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Pike Listserv Erupts Over Rap Music at Cinema Drafthouse

A Tupac song hasn’t caused this much controversy since the ’90s.

An email listserv for residents of Arlington’s 22204 zip code has erupted with a full-fledged neighbor-versus-neighbor war of words over some profane rap music that was accidentally played at the Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse on Columbia Pike.

The controversy started when a local resident, Carole, emailed the listserv to report an incident that she found quite upsetting. She had gone to the Old Arlington Grill, the Cinema Drafthouse’s restaurant/lounge, to grab a bite to eat with a friend. Suddenly, the “raunchy” sounds of “cussing rap” music came through on the speakers.

Carole was having none of it.

“I politely asked the bartender to please change the music as I found it offensive,” she wrote. “His response? Don’t worry, the song is almost over. Next song – more of the same.”

That’s when things got a bit heated. Carole went to the manager and asked to have the last round of drinks taken off the bill, as she wanted to leave the establishment. The manager agreed to do it, she said, but the bartender continued to give her problems. She finally left exasperated and looking for justice.

“Please advise when license is up for renewal. I will object. STRONGLY,” she wrote. “Have spent too many years volunteering in this community on civic association, Arlington Civic Federation, ACDC… to have this kind of representation in our neighborhood.”

“Ok, so I am a dem, tell me all about our civil rights and freedome of speech. But I too have a right to not be offended when I visit a local establishment I have otherwise supported for the 23 years I have lived here,” she concluded. “What is next, porn tapes on the TV at the Grill?”

At that point, emails in support of or against Carole’s diatribe started flying. Cinema Drafthouse owner Greg Godbout eventually responded with a lengthy, 2,200 word apology/explanation/renunciation/call to action.

“Carole – I’m sorry you were personally offended by the music played at the grill. And while I agree the music selection was inappropriate – sometimes disappointing things happen,” Godbout wrote. “For myself I try to not let myself get carried away when they do. I try to keep a reasonable perspective of things –even if they upset me. However, when people make personal threats directly at my personal livelihood and my extended families well being – I take them very seriously.”

“I recommend to all the others on this list, before you jump to alarmist conclusions and seek out to destroy neighborhood icons – you all take a breath and check it out for yourself,” he added.

Godbout threatened to post surveillance video of the incident, which he said showed Carole losing her cool and acting in a disruptive manner. After a phone call with Carole, however, Godbout rescinded his threat in a subsequent email.

See the controversy unfold in emails, after the jump.

Flickr pool photo by BrianMKA

Here’s the original email:

This evening after visiting one of my favorite Pike places, Twisted Vines, my friend and I decided to go hear some music at PJ Brennans, we are all about supporting the Pike. When we learned the band was delayed we decided to check out the Grill at the Cinema and Drafthouse. It was 9:50 and had not yet had the opportunity to visit the grill. There were not many people in the bar and the bartender told us he was trying to shut down, we could have a drink and maybe some food and then he would shut down as they normally were only open for the pre-show crowds; ok, so far so good. The tv was showing a movie, no sound, and there was music playing in the background. First time in the Grill, like to support the Pike businesses. Happy to be there.

Others dribble in. Bartender decides to change music from Bruce Springsteen/top 40 to other music. Still ok fine. Then changes to raunchy rap. MFing this, MFing that, fU this and that. I was shocked. This in my neighborhood? is this the new Pike so many worked on to build? My friend and I had just ordered another drink. I knew for sure I was not interested in listening to cussing rap. I politely asked the bartender to please change the music as I found it offensive. His response? Don’t worry, the song is almost over. Next song – more of the same.

Went to get the manager to ask for our last drinks to be taken off the bill as we wanted to leave as we found the music offensive. Manager did go into bar and changed music, then on third raunchy song, and said he would take the charge off for the drinks we had just ordered but also needed to take the drinks away. I advised, no problem as we had not intentions of staying as we were offended by the music. No aplogy.

Bartender then sullenly gives us revised check, but no money back for the drinks already paid for. My friend has to ask for the money back he had already paid for the last round of drink. Bartenders response? “I’m not stupid. I did go to school. I know I have not given you your money back” (no explanation as to why money had not been given along with revised check.)

