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Archive for Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Commission admits to violation

City says Deciphera deal will stand

December 5, 2007

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Commissioners accept responsibility for 'Open Meetings' violation

Lawrence City Commissioners accept responsibility for violating the state's Open Meetings Act. the Commission voted unanimously tonight to sign a settlement with the Kansas Attorney General's office. Enlarge video

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Open meetings settlement agreement ( .PDF )

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City commissioners Tuesday evening admitted they violated parts of the state's open meetings law by holding a closed-door executive session to discuss economic development incentives for a local company.

Commissioners unanimously agreed to sign a settlement agreement with the state attorney general's office requiring each commissioner to receive two hours of training on the Kansas Open Meetings Act. But they stood behind their decision to be part of an agreement to provide a multimillion dollar package of economic development incentives to Deciphera Pharmaceuticals, a local start-up company that was considering moving out of the city.

That decision miffed a local citizen's group, which said it now will file a new round of legal complaints about the process - including new concerns about how Douglas County Commissioner Bob Johnson conducted himself in the deal.

"No private decision reached behind closed doors without public input should be allowed to stand," said Wayne White, a member of Grassroots Action, a local political advocacy group. "We're calling upon city commissioners to do the right thing."

After commissioners refused to reopen the Deciphera issues, the group said it would file a new complaint - perhaps as soon as today - with the Douglas County district attorney in an attempt to have other matters related to the deal investigated.

In particular, the group wants the actions of Johnson examined. As previously reported, Johnson has an ownership interest of about $8,200 in Deciphera stock. He publicly declared that ownership interest prior to the County Commission taking up the Deciphera issue in October. He also filed the state-required substantial interest form reporting his ownership stake.

But a tape recording of the Oct. 24 County Commission meeting indicates Johnson took part in the commission discussion regarding the Deciphera incentives package. State law prohibits elected officials who have a substantial interest in a company from participating in the making of a contract with that company. Johnson also technically abstained from the vote, but what the recording indicated is that Johnson said he wanted to vote for the project if he were legally allowed to do so, but would abstain if the county attorney determined he had to.

An attempt to reach Johnson late Tuesday evening was unsuccessful.

Grassroots Action group wants more information about Mayor Sue Hack's role in the city's closed-door executive session on the subject. Dennis Constance, a member of the group, said he's not convinced the attorney general did enough to determine that Hack didn't illegally participate in that meeting.

Hack also owns more than $5,000 in Deciphera stock. But unlike Johnson, she did not file the necessary paperwork disclosing that interest, and it is unclear whether all her fellow commissioners knew of her financial interest in the company. She also attended a September closed-door executive session where the deal was discussed. But the attorney general last month determined Hack participated in the meeting by only her attendance and said there was not evidence to press charges against her for violating the state's conflict of interest laws.

Commissioners at Tuesday's meeting were questioned about what went on inside that closed-door meeting, but they declined to get into specifics. Instead, they said that information would be released as part of the documents - including sworn statements - that they provided to the attorney general.

The Journal-World has requested those documents. City Manager David Corliss said they will be available as soon as the settlement agreement is finalized with the attorney general, which could be as soon as today.

Commissioners received comments from several members of the business community thanking them for the work they did on the Deciphera deal, which has been projected to create up to 200 high-tech jobs.

"We should be celebrating this wonderful endeavor," said Bonnie Lowe, a local bank president, former city commissioner and member of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce board. "You all have the trust and respect of the citizens of Lawrence."

Comments

alfie 7 years ago

She speaks for all of us. NOT...... it needs to be discussed, it sounds like the milk culture thing that blew up here

Richard Heckler 7 years ago

Bonnie Lowe, a local bank president, former city commissioner and member of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce board. "You all have the trust and respect of the citizens of Lawrence." That may be a bit of a stretch.

The public knows little more now than before closed door discussions. So I was informed Monday what Deciphera is doing is a high risk venture.

Richard Heckler 7 years ago

I felt Mayor Hack should have offered more information as to her involvement from day one to present as a matter of clarification. After all it is a lot of public money going into a high risk venture. This money could have been used for rehabilitation of older sidewalks and/or a surface for the eastside hike and bike trail both of which benefit far more taxpayers than a high risk venture.

