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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Understanding the Importance of Family

August 21 Council Meeting was unusual in that the Mayor and two Council Members were absent. Mayor Pro-tem Almquist informed us that the Mayor was off welcoming his daughter home from her mission. The importance of Family was duly noted on this special occasion for the Pike family.

Having the opportunity to speak to the Mayor earlier in the week I was impressed with the pride the Mayor had for his daughter’s missionary accomplishments while serving in the State of Louisiana. The Mayor was visibly proud of his family and it was gratifying to see that he set family as a priority. The mayor is to speak with his daughter this coming Sunday before Church members.
Council members Arial and Hughes were reported off on assignment on matters not identified. We look forward to hearing the nature and details of their service on behalf of the city.
Today, presented with the absence of half of our elected officials…..And a light Meeting Calendar…..Following on the heels of a week of non-reporting to YOU…..I would like to play catch up by refreshing your memories…..And do so by playing off of the Family Theme I started this article with.  Let us agree that we have a City Family of which we are all a part of and that there are spin offs……Relatives if you will…..City Council Family, City Employee Family, All Denomination Church Family, Stake Family, Ward Family et cetera.  As Families do…..They set around the dinner table and discuss mutual concerns and issues.  In our City Family the discussions take place in Council Meetings, or in Public Newspapers…..Or perhaps Public Television…..You get the idea.  In any event, discussion should be conducted in a civil non-threatening manner. We respect 1st Amendment Rights…..Honoring Freedom of Speech and expression of opinions.  
I have been given the opportunity to express my evaluation on the performance of City Government and Elected Officials by the Publisher of the Senior Sampler. I receive no compensation nor am I obligated to express opinions other than my own based on my observations.
While my understanding of issues and opinions may not be universally shared by everyone within the City Family I have to date felt no forms of censorship. Sure, I get the expected peer pressure from various sources within the community, but I also get the thanks from many of my fellow citizens for discussing issues they feel need to be publicly addressed.
The issues I bring forth for discussion are done without malice towards any individual……Seeking only to enlighten and inform the public and seeking redress of grievances thought to be in the public interest.
My friends, I want you to know that it has been brought to my attention that an individual holding public office has on two occasions contacted the publisher of the Senior Sampler expressing dissatisfaction with the contents of my articles seeking to influence the printing of said articles.
It is my understanding that this individual has been invited to present written testimony on issues of concern to the publisher of the Senior Sampler for public printing. To this date the invitation has gone unanswered. I remain committed to civil and non-threatening discourse for myself and those representing the public press.

Thank you, Ed Baca

Monday, August 11, 2014

City Acts as Developer- City Property Sold to Bring in Two Hotels Next to Dixie Center

August 7th City Council Meeting REVEALED what City has been doing behind closed doors at what is called an Executive Meeting….. Now referred to as a Request For Closed Session……Prohibiting Public Presence. For those not familiar with City practice……Any time Civil Litigation or the Purchase or Sale of property is to be discussed…..The City routinely bars the public from being present by declaring a need for an Executive Session as State Law permits.

