Conaway for his volunteer efforts, which included making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with his students for soup kitchens. It was a wonderful award about which everyone could feel good.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kim Reichelt View Post
    I found WVN's coverage of Article 2 to be... I'm having trouble coming up with the right adjective. Do you think they might at least have mentioned upfront that they were the ones up for the awards? They wrote it entirely as though it was about someone else altogether.
    These are exact quotes from early in the WVN newsletter above. I think they make it perfectly clear they were being honored.

    Why these bitter feelings? The committee had given the awards to six citizens "who we identify here as `Watch Dogs in the Public Interest,'" former selectmen George Harris and Linda Segal and four WVN reporters, Betty Salzberg, Tom Sciacca, Michael Short and Molly Upton.

    WVN was named for "dedicated coverage of numerous issues of continuing importance to Wayland's future including the Town Center development, our
    schools, water supply, property assessments, budgets and much more."


    I think the PCC's decision to attempt to give that award was unfortunate. The awards became something political when they never have been before.
    Only viewed as political by those who don't agree with the positions of the people being honored. I think I heard more than once from SOS types during Town Meeting (Rob Waldron was one for sure, when attempting to shut down Annette Lewis' motion regarding freezing non-union salaries) that "we appointed/elected these people, so let them do their jobs" or something very similar to that. The moderator appointed the PCC and they should have been allowed to their jobs without interference from SOS (Sonja Strong is an outspoken supporter of this group, BTW. Check out her endorsements of the entire SOS slate on this very website as evidence). This issue would have been far more professionally handled offline so as not to make it a show and embarass citizens of our town publicly.

    Imagine, for a moment, if the PCC had decided to honor SOSWayland for their contributions to the town. Do you think that might have been divisive? Do you think others might have been bothered by it, or would the town unanimously and in good cheer voted in favor of such an honor?
    I think a large group of people would have been pissed for sure. SOS is the driving force behind the division that exists in Wayland. They have torn apart what was once a peaceful town and divided it into 'us vs. them.' While their mission was once benign, they have become the embodiment of everything Wayland should not be. Honoring them would be not only inappropriate, but a travesty of all that is decent and just. Ironically, though, the motion probably would have passed if SOS was for it because that's how things work around here.

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    I don't know if SOS was a direct response to WVN, or simply followed WVN in time, but WVN (founded March 2004) was the first organized and ongoing "political entity" that I remember during my time in town. To be sure, "division," "watchdogs," and however else one might characterize one group or another aren't a new occurrence. These traits were visibly on display at my first Town Meeting in 1994, a full decade prior to WVN's emergence.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Baron View Post
    Only viewed as political by those who don't agree with the positions of the people being honored.
    Jeff, I think you are making Kim's point: significant numbers take exception to WVN just as they do SOS. Mr. Cav's PB&Js offended no one. While unanimity in support of honors isn't necessarily required, near unanimity probably should be if confrontation is to be avoided.

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    Default What Have We Become?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Jeff, I think you are making Kim's point: significant numbers take exception to WVN just as they do SOS. Mr. Cav's PB&Js offended no one. While unanimity in support of honors isn't necessarily required, near unanimity probably should be if confrontation is to be avoided.
    I'm not saying people wouldn't disagree or take exception to the award recipients. No problem with disagreement. I am saying it was more than unprofessional, it was downright nasty, to embarass long-time residents of this town for political gain. Change the PCC AFTER the fact if you don't like the decisions they make or the powers they are granted, but don't do what was done. It was also highly inappropriate for Fred Turkington, an employee of this town who is paid to serve the ENTIRE community, to stick his nose into it.

    The whole affair feels like communist-era Soviet tactics -- silence those who don't support the "party" (e.g. - SOS). The incident is a black mark on our town and on the people who saw fit to lead the charge.

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    I don't understand why the intended honorees are lauded for disagreeing with town officials and employees, yet those same officials and employees are wrong to disagree in return.

    In the case of Mr. Turkington, we don't have his comments in context. Perhaps the quotes are accurate, perhaps they are not. Perhaps they represent the sum and substance of what he said, perhaps they are only a small part of it.

    In what way did the person who made the motion to refer the question to the Board of Selectmen earn "political gain?" If anything, she took a risk by being confrontational. Interestingly enough, she did exactly what those who were intended to be honored did--spoke up for something that she felt strongly about.

    While I won't do it, one could probably make a pretty good analogy including WVN and Pravda. I didn't see anything Monday night that remotely resembled "Soviet tactics," and equating SOS to single party rule is an odd contention when there are no limits on any number of parties forming,

    No one was silencing anyone. Unless I'm mistaken, the intended honorees have been neither shy nor limited in their ability to convey their opinions.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Baron View Post
    My question is how such a move is seen by others and what people think it does or does not do to the problems Wayland is currently suffering from related to deep fissures in the communal nature of our small town?
    As a new member to this forum, a Wayland Resident for almost seven years, and a regular attendee of town meetings I will share my observations. I have not been involved in the inner circles of town government or the ancillary interest groups.

    This was a very uncomfortable piece of business to observe and to vote on. I like to see people honored for their service as do most everyone I know. I suspect this was uncomfortable for most in the room.