Will the elected officials and Chamber officials make profit from the sale of Dicephera products or off the sale of the building or both?

Detailed answers are necessary to clear up the following questions which were presented Tuesday evening December 4 2007. Questions for the city manager:

  1. The agenda for that meeting states: Consider motion to recess into executive session for the purposes of: 1) possible acquisition of real estate; and 2) consultation with attorneys for the City on matters deemed privileged under attorney-client relationship. The justification for the executive session is to keep matters confidential at this time. Were there two separate items discussed at that meeting, or was the Deciphera matter reflected in the possible acquisition of real estate?

  2. I would like to ask each commissioner to publicly state what he/she remembers about that meeting. And if they donâ?Tt want to do that this evening, then please state why not. Specific questions I would like answered include: Did the mayor participate in the discussion in any way, shape or form? Were the four commissioners notified during the executive session that the mayor had a financial interest in Deciphera? If so, when during the meeting? If not, when were they notified? *Was it at this executive session that the commission was informed that the deal was going to change to Deciphera buying the building?

  3. Was there any email correspondence among the commissioners either before or after the executive session regarding the Deciphera deal?

  4. Questions about DCDI: Who is the City Commission representative to DCDI? If it is the mayor, did she attend the DCDI meetings where the Deciphera deal was discussed? If so, did she participate in any of those discussion? Since DCDI is considered to be a public-private partnership, can the minutes of those meetings be made available to the public?

gkwhdw 7 years ago

I was always under the interpretation that my superiors in the law enforcement and city commision areas were to be trusted beyond the limits in any matter. Why do people always think dishonesty and trying to hide things is the way to go? We all may not be as educated or rich like our superiors, but if being dishonest is what it takes, no wonder there are more homeless and poor families in the world. I guess Sue Hack and everyone else that went behind closed doors on this deciphera deal have no conscience and really don't apparently care what's fair to all of us in this county and city. As every year passes it astonishes me how the world is changing and most have no regard what the outcome is as long as they get ahead and the rest of the world gets to have what's left over.I used to be proud of the city of Lawrence, growing up here as a kid and born and raised here, what's happened to you Lawrence,ks?

Richard Heckler 7 years ago

Will the elected officials and Chamber officials make profit from the sale of Dicephera products or off the sale of the building or both?

Do the benefits outweigh the cost? If so how was that determined? By whom?

Richard Heckler 7 years ago

Tuesday, December 4, 2007 Grassroots Action welcomes the Attorney General's finding that the Lawrence City Commission violated the Kansas Open Meetings Act when the City Commissioners, with City staff and the president of the Chamber of Commerce present, met privately to discuss giving a multimillion dollar tax break to a private company, Deciphera Pharmaceuticals.

That was the substance of the complaint that we addressed to the Douglas County District Attorney last month, which the Attorney General of Kansas has now upheld.

And we applaud the City Commission's acknowledgement of wrongdoing in this case. But we feel that, as long as the decision reached as a result of this unlawful meeting is allowed to stand, the wrong has not been righted. That was the message of the Open Letter we addressed to City Commissioners tonight which, unfortunately, they did not heed. So we hereby announce our intent to file a second, follow-up complaint.

Since we filed our original Open Meetings complaint, we have learned many troubling additional facts. Specifically, we now question and will soon formally challenge the apparent impropriety of participation by some City and County Commissioners and others in the processes leading to the Deciphera deal.

¢ The record appears to show that Douglas County Commissioner Bob Johnson participated in both the discussion of and vote on Deciphera's tax rebate even though he openly avowed a substantial financial interest in Deciphera.

¢ Lawrence Mayor Sue Hack, who initially and illegally failed to file a disclosure form revealing that she, too, had a substantial financial interest in Deciphera, attended the unlawful executive session where the Deciphera rebate was discussed.

¢ Mayor Hack is employed by the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, whose CEO/President Lavern Squier also attended the unlawful executive session which discussed Deciphera. The Attorney-General cited the Chamber's role in this meeting as a significant feature of the Open Meetings Act violation.