As a point of interest this prevents COMPETING BUSINESSES from being present and being privy to what is going on within the local market place. To better illustrate the point and to give a sense of how big an advantage this may be to someone….. Someone with Inside Information will have the opportunity to build a personal relationship with a prospective client and be prepared to address clients concerns…..Using Councilman Almquist as an example and discounting the time he spent as Chairman of the Planning Commission…..An advisory board appointed by the Mayor and City Council his sphere of influence is immense.
Please take note…..Councilman Almquist may make a motion to move to a closed session and he gets to vote for a Closed Session….. Knowing that he can be present and privy to information that his competitors cannot access. Councilman Almquist may also vote to approve or not approve an applicant’s request for a building permit….. Commercial Building Permits usually dictate Landscape Requirements that are usually provided by a local Landscape Business…..Councilman Almquist Owns and Operates a Landscape Business…..A reasonable and prudent person may conclude that an applicant, seeking approval would know who is empowered to approve the request for a building permit and be in a position to influence the outcome.
This may explain the recent phone call I received inquiring if I was aware that Councilman Almquist’s Landscape Business was putting in the Landscape at the recently approved Jiffy Lube adjacent to the Virgin River…..The caller believed Councilman Almquist had cast the deciding vote in a 3-2 Council Decision approving the building of the Jiffy Lube. The perception of a conflict of interest is what it is…..A perception. Only the public can decide if Perception Equals Reality in public’s mind.
In order to clarify the issue I responded to the Jiffy Lube construction site and was greeted by the Project Manager of Westbrook Construction Co. I was asked the reason for my presence and I explained that I wished to confirm if Councilman Almquist’s Landscape Business was indeed providing the Landscape Services for the Jiffy Lube Project.  It was confirmed that once the building permit had been approved and issued businesses were asked to submit their bids and Councilman Almquist’s  Landscape Business submitted the low bid and was awarded the job.  I opined that Councilman Almquist was in the Landscape Business and perfectly within his rights to bid the job.
The Sale of City Property:  The City Council approved the sale of 4.176 acres of City Property (Lots 1 & 3 of the Confluence Commercial Center – Phase 1) adjacent to the Dixie Center for $12.00 /sq.feet.  City Manager, Esplin reported that the City would receive $2,182,572,00 and that Two Hotels would be built on the site. The first hotel will consist of 130 rooms and the second hotel would have 95 rooms. The money received is earmarked to complete the remodeling of the Electric Theater – Performing Arts facility owned by the City located on Tabernacle just east of Main Street.
A Little History of Property In Question: Several years ago the City acquired approximately 93 acres of land adjacent to the Dixie Center. 16 acres were purchased at a cost of 2.5 million dollars and the remaining acres were donated to the City. The Crosby family received what is believed to be a one million charitable gift tax write-off for the donated property. The land located in the Flood Way I am told cannot be built on.  The land considered to be on the Flood Plain can be built on if raised above the required level from the Flood Way.  Crosby Park now sits on a portion of this land and is located just south of the Dixie Center for the enjoyment of citizens and compliments the City’s Trail System. The City is destined to benefit financially from its role as a Developer as may the business interest of those elected to serve.  
Thank you, Ed Baca

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Protection of City Trees Forces Council to Face Reality on Code Enforcement Reform- Council Comes to Terms With Need to Act "Enforce It or Change the Ordinance"

July 31st Council Meeting may come to be known as the day Maturity arrived at City Hall…..Even the young inexperienced Councilman Hughes may have come to realize that Code Enforcement is part of the Balancing Act that keeps Individual Property Rights in line with serving the Greater Good of the City.