    I did not sit with anyone I knew and I did not come under the influence of any particular group in town. I came to be a responsible citizen, to examine the issues, listen to the debate and vote my conscience on the merits.

    From where I sat in the room this is how it appeared to me. It looked like an award had been hastily drawn up to honor a collection of folks with particularly partisan views on the management of our town and whose causes may have been defeated in the recent election. I say hastily drawn up because it was not specified in the warrant which the moderator also noted. There did not appear to be any public process or due process that resulted in these awards and yet they were coming before the town meeting and being presented on the spot even before the merits could be discussed. This may have been an embarrassment for the honorees as well. They were not well served in this proposal in their behalf either. Perhaps the presenting committee appointed by the moderator has that authority – I do not know, however, to me it did not pass the smell test. From where I sat this looked like “shenanigans associated with this political maneuvering” to quote the phrase used above. I thought to myself, what about the folks that are retiring from the Board of Selectman, School Committee, and other town boards and committees. They work their tails off in the public interest, where is their acknowledgement for service rendered.

    When Sonja Strong got up to move for review of this process I admired her wisdom and courage. There was no anger or personal attack. The issue was debated and we voted on the merits. We made a difficult decision as a community.

    Alternative views are always welcome and appreciated from where I sit.

    However, I have observed over the years that there seems to be a hostile kind of self righteous attitude among a vocal minority that cannot accept the results of the democratic process, the will of the majority even when there is a huge plurality of 70 to 80%. They seem to believe there is some conspiracy, some malicious power exercised over the electorate that turns voters into zombies. I think that view was expressed above. This seems to compel some to seek to undo those results at every turn. From where I sit that attitude and effort is corrosive to the public discourse and welfare of the community.

    In a recent phone conversation with an individual after his letter to the editor appeared in which he criticized the finance committee for not spending time on an issue, I learned from him that he did subsequently meet with the finance committee to share his concern. In the phone conversation he lamented the contentious tone prevalent in the local paper on town issues. Did he report back in his next letter to the editor on this issue that he in fact met with the finance committee? No, he did not, so he let the criticism stand without correction. Perhaps it did not serve his purpose to set the record straight. Apparently he does not see his role in that climate of negativity.

    To the question posed, here are my ideas as the beginning of a solution from my perspective:

    1. Do not interpret my and others votes in favor with the majority in this case as being anything other than careful consideration on the merits as best as we could determine on the spot when the issue was not highlighted in the warrant. There are other perspectives, please respect them and acknowledge them. If you suspect a conspiracy get the facts in an objective manner and examine carefully before jumping to conclusions. In this case you would have to interview a statistically valid sample or all of the people that supported the results to accurately determine their motivation.

    2. Accept the results of the democratic process, learn from the experience, and move on. Let’s not continue to castigate the players and the voters or fight again the issues of the past.

    3. There will be a review of this issue. Let’s get the results of the review at the appropriate time for everyone’s benefit and then determine what if any further steps need to be taken or clarified.

    Barry

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    Default Ditto what he said

    Barry,

    I could not have said it better myself. Thank you.

    I was so uncomfortable by the vote that I did not vote. I was disappointed with both sides. First, I did not appreciate being asked to vote for a group of individuals that I don't think have added that much value to Wayland. Yes, they work very hard to promote their agendas in town. However, I don't think they have moved this town forward. Litigation initiated by several have cost this town more than any cutting of salaries could save. If like minded individuals want to honor this group of citizens that is great - just don't do it at town meeting and ask the town to support you.

    However, I don't think this issue was so important that it needed to cause such a major disruption at town meeting. Just let them have their fun and move on. Sometimes we should simply laugh at those who take themselves to seriously.

    Liz

    Liz

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    Quote Originally Posted by Liz Burns View Post
    Barry,

    Yes, they work very hard to promote their agendas in town. However, I don't think they have moved this town forward. Litigation initiated by several have cost this town more than any cutting of salaries could save.
    Right. The safety of our drinking water, streets, and athletic fields is of absolutely no concern. Anyone impeding progress by raising questions about these issues should be run out of town on a rail. It's the Wayland Way!

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    First, let me express my admiration for Barry Nystedt's thoughtful and well-written post above. I agree with every word of it.

    On the other hand, I have no respect for Jeffrey Baron's comments above. If you strip away his hissy-fit language (redolent with clichés like "a travesty of all that is decent and just", "They have torn apart what was once a peaceful town", "communist-era Soviet tactics", "silence those who don't support the party", "a black mark"), his argument comes down to these few points:

    1. Mr. Baron thinks that the six people whom the PCC proposed to recognize were deserving of the honor (not surprising, since they were among his very visible supporters during both of his unsuccessful bids for election to the School Committee). My opinion is otherwise as to three of the six, the same as to one of the six, and neutral as to the other two. Many people with whom I speak have other combinations, most of which tend toward disapproval. Kim Reichelt articulated a simple litmus test, writing above: "Imagine, for a moment, if the PCC had decided to honor SOSWayland for their contributions to the town. Do you think that might have been divisive? Do you think others might have been bothered by it, or would the town unanimously and in good cheer voted in favor of such an honor? Answer that honestly, and you'll understand the problem -- those awards are simply not supposed to be political." To this, Mr. Baron answered "I think a large group of people would have been pissed for sure". Despite this candid agreement, he seems not to have realized that he'd conceded the basic point: that Town Meeting should not have been asked to honor one group or the other … or for that matter any group of people who have in common a partisan political viewpoint with which others strongly disagree.