With these concerns in mind, among others, Grassroots Action will soon file a further complaint asking the District Attorney to see if other laws besides the Open Meetings Act have been broken. And we will seek full disclosure of the financial interests of all parties to the Deciphera deal (City, County, and Chamber) with respect to any and all financial entities linked to this deal.

Richard Heckler 7 years ago

Tuesday evening commissioners had the opportunity to make matters right yet instead chose the trail of money for a few. How much any of them know about the money trail is still a mystery however in the name of transparency and integrity it was easy enough to reopen the debate.

Oracle_of_Rhode 7 years ago

The comm$$ion doesn't have the "trust and respect" of this Lawrence citizen, but then again I'm not a bank president -- so I don't count.

napoleon969 7 years ago

Maybe, next election, we could elect some really ethical folks; like maybe a couple used car salesmen and a insurance agent. You know, someone who you can trust!!!

alfie 7 years ago

Keep in mind LOWE is trying to get the sports complex shoved down the taxpayers throat

alfie 7 years ago

The bank is now called Landmark National

toefungus 7 years ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

jayhawklawrence 7 years ago

I would like to add these questions to Merrill's:

How was the stock acquired? Was it a gift or was it purchased out right at fair market value? Was the transfer of stock used as a tool to influence our government officials? Has this company or any other company tried to use the transfer of stock or insider information as a tool of influence in order to garner favors from city or county officials? What is the amount of stock in question and what other government officials own stock in this company?

I think these are fair questions given the fact that the law was broken and a large sum of money was awarded to Deciphera which Lawrence taxpayers will pay for. And we are at risk because of the way the contract was made.

Furthermore, why have these questions not been addressed already?

pace 7 years ago

I don't know if the Dicephera deal will work, I hope it does. It should of been discussed publicly. Sue Hack should resign or be recalled. She has not been candid and obviously she is not competent.
On another note, when asked if the City could allow rural fire fighters to use a nearby city fire hydrant in case of emergency rather than wait half an hour, she said "no". Rules had to be in place. She doesn't mind rules getting in the way of someone's burning home, possibly life threatening, as long as they don't get in her way.

Ceallach 7 years ago

Because the deal was decided in an illegal meeting it should be nullified and the commission should go back to square one and make their case to the public. They have agreed to endure two hours of enlightenment . . . big deal!! Is there no way we can require this matter to be re-evaluated through the proper lens?

absolutelyridiculous 7 years ago

Question? Doesn't the city pay attorneys to keep the commission out of trouble like this? There is protocol that I'm obviously was not followed. Scarey...these folks are in charge.

craigers 7 years ago

Is 5,000 and 8,200 a substantial interest in this company? Maybe that is the reason why the AG didn't slap the commission harder. The deal is going to go through, so we should just see what happens and vote the commission out next election due to their ethics.

jafs 7 years ago

There is another option besides waiting until the next election cycle - city commissioners can be recalled given enough signatures on a petition to do so - I will receive some information from Douglas County on the correct procedures to follow. Is anyone else interested in this option?

Anyone from Grassroots Action perhaps?

aeroscout17 7 years ago

Just remember this at the next election time. Throw the rascals out!

BigDog 7 years ago

The heck with next election ...... some if not all commissioners (especially Mayor Hack) ought to be recalled and I believe these would provide the grounds for it.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years ago

Highberger definitely dropped the ball on this one, but I would ascribe it primarily to being numbed by the relentlessness of this commission's zeal to sell out to the highest bidders than to his succumbing to outright corruption as the others have.

BigPrune 7 years ago

Which banks financed that building?

Jackalope 7 years ago

Too little from the Attorney General? What did you expect? It is just one more manifestation of the Topeka/Lawrence governmental cabal.

Jackalope 7 years ago

Bozo states: Highberger definitely dropped the ball on this one, but I would ascribe it primarily to being numbed by the relentlessness of this commission's zeal to sell out to the highest bidders than to his succumbing to outright corruption as the others have.

Jackalope states: Bozo, I think you fell off the bus. This does not make any sense. If Boog was so innocent all he had to do was say "No, I will not participate." And then not go into the back room to discuss the matter. So, he was numbed? Sounds like he does not have the right constitution to complete his job. Numb, you say? Could be from a number of things. But, I would venture to say that he has been ignoring the expected conduct of a state and city employee for a long time and it is just now starting to catch up with him. I would venture to say that we need only wait for more from Boog. He has so many angles working he will drop another ball sometime.