Left bar, left no tip. Regular customers at Twisted Vines, love Sonia and Claudia. amazing service. Had previously left there, $20 tip on $95 tax included bill. My friend, extremely generous tipper. Always. Except tonight at the Grill. Left no tip at the Grill. Tip for service right? Least that is what I learned in my many years of bartending and waitressing going through school and working three jobs when I first moved down here.

No intention of ever going back to the Grill. Ever. EVER.

Please advise when license is up for renewal. I will object. STRONGLY. Have spent too many years volunteering in this community on civic association, Arlington Civic Federation, ACDC, ESL, foster parenting, building school partnerships while at DISA, working with CPRO, to have this kind of representation in our neighborhood. Can you tell I am peeved? you betcha. No apology from manager, no indication whatsoever that anything was amiss. Ok, so maybe I am getting old, but please help me out here, is raunchy offensive rap music what we are looking for on our Pike? This is not the community I have worked hard to build over the past 3 years I have lived here. And my guess is most of you would feel the same way. Can we get assurance that we can visit our neighborhood venues without having to be exposed to vile language? Ok, so I am a dem, tell me all about our civil rights and freedome of speech. But I too have a right to not be offended when I visit a local establishment I have otherwise supported for the 23 years I have lived here. And in those 23 years I have never ever ever heard a single resident of this community use even one of the words in that music,. What is next, porn tapes on the TV at the Grill?


Carole followed up her original complaint with another email.

I love the cinema, have been going there for 23 years and love what they have done in providing various venues. Maybe because people pay to hear comics there who might have blue material it is felt by staff that patrons of the bar like that as well. And I apologize to the list serve for what I am sure will appear to some as a rant but it is one thing to choose to go into a venue where one is expecting that kind of language but totally another to be a patron wanting a drink and snack in your local neighborhood spot and having that forced on you, especially after having asked for the music to please be changed and it was the bartender who had selected the music. I have no doubt that others in the Grill were offended as well. I found the whole experience pretty stunning as when we first walked in we were pretty much told by the bartender that he was closing at 10 and we could have one drink and maybe some food and then he would close as they typically were only open preshow. Maybe he was irritated because then other customers began coming in so he was not able to close as he had planned, thought the website says they are open until 1 a.m.

I have no doubt the owners are good people and good citizens and have worked to build the community in the Pike. I hope they will look into this incident and provide assurances that neighbors will be able to enjoy their Grill without the offensive and profane music. I cannot see how attracting a crowd that enjoys listening to that type of profane music can be of benefit to our community.


The owner of the Cinema Drafthouse, Greg Godbout, eventually chimed in with a lengthy response to the complaint.


I was forwarded your comments by my wife who helps run the Arlington Drafthouse. She received your comments from a fan of the Drafthouse.

Carole – I’m sorry you were personally offended by the music played at the grill as it was not done intentionally. That is not the kind of music that is approved at the Grill. But I cannot accept, without defending, your accusations and more importantly your very aggressive and personally threatening desire to use your political connections and civic association connections to put the Arlington Drafthouse out of business.

At this point I would like to interject some facts…

(1) The music played at the Grill is strictly from one of Comcast Cable’s Music channels or an already approved ITunes collection. The particular channel that night at the Grill was the 90’s Throwback. But later in the evening the bartenders typically switch to the approved ITunes collection which is more upbeat. That evening after 9:30PM – the bartender’s phone was mistakenly set to play his whole collection of songs including personal songs. By mistake one of his Tupac Shaker songs was played.

(2) The bartender did not “change the song” – his mix inadvertently played the song he wasn’t intending. Unfortunately during this period, the bartender had gone back in to the kitchen to help with a kitchen order so was not attentive to the song selection being played when it came on. For his part, and allowing even the possibility of such a song to be played, he has been suspended for one week.

(3) The Manager on duty, who handled the situation when Carole approached him, is our lead customer service manager and he apologized to Carole profusely that night. He explained that that kind of music is not approved and it must have been a mistake. He apologizes again even while Carole was screaming at him and loudly repeating the full usage of the “F-word” and “N-word” (words used in the song). One area that we can agree on is how uncomfortable those words make people as our manager was very uncomfortable with Carole’s full usage of those words in an irate manner. He immediately followed Carole into the Grill and turned the music down. He corrected the situation by turning the music off, removing the drinks from the tab and later reprimanded the bartender for being careless with his playlist.

