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Reference group minutes


Date: Thursday, 7 November 2013, 10:15am – 3:15pm
Place: Immigration Advisers Authority, 52 Symonds Street, Auckland
Attendees: IAA – Barry Smedts (Registrar of Immigration Advisers), Catherine Albiston (Team Leader, Operational Policy), Jason Chand (Team Leader, Licensing Assessment), Jennifer Wheeler (Team Leader, Support), Maheesha Kottegoda (Relationship Adviser), Zoe Gilmore (Secretariat)

INZ – Louise Cryer (Immigration Manager, Henderson), Wayne Levick (INZ, Area Manager, Henderson)

Consumer Representative - Janis McArdle (Office of Ethnic Affairs – National Operations Manager)

Licensed Immigration Advisers
– Toni Alexander (NZAMI), Mike Bell, Sanjay Dhar, Kim Ang Gibbs (NZAIP) (via teleconference), Vanessa Sharratt, Kristy Verster, Maricel Weischede
Apologies: Melissa England (Team Leader, Investigations), June Ranson (licensed adviser, NZAMI), Tufui Kama (licensed adviser)


  1. Update and open discussion on adviser feedback since last reference group meeting
  2. Update on 2014 Code
  3. Discussion on renewals review
  4. Discussion on Consumer Guide
  5. Discussion on Graduate Certificate in NZ Immigration Advice
  6. Closing and feedback