OhHai 7 years ago

Maybe someone should take a long hard look at the C of C & Laverne Squire

Richard Heckler 7 years ago

Instead of paying out $190,000 annually to the Chamber of Commerce taxpayers should insist on Economic Development be set up within City Hall so citizens/voters/taxpayers and city commissioners can take a peek at what is going on at most any given moment.

Where public money is involved in development it seems appropriate that a mandate be passed stating all investors should be revealed as a matter of transparency and integrity in hopes of keeping white collar crime somewhat in check.

laughingatallofu 7 years ago

Defender,

please stop the ad hominem attacks. Have you never made an error in grammar in your life?

Kontum1972 7 years ago

what happened to the KBI?

City Commission: Clones of the current Administration! I thought public service was suppose to be for the Good of the people..not how well you could line your pockets...mb the IRS should be brought online and lets see who has what where? If they are pulling these kind of stunts..what else have they been up too? How about a nice audit?

thelonious 7 years ago

I agree with the comments posted here by many asking Mayor Hack to disclose when she purchased her Deciphera stake - but I also want to know how much she has invested. All we know now is that her stake is 'over $5,000' - for all we know it could be $50,000. I think the public should know the exact amount, as well as the timing.

As for the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, they are goofy, at best. Take Leadership Lawrence - their big capstone event is having teams build cardboard boats to try to float across Clinton Lake. I think they confuse the concept of teamwork with the concept of leadership. They are not the same. Leadership is speaking Truth to Power - like what would happen if our CC told the Fritzels that there would be no TIF or TDD for the Oread Inn, because it would be an inappropriate use of public money.

What I see that passes for 'debate' during CC meetings is a joke - its like ever since the Realtors slapped down Mike Rundle for his 'tone', the CC's are all afraid of making any strong statements or taking any kind of controversial stands. Sickening. We deserve better. Makes me think about running for CC, although I have neither the time, money, nor energy for it. Even though I am a business person who considers myself an independent voter, am fiscally and economically conservative and believe overall in capitalism (with appropriate government checks), I would probably be portrayed by our local developer community as a communist.

Face it - the developers run this town, they have their insiders in place, and they plan to all get rich, using public money if they can get by with it. How did this happen in Lawrence, Kansas? It's happening all over the country, but doesn't have to here. Send e-mails to the A-G - keep them profesional, but state your case. Public pressure by individuals and groups like Grassroots Action is about the only hope we have.

riverrat2 7 years ago

I imagine Bonnie has some money in this deal too or she wouldn't be talking.

Richard Heckler 7 years ago

Commissioners need be more concerned about transparency and discussing all matters openly with damn few exceptions. With issues like Wal-Mart, Dicephera,Oread Inn and the Airport Project one agenda item should be scheduled instead of always wanting to rush matters through to avoid proper scrutiny. In other words stop over loading the agenda as an excuse to rush.

I've always been curious how often applicants have conversations with elected officials prior to meeting time. How is it major projects involving economic incentives can be wrapped up in a 20 - 30 minute presentation to the CC. As a attendee and/or a watcher from home an in depth explanation as to why each commisioner voted in such a manner would be more than appropriate. "This is one of the best projects I've seen" or "Hey this looks good and I think it will work" is simply not enough.

Citizens should HEAR from EACH commissioner: Who have commissioners spoken with by name What types of analysis did the commissioners study and by whom were the analysis prepared What are the economic impacts and how do they know Why should citizens tax dollars be utilized instead of all financing going through a bank * If tax incentives are applied how will the loss of revenue be replaced

It should not be the job of the city manager to be sure they file their financial papers. Does he not have enough to do?

justthefacts 7 years ago

Once again, just the facts.