(4) The bartender was never asked by Carole to stop playing the music; however this was probably due to the fact that he had stepped back into the Kitchen when the song mistakenly came on. As for the bartender returning the cash slowly, he was totally flustered by Carole continuing yelling at him to just give them cash – but he was not as slow as Carole implied. Carole kept repeating loudly, “This is not my neighborhood! This is not my Neighborhood!” The bartender was trying to make sure his final deposits which include, coupons, cash and credit slips matched up. Reconciling an already batched financials (of which the bartender is responsible for) is not as simple as just returning cash. With that being said they received their refund after only 3 minutes of getting the manager. We know this because the video camera’s back up the bartender and managers story of the events.

(5) The Drafthouse maintains video cameras covering all areas of the Grill and Arlington Drafthouse. As owners we use these video cameras to help figure out what has happened when there are differing stories. The video camera clearly shows Carole not asking the bartender to turn off the music. The video camera clearly shows Carole’s arms raised and swinging. The video camera also shows that from the time the song was turned off to the time they received their cash refund was 3 minutes. You do not have to take my word on this as we will be releasing the video for all to view. I think it is fair for others to interpret the video for themselves.

(6) Responses from the other patrons at the Grill that night were very uncomfortable at the scene created by Carole. All who witnessed brought up to the bartender their shock at Carole’s actions. In the video you can see other patrons recoil in response to Carole’s yelling in the Grill. We welcome the other patrons to come forward with their prospective.

(7) The Grill basically has three purposes; (1) It has a large kitchen that has allowed us to improve food quality in the Drafthouse, (2) it acts as a lounge for patrons coming and going from shows inside the Drafthouse and (3) It runs it’s own food special events and comedy events featuring up and coming local comics. While the Grill is acting as a lounge only the approved music channels or approved music is to be played. While the Grill is hosting comedy, the content is up the individual artist/comedian and can be offensive to some. Couple that with the entertainment in the Cinema and Drafthouse and we are basically an entertainment arts venue that features everything from family friendly entertainment to very offensive material.

(8) Music played in a restaurant is protected by Free Speech – just as any other form of entertainment we provide. Restaurants are private properties. Just entering the private establishment, whether you pay a fee or not, is acceptance of that private establishment’s entertainment. Of course this does not mean restaurants can play everything. For example we aren’t allowed to play “porn” nor would we want to. While I don’t approve of the mistaken song selection that was played that night. WE STILL MAINTAIN EVERY RIGHT TO PLAY IT. I take this point very seriously. I do not look favorably upon any bullying forms of censorship – especially by politically connected and civic leaders looking to mandate their tastes.

(9) The bartender working that night is one of our best, most eager and well liked staff members (by both customers and staff). However when flustered anyone can hesitate. He is a young ex-Marine from the mid-west with a work ethic that is exemplary. However, he should have handled that situation much better (not even played it incorrectly in the first place). However, it is extremely rare that he would be purposely rude to a customer. (Note: As you’ll read below in my response, I offer you a chance to meet with me and him in a public community meeting to hear his side of the story).

(10) The Drafthouse has a great record with VA ABC and the Arlington Police. We have had very few negative events. We have a minimal rate of incidents when compared to other establishments. Even John [REDACTED]– who unfortunately offered his support to Carole during this discussion – has written me personally to congratulate me on how well we do in this area. In fact the manager taking your drinks away after crediting them is ABC Law. He also did it because we also have a policy to not serve people that appear to be out of control. I am not saying you were intoxicated, but your level of anger exhibited in the grill that night was very concerning to staff and other patrons. Your desire to target our ABC license to put us out of business is nothing more than using political connections to unduly apply government pressure. Our actions that night were directly in line with ABC policy and I’m proud of our Manager for handling himself so well.

(11) The Drafthouse under our management has been one of the most supportive pro-Columbia Pike neighbors. As new restaurants come in and seek out promotional help we often promote them to our 30K+ email list and 10K+ Facebook page. When famous national comedians are in town performing at the Drafthouse, we encourage them to go to P. Brennans after the show and eat at other Columbia Pike restaurants to help spread the wealth. We are, more than most businesses I know, an extremely generous and giving neighbor to the retail restaurant community.