    2. Mr. Baron stated that the six would-be honorees were embarrassed, writing "This issue would have been far more professionally handled offline so as not to make it a show and embarrass citizens of our town publicly." The blame for any such embarrassment (which was painful to watch) was caused by the PCC. In the first place, the PCC should have heeded advice from the Selectmen and others that a one-sided recognition of partisan political people was the very essence of divisiveness in this election season, and that many Town Meeting attendees would be (in Mr. Baron's word) "pissed". Second, the PCC violated established and common-sense procedure by presumptuously calling the six would-be honorees to the front of the room and handing them "awards" before Town Meeting had even voted on the matter. The PCC should first have made its motion, and only if and when Town Meeting had passed that motion should the six people have been called forward and presented with their "awards". The PCC bobbled this matter from the outset, and hundreds of people at Town Meeting voted not to accept their recommendation and to refer the matter to the Selectmen instead.

    3. Mr. Baron called Sonja Strong's amended motion (to refer the matter to the Selectmen for review/report) "disingenuous". It's not clear what Mr. Baron thinks was "disingenuous", since this was a pretty straightforward motion to rein in the PCC's expansion of its mandate. My view is that it was an exquisitely tactful motion, since it avoided what would have been an ugly debate on the merits of awards to the six individuals (and a likely majority vote against the "awards"). Few people in Wayland have and deserve the reputation for probity that Mrs. Strong enjoys, and this virtue was on display when she made her motion.

    4. Mr. Baron's hostile comments about SOS are just plain silly (although they are understandable in light of his own failed candidacies). To suggest that SOS "calls the shots" even on such matters as Article 2, and that hundreds (thousands?) of voters mindlessly fall into line is too ridiculous even to be insulting.
    Last edited by Steve Perlman; 04-18-2009 at 01:05 PM. Reason: elimination of unbecoming snarkiness

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    Default SOSWaylandeNews.com -- again!

    Steve Perlman's purported clairvoyance, and its inaccuracy, is demonstrative of his inability to grasp the point and focus, as usual, solely on personally debasing me. My point all along was that the honorees are people, long-time residents of this town, who didn't deserve to be embarassed in front of Town Meeting. It makes no difference whether I agree with this honor or not, whether people voted for me or not (for the record, I have no idea if everyone on this list voted for me). What I cared about was the fact that a certain group of people saw fit to treat their neighbors like dirt in public and drag Town Meeting into the mud. That has, sadly, become the norm here and I, for one, am not willing to sit back and watch it happen without comment. The kind of lessons it teaches our children, as an example, are obscene.

    I'm used to be dumped on personally by people like Steve, and yes, it is hard to take because I too am a person, a father, and a generous volunteer in many good causes both here in Wayland (and elsewhere). Agree or disagree, that's fine. Personal attacks have no place, though. It is because of that very experience that I choose to stand up for others who face personal vilification.

    Your nastiness aside, it takes a heck of a lot of effort and teflon coating to run for office in this town. What I find most interesting is that you (and others like you who lob stones from behind the protection of your keyboard) have never, not once, met, called, spoken to or, communicated with me one-on-one in the ten years I have lived in this town. Yet, you deem my effort to volunteer as two failed candidacies and you mock me because of it. 1300+ others deem it as the most successful write-in campaign in town history, run in a five-week period AND an on-the-ballot run which lost by 70 of 3500 (approx.) votes. Not bad given the obstacles. In the immortal words of one of the co-heads of SOS in 2008's race, "we pick who runs for school committee, and we didn't pick you."

    Thanks for proving once again, Steve, that this site is owned and operated as a mouthpiece for a single point of view only. Your opinion in defense of this group is no less ridiculous that your thoughts on my opinion. I should have known better than to expect a dialogue here that was anything other than excessively "snarky" (editing aside in your last post). Your diatribe also reminds me that we have to continue to fight for a Wayland where everyone has a voice and differences in opinion are not seen as acts of war or invitations to publicly take down the other side to prove who is more powerful.

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    Mr. Baron doesn't dispute what I wrote. He merely attacks my motives, reasserts his belief in his own worthiness, and invokes some higher purpose. None of that calls for a response, except:

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Baron View Post
    "debasing me", "a certain group of people saw fit to treat their neighbors like dirt in public and drag Town Meeting into the mud", "obscene", "personal vilification", "nastiness", "excessively snarky" , "diatribe"
    Typical over-the-top rhetoric.


    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Baron View Post
    In the immortal words of one of the co-heads of SOS in 2008's race, "we pick who runs for school committee, and we didn't pick you."
    This sounds like some cheap dialogue from a 1940s gangster movie. I didn't believe this purported quote the first time Mr. Baron offered it, and I don't believe it now.

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