The Kansas Open Meetings Act (KOMA) only allows a court to order a "deal" to be rescinded (action voided) if (1) a petition is filed in court, seeking voidance of the alleged secret action, within 21 days of the body taking secret binding action and (2) there is proof that the ACTION was secretly taken. The vote (taking binding action) on the Deciphera agreement was taken openly, during the meeting held on 10/23/07. The KOMA violation of including someone into an executive session who should not have been there happened on 9/20/07. It was a DISCUSSION. How does a judge (or AG) force a body to "un-discuss" something? The ACTION taken on this matter happened on 10/23/07 (changing a January 2007 approved agreement) and the action was taken openly (the vote). Thus, there was no way the KOMA could have been used to void the contract. That penalty would have had to been filed within 21 days of the alleged violation of the KOMA, and the matter was not brought to the attention of the authorities within that time frame. If you want that to be different, in the future, ask the Legislature to change the KOMA rules.

kansaskev61 7 years ago

The Peoples Republic of Douglas County at it's best. When is Putin going to be a guest speaker at Lied Center?

MCwzMC 7 years ago

Hack has no class. Regardless of whether she is charged, it is absurd that she would not step down after such gross misconduct.

I would sign a petition requesting her resignation.

Here's a site that hosts online petitions - http://www.petitiononline.com/create_petition.html.

I'm not sure, however, if the online petition would comply with city ordinances. Anyone know the formalities necessary for a recall petition?

kansaskev61 7 years ago

Mayor "Hack" better watch out. Even Hugo Chavez doesn't always get his way!

justthefacts 7 years ago

In Kansas, the recall petition procedure is very strict and the statutes have to be followed in order for the process to work (get it to an election; which means that ultimately it is the VOTERS decide who turn out that get to decide whether to recall the official, it is not just decided by those circulating the petitions for signatures). Doing it on-line won't do anything but allow people to vent. Nor would a petition requesting a resignation force her to do so, even if that petition were signed by every citizen living in Lawrence. Unlike some states, Kansas is not a referendum state - where the people can force any topic to an election vote just by getting enough signatures. In Kansas, in order for a petition to have any legally binding impact, it must be a petition provided for and done in accordance with a specific law/statute.

OhHai 7 years ago

"As for the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, they are goofy, at best."

Ha ha ha ha ha ha - Very True!

ilovelucy 7 years ago

JTF: Thanks for some good information on this. Too bad that others aren't reading your facts.

BOE 7 years ago

5 December 2007 at 1:56 p.m. Dollypawpaw

" " When is Putin going to be a guest speaker at Lied Center?" "

" Dukakis was just here, a reliable body double.

Isn't that good enough? "


Probably not.

Best go with the Putin wannabe ... the one who looked into the exKGB agent's eyes, saw his soul and liked what he saw.

blindrabbit 7 years ago

With regard to Sue's involvement (even if she recused herself) in Commission action that could financially benefit her (as an owner of Dicphera) I don't think there is any doubt as to the lack of ethics. Additionally, is there any consideration given that State or Federal securities laws may have been violated (ie insider trading, fraud)??? Would this apply to others as well- - -Squire if he is a owner!!

blackwalnut 7 years ago

Hack's involvement still not disclosed, Deciphera deal stands without the public forum.

Citizens of Lawrence screwed by crooks on the commission.

blindrabbit 7 years ago

Bonnie probably set her quest for the Sports concept back by defending the action of her buddy Sue; who will trust either one now. For a former mayor supporting a sitting mayor in what is an unethecial situation smacks at arrogance. Her comment about the support of The Commission's actions by the citizens is patronizing! Machiavelli is alive and well. Oh, by-the-way, wonder if her bank is involved??

compmd 7 years ago

I think we as citizens should help our city commission, especially our mayor, face the law. I propose we attack them with a barrage of cute bunny rabbits fired from slingshots. All we need is for one brave cottontail to sacrifice himself under the shoe of Mayor Hack. Then we shall have JUSTICE. :)

toefungus 7 years ago

A simple petition can require a grand jury to look into this deal. They will have subpoena power and can get to all the players. A recall is actually more difficult. We can find out what Landmark bank has in the game, along with the other hidden players. If the public is providing benefits, we should also get stock in the company, voting stock, of course.