FINALLY….. The fear of the Class Action Law Suit filed against the city was put in proper perspective when the City Shade Tree Ordinance was presented before the Council…..The Law Suit reveals a glitch in human behavior…..Yes some representative of the city may misspeak or inadvertently fail to act in a way…..  that pleases every resident ….. But most certainly it should not be allowed to tie the hands of the City Council…..Preventing the Council from moving forward on promised Code Enforcement Reform.  The Council should be guided by sound legal principles…..But it should not permit Lawyers to take control on how the city is to be managed. No doubt individual council members should exercise self- restraint in interjecting themselves in the middle of a legal process confronting the city…..Thereby in effect mudding the waters as they attempt to act as mediators in a civil process that should only be influenced by the entire Council acting to guide city management. (I am referring to Mr. Almquist speaking directly to attorney representing plaintiffs in a legal issue confronting the city. This I believe to be sheer arrogance believing that he should serve as Judge over what the entire Council should be acting on as an elected body. I am of the opinion that Mr. Almquist may have innocently confused his calling as Stake President (Judge of Israel) with the duties and obligations of a City Councilman. Whatever his thinking may have been, the perception of undue influence or appearance of coercion being applied by a person holding TWO very important positions in our community may be deemed to be inappropriate.  Most certainly he impeded an out of court settlement and Mayor Pikes plans for improved city planning was derailed).
This council meeting brought to light that City Shade Trees …..With increasing regularity are being removed from the landscape……In violation of City Ordinance…..As well as trees planted on private property….. That as a condition of permit to build required the placement of trees on the property or the leaving of said trees in place. 20 to 30 Trees have been lost the last few months to developers. The same folks the city reduced Impact fees for so they can make a greater profit…..This appears to be the thanks the city gets and can expect in the absence of meaningful Code Enforcement. It was indicated that once building is complete some property owners merely cease watering trees and simple let them die…..There being no ongoing monitoring…..Or Inspections Criteria….. City Ordinances virtually go unenforced…..Hence the need for Code Enforcement Reform and the placement of responsibility for such matters. 
This open and frank public discussion provided a ray of hope that the Council is coming to its senses by publicly acknowledging that Code Enforcement Reform is needed….Not only for Shade Trees but in reviewing ALL city codes. My big concern now is that the Mayor will do as he said and ask Councilman Almquist (Who allegedly has violated City Ordinance in his Landscape Business) and Hughes (Who was elected on the premise that Code Enforcement efforts should be minimized and may have very well been a contributing factor in creating the confusion and disarray that Code Enforcement finds itself today). I would respectfully suggest to Mayor Pike that he consider employing the services of an Ombudsman to participate in the Code Enforcement process.
The public should be aware that statements were made by City Staff, Mayor and Council members that attest to the need for Code Enforcement Reform. Larry Shane, Parks and Facilities Manager “We have software and technology to know ownership of Shade Trees and maintain Inventory Record” Dead and dying trees are on a list now. City Manager Esplin asked Council for direction on course of action to be taken concerning Code Enforcement. Esplin stated, “Enforce it or Change the Ordinance”. Mayor Pike “Somebody needs to know”. It was established that current city ordinance provides authority to fine violators…..A course of action not now being exercised across the board. City has the power to Support Ordinance, Modify or Change. City Councilwoman Randall expressed her concerns about “Doing Absolutely Nothing”. (I was left with the impression that Councilwoman Randall was asking for the Shade Tree Board to be supported in their efforts to save city trees). Councilman Bowcutt, “Our responsibility is to make sure they know”. (Meaning the Public and Businesses should be educated on city codes and non-compliance penalties). The meeting ended with City Mgr. stating, “We got direction”. We will come back to you next meeting with an Action Plan. Review major commercial plans. Identify who will enforce, how it will be done, answer questions like…Do Churches need to comply? Finally public concerns will be addressed. It’s a start in the right direction.
Thank you, Ed Baca

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Independence Day & Pioneer Day Highlighted by Expression of Gratitude Throughout City for Blessings Received

The month of July can be looked upon as the month of gratitude for our nation’s independence and for those who suffered and sacrificed that we might find joy in blessings given us by our creator.

I will take the opportunity to utilize time given by cancelled City Council Meetings to recap a few of this month occurrences that gives us reason to be grateful…..While mentioning organizations and people who by their acts of service have touched my life…..And maybe yours as well.
Reported in July 10th City Council Meeting…..The Southern Utah Pickle Ball Association presented to the City a check for I believe, $22,600 to be used for additional lighting on the 24 Pickle Ball Courts located in Little Valley. This brought the total donated to the city to over $120,000.
Terri Kane, representing Dixie Regional Medical Center (Vice President Southwest Region-Dixie Regional CEO/Administrator) made what has become an annual appearance before the City Council…..To update the public on what is taking place at the hospital…..That truly impacts all of us and the quality of life we are able to enjoy in our communities. It was interesting to learn that Terri has worked for 30 years in in the medical field starting as a Bedside Care Giver. The public was informed that at present the Hospital has two facilities…..The Old Hospital that currently has 87 beds designated to the care of women and children, providing Out Patient Care. This facility is expected to be phased out over the next five years when it will be moved to the New Hospital Campus.
Did you know that the hospital has 300 to 350 Volunteers who give of their time in service to patients receiving Intensive Care…..That the hospital is identified as a non-profit organization that, while yes it does make money it also pays taxes……The Hospital is a blessing to the community and employees 2700 of our citizens…..Including 350 physicians. Terri said, we are a Service Industry…..We touch people…..We provide the highest quality of any of the 50 States…..We have Great People and beginning September 4th the Hospital will provide 24-7 Full Trauma Treatment Services.
Following the council meeting in which Terri Kane made her presentation I had occasion to be grocery shopping at Harmon’s. Lo and behold…..who do you think I ran into…..Yes, Terri Kane.  It seems she also has duties as a homemaker. Terri was not through for the day and it was late into the evening and I could see and appreciate the exhaustion she must be feeling as she met her duties as a wife. As my departed father-in-law use to say about exceptional people….. You cannot find a finer person. Terri Kane is top drawer.   Thank you, Terri for your service.
I was sad to hear of the loss of World War II Veteran, Sterling Davis. I am grateful to him for the close to 50 combat missions he flew which ended in his plane being shot down leaving him injured. Sterling Davis was an inspiration to me not only for his love of God and Country but for the example he was to me as a true gentleman and disciple of Jesus Christ. Thank you, Sterling Davis for your service to mankind.
I closed out my week having attended Parker Smith’s Eagle Court of Honor. I do admire and respect this young man for his dedication to service. I think of him each time I walk along the Dixie High School campus and enjoy the landscape Parker help to establish as his Eagle Scout project. I am grateful to Young Men’s President and Scout Master, Paul Clove for the leadership he provided to this outstanding young man.
I would be remiss if I failed to mention Mormon Battalion representative, Johnny Johnson who while now slow and methodical continues in his service to young men receiving their Eagle Scout award.  Johnny, my respect for your work ethic and dedication to service cannot be fully expressed.
As this month of gratitude comes to an end I look forward to the City Council addressing the “Promises Made” by then candidate for mayor, Jon Pike in which the matter of an Airport Board, Citizens Human Relations Commission, Water & Energy Board and the Reform of City Ordinances and Enforcement thereof takes place.  
Thank you, Ed Baca

