Opinion: Florida Legislature, House Speaker, Squeezing Public Universities

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Florida’s public universities have not, as of yet, attained the prestige that states like Michigan, Virginia and North Carolina can claim for their flagship universities.  This is understandable when you take into consideration that Florida is a young state whose population growth and wealth didn’t take off until the 1970’s.  Even now, many of its wealthiest residents grew up, were educated and made their money elsewhere.  Consequently, small population and nominal private endowments have historically limited Florida’s universities.

This began to change in 1985 when the University of Florida attained membership in the American Association of Universities (AAU).  The AAU has rigorous membership standards and its members are widely viewed as the most elite of American universities. In fact, Florida State University has targeted membership in AAU as one of its highest goals as it seeks to grow its stature and reputation. Given their growth, greater research dollars and more accomplished student bodies, the University of South Florida and the University of Central Florida are also logical candidates to attain “flagship” status and then one day seek AAU membership.

These are lofty goals and will be very challenging for each university to meet.  However, they are important goals that will bring vast benefits to the state and local communities, as universities are massive economic engines unto themselves. Going from good to great is never an easy endeavor, but Florida’s universities have faced massive headwinds in the last few decades and now face a new potential challenge to their success.

The first headwind arrived in the early 2000’s when Florida’s legislature reneged on its commitment to fund matching gifts to the Alec Courtelis Facilities Enhancement Grant Program.   One can only imagine the quality of the facilities that would exist on Florida’s campuses had this program endured.  The state then created a redundant and convoluted governance system for higher education that remains wasteful, confusing and illogical. Then, Florida’s Governor imposed a rigid mandate against tuition increases on the universities, despite Florida schools already having nearly the lowest tuition in the country, all while keeping uniform pricing across the entire system, further devaluing the education at our best schools.

If these challenges were not enough, all of this occurred during a time of budget cuts and decreased funding that leaves Florida’s best universities with state funding per student down by 22.7% since 2008.  State funding as a percent of total operating budgets is also way down.  In short, the universities have been lied to, given more grief and supervision, less money and even less authority to determine their own prices or control their own destinies.  And now House Speaker Richard Corcoran is proposing to make things even worse, picking a gratuitous fight over state-paid fundraisers and public records of university foundations.

For his part, Corcoran, holding degrees from private colleges, has no meaningful ties to our state university system.  But it is still difficult to see the motivation for his recent foray into higher education fundraising operations, other than a desire to score political points on some easy targets that can’t fight back.   Had Corcoran sought to determine why there are no conservatives on our campuses, or insight into the liberal bias at our schools, as pointed out by Professor Paulson of USF in a series of articles on the subject, one might at least understand his motivation.  This pursuit, however, just makes no sense.

Years ago, the state created Direct Support Organizations to enable quasi-private, non-profit groups to support our universities and their missions with scholarships, athletics, and other fundraising activities.   These DSO’s include Alumni Foundations, Science Foundations, Booster groups and other entities.

Some of these organizations have employees who are FTE’s of the State of Florida.  Given that the role of these employees is to raise private dollars for state universities, it seems logical that they be state employees.  Because they are, however, the Florida House has argued it has a right to access all the records of these Foundations and has, on at least one occasion, turned information over to the public that the organizations believe are NOT in the public domain.   Corcoran’s goal seems to be to embarrass some of these groups for spending large sums of money on employees, travel and fundraising activities, even without knowing the affect or efficiency of these expenditures.

There should be no doubt that the salaries and state-paid travel for these groups and employees does, in fact, belong in the public domain, but Corcoran seems to want to go further and bring more and more information into the Sunshine and place strict limits on many of the activities of these organizations.

With plenty of waste in an $82B state budget to explore, Corcoran’s focus on these small groups makes the Speaker look like a bully, simply trying to score political points for himself. To add insult to injury, despite years of being kicked around by the legislature, our universities are thriving in many ways, and now, with state funding levels at all-time lows, the Speaker wants to kick the fundraisers in the teeth simply because he can and he knows they can’t fight back.