Sigmund 7 years ago

Dechipera is small potatoes. You may want to ask yourself why no member of the present commission nor past commissions want a to implement basic reforms. A independent audit of the City of Lawrence's finances over the last five years and ongoing yearly audits, and every LLP, LLC, and partnership must disclose the real people who will benefit from contracts, grants and tax rebates, Lawrence can register domestic partnerships but not partnerships who get our tax dollars?

Sigmund 7 years ago

I find it curious that the PLC/GRA is calling for disclosure on the Deciphera deal, but no others! ROFLMAO!

yearightdeedee 7 years ago

Lavern Squire is friends with Sue Hack, i mean friends that you go on vacation with, and friends with Bonnie Lowe. I bet that Mr. Squire has ownership in this company as well. Someone needs to seriously look into how Mr. Squire is running the Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Dept. He goes through employees like water and spends the members money foolishly. It's not right.

blackwalnut 7 years ago

ilovelucy (Anonymous) says: JTF: Thanks for some good information on this. Too bad that others aren't reading your facts.

To you it does not matter if it is moral or ethical or fair, just whether you can get away with the unethical behavior.

We need a better mayor than that.

justthefacts 7 years ago

Before going the grand jury route, those who may consider such a move a great idea may want to speak (at length) with citizens of Ft. Scott Kansas about their recent experience. They got a grand jury together to look into the conduct of local public officials. After a lot of time (and money) very little came of it. The citizens found out that a lot of things they were angry or concerned about either could not be proven and/or did not rise to the level of a crime that could be prosecuted. So before spending a great deal of time and money, it behooves those in favor of a grand jury to have a pretty firm grasp upon what laws may have been violated and what facts would be needed in order to prove the violations. Grand juries aren't all that helpful for investigating violations of civil laws or going on general fishing expeditions. If financial corruption is suspected, an independent audit might be better suited for uncovering that type of thing.

Keep in mind, if you want to avoid unnecessary frustration, that there is a big difference between illegal activities and unpopular or unwise proccedures or policy decisions involving officials' friends. I dare say there is probably not a single city official in the US that does not tend to do nice things for their friends, if they can. Current Kansas laws do not prohibit public officials from working with or doing deals with their friends. If it did, there probably would be no one willing or able to hold office.

Kristine Bailey 7 years ago

"because it is ran by bank presidents"

this is good stuff

justthefacts 7 years ago

Black walnut et al please do not assume that I do not care about moral ethical or fair behaviors. I do. Very much.

However, I also realize that there are not always laws to cover every single situation, yet. There is a difference between ideals and opinions versus factual information.

I typically do not take sides on these boards because I am trying to provide the public with factual information so that those who do care about any given issue or situation can better decide how they can best promote those ideals - given the realities of the world in which we all live.

It is one thing to deeply care about something. It is quite another to try to do something positive to promote or uphold those ideals. Simply calling people names or venting rarely gets things done to change the system. Information is power. Learning all you can about the facts and current systems allow those who care to use those facts and systems to their best advantage. If you want a change made, it behooves you to know all the facts and then take appropriate actions to bring about those changes. Venting may feel good, but it does little towards getting things done or changed!

Godot 7 years ago

Morrison has no credibility when it comes to determining what is and is not a technical violation of the law and how plea agreements should be handled:

From JW, December 6, 2007:

"Kansas City, Mo. - Kansas Attorney General Paul Morrison wants a new plea hearing in a city councilman's ticket-fixing case because the initial agreement was handled by phone instead of in open court.

Morrison said Wednesday that his office will file a motion in the next day or two requesting another hearing for Bob Lane, a councilman in the Kansas City suburb of Edwardsville, Kan. Lane pleaded no contest Tuesday to fixing drunken-driving tickets in exchange for gifts.

"It's a public corruption case, and anything that happens in a case like that needs to be done in open court for everybody to see," Morrison said, adding that he was not informed of the telephoned plea until after it happened.

Kansas law is clear that pleas need to be handled in a public hearing, he said.

"The fact it didn't happen in open court puts out an air of suspicion," Morrison said. "I just think it never looks good."

Why does the Lawrence City Commission get special treatment, AG Morrison?

Godot 7 years ago

Then again, we cannot expect Morrison to understand the seriousness of an ethics violation, considering this:

http://www.cjonline.com/stories/120907/sta_224057474.shtml

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