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Stand Up & Be Counted for Righteous Behavior, Mums the Word When Doing Wrong

This week an ill wind blew down on us from up north as a Public Outcry was heard following the arrest of two former State Attorney Generals. Our Governor was quick to state…..We hold our Elected Officials to a Higher Standard……This is what is usually said when we encounter inappropriate behavior on the part of those elected to serve the public interest.

Those northern politicians sure know how to put predominate church values in a bad light…..Causing us to walk around with our head bowed. But alas down south in in what is known as Dixie…..Where we proudly rally to the call of STAND UP AND BE COUNTED……IT’S DIFFERENT DOWN SOUTH…..OR IS IT? Consider this…..Northern Utahn’s  investigate and actually prosecute elected officials for alleged wrong doing…..And up north they actually have a public discussion on what needs to be done to fix a problem. Boy, are they confused?   Down south we adopt the “Mums the Word” philosophy.
July 17th City Council Meeting began with Mayor Pike putting a good face on         local activities and what local politicians are accomplishing.  We are starving for GOOD NEWS and have reason for wanting to disassociate ourselves from those naughty scoundrels up north…..After all, any missteps Dixie/Municipal politicians make are done solely with good intentions and therefore it is only right that voters be kept ignorant of any wrongdoing…. Curtailing public discussion appears to be the cure for what ails City Hall.…. Our politicians are above reproach and not to be criticized…..We are expected to be supportive of our fellow church members and be polite and at all costs avoid contention. Do We distinguish between President Almquist and Councilman Almquist ? Do we hold him to a Higher Standard? Should we?  Does the phrase….. Separation of State and Religion play a role in our thinking?
Is it any wonder that Mayor Pike is so willing to STAND UP AND BE COUNTED for the good things taking place here in Southern Utah…..While shying away from even acknowledging that Code Enforcement Issues remain unanswered by the acceptable norm……Hear No Evil…..Speak No Evil and See No Evil. Those boys up north need to come down south to learn how to make distasteful conduct go away and non-existent.  Our City Attorney and Manager must surely adhere to the principle….. “Silence is Golden” or “Lawyer Up”. I thought, the Mayor, tried to step away from negative connotations that may have extended from the weeks political disclosures and bravely attempted to put a positive spin on local accomplishments.
 This Council Meeting brought to light the hiring of Richard ‘Biff’ Williams as the new President of Dixie State University. Mayor Pike stood tall exuding confidence in this new found University President who apparently exceeded academic and professional expectations….A great acquisition to the community. 
Next, and I believe more meaningful…..was the recognition of Snow Canyon High School student….. Miss Emory Moody, as the National Winner of the prestigious…..Exchange Club Award that epitomized the true meaning of “Stand Up and Be Counted” for her work and deeds of accomplishment throughout her High School Years…..Citing Scholastic and Community Service Activities…..Miss Moody received a standing ovation…..Causing her parents to feel the love and respect…..Not only from our community, but from the nation as a whole.  Miss Moody exemplified the meaning of community pride in the youth of our nation. What a wonderful experience this must have been for her parents and grandparents.  Congratulations to Miss Moody who is to receive a full year college scholarship among other honors. 
The Mayor and Council appeared ecstatic with the opportunity to use the General Fund Amendments to this year budget… the gateway to report on achievements made possible by Mayor, Council and City Manager. They need to toot their own horn, especially in the light of failure to publicly move the ball forward on meaningful Code Enforcement practices as the inadequacies of local politicians remains so apparent. It was good to hear the unveiling of the new name for the City’s multi-purpose poverty resource center. It is now to be known as “Switch Point” with the motto, “It takes all of us”……to make meaningful change in the lives of those in need….And so it may to attain needed Code Enforcement Reform. 
Thank you, Ed Baca