(12) Even though this incident was a mistake – The Grill is not the only entity to have played offensive material on the Pike. P. Brennans frequently features live Irish singers that have used offensive language. The Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse features movies with curse words and nudity. The Grill sponsors two up and coming comedian events per week ($5 on Thursday and Free on Saturday) that can be interpreted to be more “offensive” then Tupac. Those two Comedy events are the most popular events at the Grill. Nearly every lounge/restaurant on the pike offers some sort of entertainment (open mics, karoke, DJs, or Comcast Cable Music) where at a minimum the occasional curse word can be heard. If you insist that we must be shut down then they ALL must be shut down. Of course, at other times, we offer family friendly entertainment at the Drafthouse and a lounge atmosphere at the Grill where we feature typically non-offensive background music. I would not allow our cust
omers’ who enjoy the more offensive content to dictate my family friendly programming just as I would not allow easily offended customers to dictate our late evening programming. I look at sales and customer demand for that.

Carole – I’m sorry you were personally offended by the music played at the grill. And while I agree the music selection was inappropriate – sometimes disappointing things happen. For myself I try to not let myself get carried away when they do. I try to keep a reasonable perspective of things – even if they upset me. However, when people make personal threats directly at my personal livelihood and my extended families well being – I take them very seriously.

A reasonable response for your unfortunate bad experience would be to choose to not come to the Drafthouse – which is your choice. Our challenge as owners is to entertain at the right balance so more choose to come than stay away. The bartender’s mistaken choice of music that night unfortunately chased a customer a way. Believe me that is punishment enough for us. However, Carole, you would choose to not only rally the entire neighborhood to boycott us – but to also shut us down.

We will never be able to please everyone with every selection of entertainment mistakenly programmed or not. Customers with free choice to come and go seems to be a fair arrangement to me.
On occasion, we have had people walk out on live comedy content or movie content due to the individuals being personally offended or it not being a match in entertainment taste. Recorded music in our lounge is no different. However, Carole, you are the first to seek the closing of a popular business in response to you feeling personally offended. You also have the political connections to cause us great harm even though your complaint is unfounded. This makes us tremendously nervous and we will be seeking statements from other Democratic Party leaders in Arlington as to their position.

Your desire to close the Drafthouse down due to this content, I find to actually be the most offensive item during this entire discussion. It is particularly personally offensive and threatening to me – because my family and I have sacrificed everything to keep the Drafthouse alive and vibrant… during very difficult times. Your desire to incite the neighborhood against us without first seeking the owners out (especially considering I believe we have met before) I find to be a disturbing vengeful act and not based on any open communication or understanding. Your vengeful ambitions are misguided and reflect more poorly on you then an innocent unattended mistake of music programming does on us.

Additionally – Inferring that an unintended Tupac song will lead to “porn tapes on the TV at the Grill” is altogether ridiculous, inciting, desperate and not based in reality. There is no reason to FEAR – this will not lead to increased gangs or porn on Columbia Pike.

If you would like to continue this conversation, I would gladly discuss this with you in-person at any community group meeting – please call me directly at [REDACTED] to set this up. Because you choose a public forum I think it should continue in a public forum. I am very busy but also very approachable. I’ll even bring the bartender and manager in question – so everyone can see for themselves and hear personally from the people involved. We love this neighborhood as my wife & I, and my cousin all live within walking distance to the Pike.

I recommend to all the others on this list, before you jump to alarmist conclusions and seek out to destroy neighborhood icons – you all take a breath and check it out for yourself. We will be posting this letter along with communication from the list serve on a website so everyone has access to the discussion that has taken place, including responses in support of Carole. We will also post the video so others can interpret it for themselves. We will promote this to our email list to garner support to defend our Free Speech rights.
Additionally– this has inspired us to create an Arlington Free Speech organization to defend the entertainment interests of Free Speech advocates in Arlington.

Greg Godbout

Other local residents also weighed in.

You know, I would have left as well.

That said, I find your over-the-top threat of opposing venue licenses absurd. Did the bar serve minors? Create a public nuisance? Last I looked, playing music with foul language is not a capital offense. And I certainly don’t want to see our neighborhood become one where folks think they ‘have a right not be offended when I visit a local establishment’. Where exactly is this ‘right not to be offended’ set down in law? Who decides offensive? One man’s offense is another’s entertainment. By all means, complain to the manager, tell your neighbors about your experience, shout it from the rooftops. But kindly don’t appoint yourself as moral arbiter for the Pike and threaten to bring the heavy hand of government down on a small business that is causing no disturbance. If enough folks don’t like the establishment, they will either (a) change the music and get a more polite bartender or (b) go out of business for lack of customers. Either option solves the problem.