While this may or may not affect the morale of the fundraisers, what is more dangerous for the universities is if donors believe their contemplations, deliberations and other communications with state universities is a matter of public record. These benefactors may, instead, choose to work with charities that don’t embarrass their donors by making their information public.  In other words, big donors will not communicate with our universities and critical fundraising will suffer.

If Corcoran has a legitimate motivation or purpose for his inquiry, he should reveal it and get to the point of making his point.  If he does not, we implore him to move on, pick a meaningful fight, like the corruption that goes on in legislative fundraising where pay-for-play tactics seem more apparent every year and disclosure gets even more limited.  Just think how strong Florida’s universities could be if our legislators raised money for them, instead of PAC’s created for no other purpose than to pad the pork barrels of the politicians that run them.   Now that fundraising could use a good review!

Comments From Facebook

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John T. Clark: Maybe the universities need to stop being so politicaly left.
Posted ON : 04/04/2017
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Russell de Grove: How many conservatives really want to teach college?  
Posted ON : 04/04/2017
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Kimberly Tefft: How many are allowed to or hired ? Not many. Russell de grove  
Posted ON : 04/04/2017
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Barbara Levins: Kimberly- you have got to be kidding! Politics does not have to do with qualifications! Do you know FSU President Thrasher is republican?  
Posted ON : 04/04/2017
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Amber Waves: Hard to believe they're too far to the left when far right billionaires are being allowed to dictate curriculum with their donations.  
Posted ON : 04/04/2017
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Linda Crane Thomas: Barbara Levins, you are so right. In Florida, after term limit is up the Republican politician looks around for a University president vacancy.  
Posted ON : 04/04/2017
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John T. Clark: I'm sensing a lack of differentiating between teacher/professor and President of an Institution. Indian or Chief ?  
Posted ON : 04/04/2017
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David Lee Snyder: Jacksonville let stores poison your families and kill your kids right there in the park
Posted ON : 04/04/2017
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Kimberly Tefft: Are you an idiot?  
Posted ON : 04/04/2017
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Matt Presnell: well I have no problem with the legislature using lesss tax dollars to fund them. I do think they should be able to raise private funds all they want. To restrict this is just stupid! This is what we want is not for the tax payers to have to pay for things they don't have to when private funding can fund them and not costing us the tax payers more money. So not on board with this restricting private funding part. I am on board with cutting tax dollars in lue of private funding. JMT!
Posted ON : 04/04/2017
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Yogi Seay: Turn on the news all you see are brain washed , cry baby's, protesting everything, needing safe zones from what themselves .
Posted ON : 04/04/2017
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Barbara Levins: Of course you see crybabies, etc when you turn on news! That is what the news reports, to get your attention. Rile you up. It is a VERY small number of students letting the world know they are unhappy. MANY students are attending college for their education. 2 of my grandchildren are in college. One is a Republican who supports our President, and the other dislikes him( also Hillary). Neither is out there raising hell. None of theirmany friends, either. I am so tired of people categorizing all college students as ruffians, etc. They are much more in touch with the world than any previous generation.  
Posted ON : 04/04/2017
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Yogi Seay: Point well taken thank you, and congratulations on your kid's in college , I have know problem with anybody protesting for their rights to anything, but when you see the fighting and burning buildings and car's and all the disrespectful thing's going on , and the hate it's just wrong , and I hope this doesn't offend you but if people don't turn buck to god , we are all up the creek with out a paddle. Thank you ma'am.  
Posted ON : 04/04/2017
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Henry Steele: Thanks for redeeming yourself, Yogi! Courage, honesty, humility . . . you exhibit them! LOL  
Posted ON : 04/04/2017
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Linda Colson Preston: Bad move Legislature! That's every bit as deceitful and wrong as them saying the Lottery $ was to ENHANCE education. Instead, they replaced education funding (such as it is) with Lottery $ ; not the Enhancement that was promised. Someone correct me, if I'm wrong.
Posted ON : 04/04/2017
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Elizabeth Mohr White: Very true and dishonest of them!  
Posted ON : 04/04/2017
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Brian Scheick: you're not wrong  
Posted ON : 04/04/2017
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Kimberly Tefft: Oh the horror let's not be like Berkeley.
Posted ON : 04/04/2017
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Barbara Levins:   
Posted ON : 04/04/2017
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Mike Brinza: Florida doesn't like educated inhabitants. We are the enemies of the State, as we recognize stupid policies and speak out against them. The uneducated can be driven like cattle.
Posted ON : 04/04/2017
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Rodney C Ferguson: What an unadulterated crock of shit.
Posted ON : 04/04/2017
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Mike Shimek: University of Florida sure seems to have plenty of money. They are expanding and building like crazy.
Posted ON : 04/04/2017
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Barbara Hamley: What a good plan. Let's keep Floridians undereducated.
Posted ON : 04/04/2017
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Jeff P Bergman: Schools have LOADs of fat, including overpaid liberal professors. They have VERY rich alumni. The State has EVERY RIGHT to cut back payments.
Posted ON : 04/04/2017
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Brian Scheick: alumni are not required to annually pay for their almamater  
Posted ON : 04/04/2017
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Jeff P Bergman: No kidding. They get gifts and endowments all the time. Easy for them to fil any holes taken away by our Conservative fiscally responsible legislature  
Posted ON : 04/04/2017
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Nancy Kane: Good old Scott.
Posted ON : 04/04/2017
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Joseph Barnett: MONROE COUNTY, OH - Yesterday, the US Geological Survey reported an earthquake in Monroe County with the epicenter located at 39.6663º N, 81.244º W. The 3.0 magnitude earthquake was located in the Marietta Unit of the Wayne National Forest. Approximately 40,000 acres of the forest are slated for hydraulic fracturing (fracking) by the Bureau of Land Management.