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Pioneer Spirit Alive & Well; Following 2 Week Absence Council Returns - Almquist Still Traveling - Council Unchained - Acts to Enforce City Ordinance on Smoke Shop

July 10th the lights were turned back on in the Council Chambers following two weeks of cancelled meetings. Playing catch up….Another Council Meeting scheduled for July 17th in Council Chambers at 5:00 P.M.

This week of Council activity began on an upbeat tempo beginning Wednesday at Fort Pierce Industrial Park. Hosted by Industrial Brush Corporation…..A Value Added Business under the leadership of company President, John Cottam…..who was kind enough to introduce the audience to his wife Joan and his two sons, James and Thomas…..all of which were active supporters and contributors in making St. George the new home for Industrial Brush Corporation. The building site is soon to be completed for this company that makes brushes for Industrial & Food Manufacturing Businesses. Helping to make this move to St. George was SITE SELECT PLUS…..formally known as Washington County Economic Development Council…..Who continues to be led by the most capable…..Scott Hirschi, Director.  Kudos and a well done to Mr. Hirschi who excels at bringing State and County Government together in a positive way. State and County business interests continue to flourish with Mr. Hirschi at the helm supported by the cast at Site Select Plus. 
Citizens of St. George should know that Councilwoman, Bette Arial was one of the first to arrive as a city representative. Cameron Cutler, Director of Public Works reported on transportation accomplishments for city. Mr. Cutler is proving to be a welcome breath of fresh air in city government……exuding a spirit of excitement for his work as a successful engineer…..And a refreshing expression of honesty and concern in city government. Please know…..Mayor Pike arrived and remained throughout the meeting. City Manager, Esplin (Who usually keeps a low profile)  and his aid, Mark Mortensen also made their presence known…..Overall, a good representation for the City with Theresa Foxley, Managing Director of Corporate Recruitment and Incentives with the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.
NOW…..If Only the city could do as well representing the City’s Interest in improving Code Enforcement Practices we might have something…. Equally  Meaningful take place……As it relates to keeping City Moral and Ethical Standards alive and well. With Pioneer Day approaching the Council did make more than a symbolic effort to show…..That it could, in the absence of Councilman Almquist, show a semblance of Moral Value…..Without fear of putting the City or Almquist in a Bad Light….As it fights a Class Action Lawsuit.  I can say this as there was no message conveyed by (The Absent) Mr. Almquist, as to his position/vote on enforcement of a City Ordinance that had to do with Revoking the Business License of Mike’s Smoke Shop for allegedly failing to comply with the Spirit of the Law…..Something we have been led to believe….. Mr. Almquist, may be well acquainted with (Spirit of the Law)….. And, may have found time or wanted to share with us had he been present. Well, council members present did have something to share with us.…..Councilwoman Randall had the courage to express her moral values and made the motion to REVOKE the business license of Mike’s Smoke Shop….. Which was, seconded by Bette Arial. Being the straight shooter that he is…..Councilman Bowcutt reminded us that he is a recovering alcoholic and expressed that his experience with substance abuse was such that he had no doubt that the owners of Mike’s Smoke Shop knew what was going on within the business. Being the consummate politician that he has evolved into…..Councilman Jimmy Hughes proceeded to waltz around the issue of a person having the right to decide what he or she might want to do with their body. (I have come to conclusion that Mr. Hughes is a Property Rights Advocate and believes that less government is better on most any issue)….. As Mr. Hughes spoke I started to uncomfortably squirm in my chair until I came to the conclusion that Jimmy has mastered the art of putting on a Dog and Pony Show…..Which I suspect he learned at the feet of our former mayor and missing city council member Almquist…..And so patiently I waited the final vote on the issue to revoke. Finally…..All, including Jimmy who finished waltzing around the issue voted unanimously to enforce a City Ordinance by revoking the business license.
There will be more to be said on those the mayor was counting on to head the review of City Ordinances and appropriate enforcement practices.