Meanwhile, you can do what most of us do when we find something not to our liking. Leave.

Just my 2 cents.

Adam [REDACTED] S Quincy St

So you would except a porno theatre or a strip joint on Columbia Pike? If anyone feels a business is offensive and/or a nuisance they have every right to complain to the appropriate people and challenge liquor or any other type of license. To infer otherwise is unAmerican and PC run amok.


John, you sound like the extremists that have driven our political system into the ground. Really strip club, porn shop, cinema draft house bar, I don’t see the connection. In this case the business itself is not offensive, the experience was bad.

The experience as described is not grounds for contesting a liquor license. To do so simply wastes time and resources.

All the best,


I can only conclude you are being deliberately obtuse. Nowhere in my comments have I even addressed strip joints or porno clubs. They’re not germane to the issue. We’re talking about a bar that played top 40 rap music. Nowhere in my comments did I say that we should be ‘good little boys and keep quiet’. In fact (to bore those on this list serve who actually read what people write), I said ‘complain to the manager, tell your neighbors about your experience, shout it from the rooftops.’

The point of the comment (as it’s lost on you) is that the common-sense response to a business who is rude to you but is violating no laws is to complain to the management and tell others about your poor experience. Business thrive from word of mouth; if enough people agree that the customer service is poor, it will close.

Why on earth you feel the need to involve the Arlington government (who sticks their nose into far to many things already) is beyond me.

Adam [REDACTED] Douglas Park

Godbout responded to the other emails, as well.


Adam has been spot on correct in his postings.

Your quote about how to respond to Top 40 Rap is just amazing! You stated, “[Sure] we cannot patronize them BUT that does not mean they (reference to the Drafthouse) will go away. We also need to oppose liquor licenses, dance hall permits, and zoning requests.”

A few days ago I asked you directly in my last posting to explain exactly what occurred that night at the Drafthouse that would warrant a complaint to the liquor control board and/or the government. I got nothing in response. Then finally tonight I find you still justifying going after “liquor licenses, dance hall permits, and zoning requests” one song… WOW!

Nothing even remotely illegal occurred that night. Nothing in violation of VA ABC Law occurred that night. Nothing within the jurisdiction of the Health Department. Nothing with even noise ordinance, zoning, etc. Nothing even heard by your own ears I might add. Nothing even remotely in the jurisdiction of VA State or Arlington County was in play that night – so what exactly is your justification for wanting to report the Drafthouse?

Please justify your complaint. Don’t argue that you can do somthing, instead argue why you would do something? What did the Drafthouse do that night to deserve any reporting to any agency at all? Because if your answer is “play a song that you don’t approve of”, I wonder if you realize how ridiculous that sounds. It will make great comic fodder for our 30K email list as I assure them that John [REDACTED] does indeed live in Columbia Heights neighborhood of Arlington, VA and not Bomont, Texas (the fictional town in Footloose where they banned dancing and rock music).

If you want to contact me directly. [REDACTED] (Cell). [email protected]

Greg Godbout
Penrose & Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse Owner

First, I want thank all the neighborhood emails and calls for support. My family and I appreciate it.

In my last post, I promised to release this thread and video to the general public and to continue this debate in a public meeting of Carole’s choice. In my private discussion with Carole I agreed not to continue in a public forum. While we did not agree on everything, we were able to reach a general consensus. In nearly all cases it is always better to have differing parties resolve things amongst themselves. I found Carole to be sincere and a good person – as I believe many of you do as well. I want to make it clear that I or the Drafthouse has no continuing ill feelings towards Carole.

The rest of this posting is for those posts that in my opinion thoughtlessly piled on and/or concerned me the most.

What remains unresolved for me is some in this neighborhood’s willingness to glibly release everyone’s first amendment rights to free speech. The dusting of a little fear and suddenly “porn”, “bouncers murdering people”, and “roving gangs” are pervasive on the Pike. We all have to be better than that. Then the conversation turns into a rallying call and advice on how to attack a local business. That line of thinking and action is far more reckless and damaging to a community than a small 40+ seat venue that played Tupac once.