Earthquakes in the area are fairly unusual, especially at such a magnitude. US Geological Survey has linked induced seismicity to wastewater injection facilities and active oil and gas fracking wells. There are four wastewater injection sites located within 20 miles of the epicenter. In 2016, these injection wells accepted 8.3 million barrels of wastewater polluted with a dangerous mix of salt water, hazardous chemicals, and radioactive compounds, and approximately 90% of this waste is trucked in from out of state. Additionally, seven utica shale fracking sites within five miles of the epicenter.

Jen Miller, Director of Sierra Club Ohio, Makes the Following Statement on Earthquakes in the Wayne National Forest

“The science is clear, cradle-to-grave, fracking is risky and dangerous to our air, water, and communities. Yet, fracking activity continues near two of our state’s most precious resources - the Wayne National Forest and the Ohio River, and, if BLM has its way, will expand.

“We call upon the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to cease and withdraw all plans for fracking in Ohio’s only National Forest.

We ask Ohio Department of Natural Resources and Governor Kasich to work with federal authorities to fully investigate its causes and to protect the public from any serious risks that fracking in the area could cause.

Furthermore, we ask the Governor to keep our clean energy progress going, because energy efficiency renewable energy are clean, safe, and cheap.”
Posted ON : 04/05/2017
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Wade Bentley: O..are you a professional nut.? .1..how far is the Caribbean Plate from the Keys.? 2...how far are the Mountains of Cuba.? 3..why not complain of China drilling for Cuba and Brazil financed by Obama.?  
Posted ON : 04/05/2017
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Emory Goodrich Jr.: Ahh let's see I can tell you are against Fracking I am not, another thing you forgot to mention is that parts of Ohio, Virginia, New York and Pennsylvania have a fault line they are sitting on which could cause guakes at any time. My brother-in-laws farm about 150 acres sit right on top of it. But as I said you would never mention that. You want to put out what you think is truth and that's ok as long as you talk about the Earthquake Fault Lines as well!  
Posted ON : 04/05/2017
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Mikey Holstein: Good luck with Ohio. There's more oil there than there ever was in Texas.  
Posted ON : 04/05/2017
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Bart Mancuso: Gerrymandering has made our Legislature full of Republicans who don't give a damn about the poor n middle class.
Posted ON : 04/05/2017
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Maria Dladla: Horrible lawmakers! !
Posted ON : 04/05/2017
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Maria Dladla: Why is gerrymandering not taken to court in Florida. I'm sure that's the reason majority of the Legislature is Republican. It should be illegal!!
Posted ON : 04/05/2017
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Wade Bentley: WoW...that's great...I Love it.
Posted ON : 04/05/2017
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Wade Bentley: Y'all can't define gerrmandering.
..not without a D...that's silly.
Posted ON : 04/05/2017
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Donna Heald: It's isn't about political left or right, its about greed. Its about privatizing every single public entity that isn't putting money in GOP pockets. #followthemoney #greedisdestroyingamerica #selfishnessisavirtue. But #midtermsarecoming and #innovember2018wewillremember Time for representatives who aren't out to enrich themselves on our dime!
Posted ON : 04/05/2017
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James Vaught: Actually, I think it's more a case of legislators getting tired of universities creating absolutely worthless degree programs; they're using the power of the purse to try to wring such programs out of the university system.
Posted ON : 04/05/2017
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James Vaught: Perfect examples are sociology, women's studies, African American studies, social welfare (or social work). Those are just off the top of my head, I'm sure others can list other programs that fit the mold.  
Posted ON : 04/05/2017
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Laurinda Murphy Norris: I hope that in your charmed life, you never need the services of a good social worker. You obviously have no idea the many places their services are necessary. Judging by you name, I will assume you are male, thereby seeing women's studies as totally unnecessary. I am also willing to guess that you are white, based on the fact that you see African American studies are unnecessary. There is far more to education than just being able to do accounting, nursing, teaching, etc.  