Thank you.  Ed Baca

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Importance of Oath of Office - Duty to Serve & Protect City vs Duty to Conceal Conduct of Past or Present Elected Officials- Transparency Needed

WE as a community appear to have a latent tendency to see things through Rose Colored Glasses or have a chronic infection of NOT wanting to know that Church Members may have strayed from the straight and narrow path. This is understandable since we know that ALL elected officials appear to set their moral compass by being active in the church of their choice.  Because of this essential fact we are very sensitive and reluctant to have a public discussion on matters of alleged misconduct…..AND UNDERSTANDABLY SO……NOT wanting to believe that our friends and neighbors may be subject to human weaknesses when holding public office.  HOWEVER in government, intended or unintended acts are of vital importance to a free society.  It’s how we hold government officials accountable to the public.    
Because Code Enforcement issues remain unanswered or measures for improvement are left wanting and not forthcoming….. It remains necessary for the public to demand an accounting. How much $$$  has already been spend on lawyers…..Seeking to delay and in keeping Code Enforcement Issues out of a Public Court Room, thus keeping the light of day from reaching the public. In the absence of transparency emanating from City Hall one has to ask…..WHO stands to gain from this obvious effort to deceive the public…..Who is really being protected in the shadows of darkness….. or is it MERELY a misrepresentation of facts as some would have you to believe. YOU DECIDE!
In the interest of TRANSPARENCY the completion of page xii of the Memorandum In Opposition to Motion to Dismiss filed In The United States District Court District of Utah; Central Division dated the 11th day of June 2014 is listed under item 21 and 22 of Statement of Alleged & Inferred Facts2. Filed by Aaron J. Prisbrey and Trevor C. Sanders, Attorneys for Plaintiffs.
21 Since the filing of the Amended Complaint, It has come to the attention of the undersigned that Mr. Almquist was in fact apparently “investigated” by code enforcement in 2007. Almquist told a local reporter “while he believes city officials were aware he has been conducting commercial business in an empty residential lot, hidden behind two of his rental properties, since 2007 . . . the city didn’t care and they were happy he had cleaned up the lot.” St. George Mayor Jon Pike said he is disappointed that councilman Almquist had been using the property for his landscaping business.” Michael Flynn, Did City Attorneys, Enforcement Officers Know Councilman Almquist Was Violating City Code? Is Almquist Still doing It?, The INDEPENDENT, Feb. 25, 2014. /id_5530 Did city-attorneys.-enforcement officers-know-Councilman -Almquist was violating city-code?-Almquist still doing-it?.html.
22 This specific allegation was not made in the Amended Complaint but according to Defendant is appropriate in this Motion as “”(a) district court may consider documents referred to in the complaint if the documents are central to the plaintiff’s claim and the parties do not dispute documents’ authenticity.” Defs.’ Mot. To Dismiss at 4. Since this is a document found in Defendant’s appendix, Plaintiff’s assume Defendants do not dispute the authenticity of it.
My friends this Memorandum in Opposition To Dismiss is 22 pages in length and I encourage you to obtain a copy of this public record.
Promises made during the last and I believe previous elections included a commitment by candidates to review and update City Ordinances and improve upon Code Enforcement Efforts. As of this writing NO ACTION or reports on how Code Enforcement is to be addressed or improved has been forthcoming from City Government.
THAT IS WHY it is necessary for this issue to be addressed…..Over and Over.  Until and Unless City Hall makes it a priority to keep the public informed it appears…..At least to me that Code Enforcement is to remain the mechanism in which political favors may be dispensed in support of the status quo.
What a shame that this issue cannot be resolved by publicly airing out deficiencies using the knowledge and expertise of many qualified citizens. It is my hope that the next City Council Meeting will not be cancelled so that we may move on to other topics of interest.   
Thank you,  Ed Baca