It is this careless piling on that is going to make me continue to vigorously defend free speech rights in our neighborhood with the full array of assets at my disposal. Never in my life have I seen the importance an activism in defense of arts and the Drafthouse as clearly as I do now. In addition I will extend these same defenses to other Pike businesses who like me are working so hard to make the pike a more vibrant place.

John [REDACTED]– based on your posting you stated that it is your opinion, “the playing of obscene or objectionable music IS grounds for consideration when renewal of liquor licenses”. The short answer is that it is not, but if it was… who would you appoint as the board to determine “objectionable music”. I suggest a group of 16 year olds – I’m sure they would find your music to be at least “objectionable”.

John [REDACTED] Your “strip joint” comment was just an example, but an extreme example when compared to one Tupac song being played. Why not argue the issue on its merits instead of trying to incite more extreme examples. More seriously, your quote “if a business does not offer good public service don’t go back complain to the management the board of health and the state liquor board or anyone else.” Seems to imply that if you don’t like the offerings of a specific business you should report them to any board whether they relate to the specific problem or not. I’ll assume I’m misinterpreting that – but I would like clarification. I hope that is not the proper interpretation because I see that as an underhanded act and frankly a wasteful act of tax payer resources. I’m not sure the Health department should spend its resources on loud noise complaints. Also, I would like to point out the fees for the Health Department and VA ABC are mostly paid by the businesses they regulate – at least that is what I was told when the fees skyrocket this year. In the past I have found you to be blunt but at least direct. You have contacted me a few times. I would hope in the future you would strongly advise others to speak first to the business at hand first before regulatory bodies.

Jerry [REDACTED] – The Drafthouse pays it’s own rent, taxes, licenses, utilities, etc. – thus making it a private establishment. Until Arlington County covers all my expenses including rent and real estate taxes we are a private entity. However we do allow “the public” entrance and thus are subject to a few but not all rules that apply to truly public areas.

Also – Your statement below is entirely incorrect…
“You pay to get into the theater. You read the reviews and you get what you pay for. Movies are rated and are subjected to a board of censors. A public eating/drinking place is a horse of a different color.”

All Movies are not subjected to a board of censors. The Drafthouse plays many unrated local films, specialty films and adventure sports films that do not have a rating. The reason for this is, national movie theaters wanted a rating system so the customer can determine the content (a good system). Basically, the movie industry set up the system. As a movie producer you have to subject your film to an independent rating system in order to do a national release at participating theaters. However, should you choose to independently release your film you actually don’t have to – but not doing so greatly reduces your ability to get played in a majority of theaters. Also a private eating/drinking place (that is open to the public) is not subject to different free speech laws. And free versus paid entry doesn’t make a difference either. The free speech clause of the 1st amendment thankfully provides widespread protection. There are some exceptions in regard to liquor licenses
in VA – like live full nudity and porn (to name two).

John [REDACTED], John [REDACTED] and Jerry [REDACTED] – I found your comments to be most concerning in regard to free speech and to the continuing success of entertainment on Columbia Pike. While I got the feeling you were supportive of the idea of shutting us down – I absolutely want to give you a chance to explain any misinterpretations I may have. Please take the time to contact me at [email protected] –[REDACTED] (or via this discussion). I do not want to jump to any conclusions – but as I said, I plan to be more engaged and active in matters of free speech.

Finally, I just want to say to everyone that business owners on the Pike or general managers of national chains on the Pike are people too. We have homes, mortgages, rent, bills, stress, hopes and dreams. In most cases we have a personal guarantee the loans and/or leases to operate the business. When you glibly trash or directly attack our businesses you are directly attacking us. It is no less scary or insulting as if someone did it to us individually. I think you’ll find that when directly contacted – owners and general managers are very approachable – they are major stakeholders in our community. In the future I’d appreciate it if you please think carefully and critically about your responses about both individuals and businesses alike.

Future businesses are looking at these postings as well to gage the business friendliness of the community. Your comments on these neighborhood listserves can directly affect the likelihood of more Pike friendly businesses coming to fill the vacant store fronts. We are all in this together – let’s work to consensus.


Greg Godbout

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