Posted ON : 04/05/2017
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James Vaught: My ex was one (social worker). A college degree in the field is not necessary to do the work. That's why I say it's a worthless degree. Wlomen's studies is another, even more worthless (if possible) than a social work degree.  
Posted ON : 04/05/2017
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Emory Goodrich Jr.: People forget that Colleges and University were at one point never ever funded by the government they were always private, alas the government decided to help by giving grants and free money to help the underprivileged so to speak. Which to some became an entitlement. But to others they have to get a loan to pay for their education like I had to, and paid every dime back. No Government money period! I think it should be pulled and everyone who goes should pay for their own education, then they would appreciate it a lot more. Give scholarship's to those who deserve it only whether they are athletic or not. I think it's time for the free rides to end, I know a lot won't agree but hey it's my thoughts and opinions anyways.
Posted ON : 04/05/2017
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Steven Christman: Clearly, you got robbed. You can't spell or write a coherent sentence. FSU?  
Posted ON : 04/05/2017
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Emory Goodrich Jr.: Lol  
Posted ON : 04/05/2017
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James Vaught: Emory: I have no objection to publicly supported universities and colleges IF the degrees granted have some useful purpose, such as in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), or History or English or foreign languages. Where they've gone off the tracks is with worthless degree programs like sociology, social work, women's studies, African American studies, and the like.  
Posted ON : 04/05/2017
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Mikey Holstein: State funding would be possible for the universities if Medicaid programs weren't paying such high prices for sub-standard healthcare. Tallahassee Memorial nets 2mil a day. Why? Why are medical bills so over-priced? Just to drain the system? Big pharma is big business. Truth is, the healthcare industry is driven by industrial giants that produce a huge amount of waste product sulphur. The only way to safely dispose of the sulphur from oil refineries is to feed it to people in small doses that they call prescription drugs. Good medicines don't get patented because they don't use sulphur in the manufacturing process, and aren't profitable,.. even in externalities. There are a lot of elderly people in Florida, so here is where we should confront the issue. Not to mention the college kids need us, too.  
Posted ON : 04/05/2017
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Joseph Barnett: My family got out of Appalachian poverty and kept their family farms by government WPA, CCC, and GI bill. Blacks didn't get those or rarely. We should have more options like these. A lot of us got through college working Summers and being very frugal. Is that still possible? My relatives that didn't have college had great jobs at auto companies with great pay, great health care, and great pensions. Youth don't get that much. I am against welfare but we have to have better options than I got mine. Thanks
Posted ON : 04/05/2017
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George-Harriet Issner Waas: How dare the legislature appropriate funds so universities can teach such horrible hoaxes like climate change and global warming, or such outlandish things like equal rights under the law regardless of race, sex or gender. It's all those darned liberals' fault that we have such goings on today. Where are those great leaders like Strom Thurmond when we need them!
Posted ON : 04/06/2017
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Laurinda Murphy Norris: I would like to think your intent was sarcasm. I hope I am right.  
Posted ON : 04/06/2017
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George-Harriet Issner Waas: Absolutely. But this is the far right's view of these matters.  
Posted ON : 04/06/2017
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Evie White Reakes: The irony in this..... "our" esteemed legislators "appropriated" the funds generated by amendment 1 (water and land conservation) for operating expense. Yet, their moral compass is swinging once again toward FL's higher ed system. SMH...
Posted ON : 04/06/2017
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Mikey Holstein: The "flush factor" must be getting expensive. I miss the days before corporations were seeing on-campus dollar signs.

That said, I see how the state budget in Florida is stressed by the exorbitant cost of health care, with (correct me if I'm wrong) 67% of the state budget going to Medicaid, but shouldn't these universities streamline the cost of operations instead of shoaling out huge sums to contractors for new facilities? Rovetta, home to FSU College of Business, is a cinder block building built in the early days,.. and it worked just fine to provide the students a place to learn. The campus building facades are beautiful, the landscaping and greens are amazing, and the campus is relatively safe. A few of the dorms could use renovating, but all in all, we're talking about the flush factor (how many students are flushing the toilet everyday). A class of 30 students, or a class of 400 costs about the same to manage, besides the fact that they may have to use to john.

Hiring and paying decent professors, top tier research facilities, expanding curriculum into gainful areas of business, science and commerce should be funded by the corporations hoping to recruit from the university system. I think what we're getting at, here, is that there is no major area of business, commerce, or science that is willing and able to provide the funding for state universities as they would for private universities, simply because they will not see a return on their investment.

What these state universities need to do, instead of building new and expensive athletic complexes (eh hem, Florida State) is streamline their operations. Not lay-off employees or hire in part-time adjuncts that don't really care about what they are doing, but streamline their operations and possibly create programs that bring a product or service to the market to possibly add to the university's budget funding. The students could do this, themselves.

I don't know.. That's all I got.
Posted ON : 04/06/2017
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Mikey Holstein: The "flush factor" must be getting expensive. I miss the days before corporations were seeing on-campus dollar signs. Starbucks etc

That said, I see how the state budget in Florida is stressed by the exorbitant cost of health care, with (correct me if I'm wrong) 67% of the state budget going to Medicaid, but shouldn't these universities streamline the cost of operations instead of shoaling out huge sums to contractors for new facilities? Rovetta, home to FSU College of Business, is a cinder block building built in the early days,.. and it worked just fine to provide the students a place to learn. The campus building facades are beautiful, the landscaping and greens are amazing, and the campus is relatively safe. A few of the dorms could use renovating, but all in all, we're talking about the flush factor (how many students are flushing the toilet everyday). A class of 30 students, or a class of 400 costs about the same to manage, besides the fact that they may have to use to john.

Hiring and paying decent professors, top tier research facilities, expanding curriculum into gainful areas of business, science and commerce should be funded by the corporations hoping to recruit from the university system. I think what we're getting at, here, is that there is no major area of business, commerce, or science that is willing and able to provide the funding for state universities as they would for private universities, simply because they will not see a return on their investment.

What these state universities need to do, instead of building new and expensive athletic complexes (eh hem, Florida State) is streamline their operations. Not lay-off employees or hire in part-time adjuncts that don't really care about what they are doing, but streamline their operations and maybe create programs that bring a product or service to the market that could possibly add to the university's budget funding. The students could do this, themselves.

I don't know.. That's all I got.
Posted ON : 04/06/2017
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Charl DeMarco: Leave it to our Gov.
Posted ON : 04/06/2017
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Rodney C Ferguson: What a crock of shit.
Posted ON : 04/07/2017