  1. Update and open discussion on adviser feedback since last reference group meeting
    1. The last reference group meeting was on 15 August 2013. Around that time, and subsequent to it, the Immigration Advisers Authority received some written criticism from a handful of advisers, who are mature industry advisers within the New Zealand immigration adviser industry. Barry Smedts was away from work at the time and the General Manager, Consumer Protection & Standards, within the Ministry, Sanjai Raj, who is Barry’s line manager, met with a couple of these industry participants and then later met with the boards of NZAMI and NZAIP.
    2. Following the meeting with the industry participants, but before meeting with the boards, Sanjai Raj initiated an independent review of the collection of and publishing of adviser’s fees in the 2009/10 year; the first renewal year for advisers. The Terms of Reference were later expanded to encompass all years to date.
    3. A focus group was then arranged to discuss the concerns raised with those advisers Sanjai Raj had met with as well as others that they identified should be present at the meeting. NZAMI and NZAIP were also contacted to invite attendees. The meeting was held on 2 October 2013.
    4. The focus group provided a wide range of feedback. The feedback was critical of the Authority’s approach to renewals, the qualification, the Authority’s Consumer Guide and the Authority’s messaging on complaints. There was other feedback as well, but those were the main themes. The overarching feedback was that the Authority is too prescriptive.
    5. The Authority has listened to this feedback and is winding back on prescription and in future will be trying to leave it up to advisers to assure themselves that they are complying with the Code, and will be referring to decisions from the Tribunal but will not be attempting to fully interpret those decisions. The Authority will point out what they consider to be significant decisions and leave it up to advisers to consider whether or not they are complying from a business perspective.
    6. The agenda includes items relating to the renewals review, the Consumer Guide and the qualification. These are all issues the Authority has received critical feedback on so was aiming to seek participation and feedback from the reference group.
    7. The Authority also received criticism on how the reference group is run – that the Authority does too much talking and not enough listening. The reference group was advised that the Authority really wanted to hear their feedback and that it was really important to tell the Authority what they think on all the issues. The agenda was to be flexible.
    8. Feedback and questions from the reference group were as follows:
      1. What is the outcome of the publication of fees issue? IAA response: The independent review is not yet complete. When it is concluded that will be communicated.
      2. Do senior advisers in the industry ever volunteer for the reference group? IAA response: In the initial year or two of licensing, yes. The reference group can only cope with a certain number, usually 10 advisers. So if 17 or 18 advisers volunteer the Authority tries to take a selection of representative locations, business types etc. It is true that the Authority cannot just rely on the reference group to gather feedback – we need to look at other ways.
      3. One group member had been on the reference group in the first year of licensing as well and can see that it has changed in terms of the Authority requesting feedback. The Authority now asks for opinions more. The member also suggested that the reference group could have a time set aside for advisers to raise items they want to talk about, separate from the items where the Authority seeks feedback on certain topics. Or alternatively the reference group could be kept for feedback and another avenue could be created for advisers to discuss concerns.
      4. The Authority does send an email out asking for topics for discussion at the reference group.
      5. Feeling that the reference group is for advisers to provide feedback on Authority’s policy ideas.
      6. Feeling that advisers are not inclined to email their opinions to the Authority.
      7. NZAMI is preparing a survey for all their members to collate feedback, to ask people specifically what their opinions are. A meeting will be held on 10 December [tentative date] to discuss the feedback.
      8. Has the Authority checked that they have met the Terms of Reference (TOR) for the reference group each year? Do they need to be changed? IAA response: The Authority can certainly look at amending the TOR. When the Authority was set up it was clear that the reference group was the Authority’s reference group to check in with advisers on issues, to check whether policy would work, recognising that the Authority is not in the business of providing immigration advice, whether policy suggestions actually were workable in business. The Authority could certainly expand the brief of the TOR around more listening. Responding to an earlier question, the Authority has always been conscious of not shoulder tapping people for the reference group, of just letting it come through the people who volunteer and then in years where we’ve had more people, the Authority has certainly tried to look at it in terms of getting a spread of licence types, people operating in different sectors, people operating in different parts of New Zealand and looking at different sizes of operations as well. That is what the Authority has tried to do in the past but the Authority has an open mind, given the feedback received, on how to better operate this group as well.
      9. Although a comment was made initially that letters were received from a handful of advisers, a member of the group felt it was more that there is a ground swell of advisers with the same feelings. The feeling of advisers is not coming through the reference group or other areas the Authority is using for feedback. It is difficult to approach the Authority with your concerns when they are your regulator. It is a bigger issue than just the reference group, it’s how to tap into adviser’s real concerns in a way that they feel listened to.
      10. One group member commented that when reading the October newsletter they were concerned that the Authority had been gutted by advisers who do not want to be licensed. The group member felt it was clear that the Authority has lost its way and it is unclear if it ever really had its way – there were a lot of issues when it first started up but it is definitely moving in the right direction because we are starting to see people who should not have licences being pulled out of the industry. Advisers’ arguments seem to fall into two groups – those who believe the do as I say, not do as I do attitude of the Authority is not acceptable and those who do not like being regulated, who do not like being told how to be ethical or being told how much is fair and reasonable to charge. The Authority should have been expecting a kick back from the “old guard”. It was added that the member was not a fan of the Authority but that they totally support consumer protection. The Authority is the best we have at the moment and shoring up the Authority to be a strong industry protector, to protect migrants, is what advisers should be here for.
      11. Another group member added that during the 2 October focus group it was discussed why the Authority focuses so much on business practices and the Authority advised that it was because they don’t have the skills to focus on adviser’s competencies. The member said they could guarantee that nobody will ever complain because an invoice is issued a day late or early, but if an adviser makes a mistake regarding the client’s immigration they surely will complain, and that is to do with competency.
      12. Another group member added that it is the loss of freedom in running a business that advisers are fighting against – not the need for regulation and protecting migrants. They believe the industry as a whole supports consumer protection through regulation. More focus is needed on unlicensed activity.
      13. The October newsletter gave the impression that the Authority would be promoting licensed immigration advisers, which is not the Authority’s role, nor was this seen as something advisers had been asking for, IAA response: One of the things that has been talked about, and is evident in the October newsletter, in light of this, is the Authority stepping back. Feedback is loud and clear about being too prescriptive about business processes and this is further covered in terms of the renewals review below and the Authority is absolutely taking that on board. The Authority has stepped back in terms of thinking about what the Authority’s role is and it is about migrant protection; the words in the Act are “protecting and promoting the interests of migrants”. How does the Authority do that? The offence and investigations programme investigates people providing advice unlawfully and then the licensing regime issues licences to people to provide immigration advice. Aside from the renewals process and the complaints process, issuing the licence is the heart of the regime. It is by migrants using licensed people as opposed to unlicensed people, that is at a very simplistic level the heart of the regime. That’s what the Authority wants to be driving, that is the message to be conveying – to use a licensed person not an unlicensed person. That is the most fundamental, simplistic way of looking at it. The shift that the Authority is trying to make, or bring to the fore of how we are working here at the Authority is that the fact that a person is licensed is the number one protection and it is licensed advisers who are acting in a professional way on a daily basis that is actually serving the interests of migrants. That is a high level shift that the Authority has been talking about and that we were trying to communicate in the October newsletter.
      14. A member commented that so far, decisions from the Tribunal have been rolled across the industry in a way that is often totally wrong in the way it is applied to businesses so it caused confusion and hurt people. The member liked the plan to communicate Tribunal decisions neutrally without specific business instructions, but advisers still need guidance on how to abide by the Code.
      15. A member commented that a great concern of advisers is what is being done about advisers’ protection. Advisers have been fighting for three years against unlicensed student advisers. The Authority is focussing on what advisers are doing wrong rather than doing something about a problem that has been identified. Being licensed has been good for business but advisers need to feel that they are protected as professional advisers.
      16. Is it fair to say that all licensed immigration advisers are competent? INZ response: It depends on how new they are. We do try to spend a little bit more time giving advice to people, because you can tell how new they are to the industry. We do see occasions when we think that the adviser should know the policy but we do get some shopping around; advisers testing interpretation of the policy with different case officers.
      17. A member commented that the Code of Conduct Toolkit is helpful and they made a lot of changes because they are solid sound changes. There were others that the member did not feel were right and they asked the question “are you telling me that I need to do this, because for me and for my business it doesn’t fit” - is the Toolkit guidance or something we have to do? It is useful if you say “this what some people do”. It would be a shame to lose all guidance but advisers need the freedom to choose to take it on board or not. IAA response: At the start we had no guidance to provide other than the Competency Standards and the Code. Advisers then requested guidance and prescription which was strengthened further with the qualification. Here and now the information we provide is guidance only. It is stuff that you might find useful, it tries to reference Tribunal decisions that the Authority thinks are significant. You’ll make your own decisions but the tone of all this material has been changed to try to take out the level of prescription.
      18. A member commented that they understand the Authority is in a hard position. Most advisers want regulation but lots of New Zealanders do not like being told what to do. As a regulator you have the right to say “do it” but you will encounter resistance depending on how you say it.
      19. A member commented that a middle ground on guidance is what is needed and it seems that the Authority now gets that. As an employee we have to do things a certain way. As long as there is flexibility the guidance for those advisers working alone is very helpful.
      20. A member commented that if there are a set of rules then advisers need help to make sure they understand those rules. People can choose whether or not to take the guidance.
      21. A member commented that in order to assess competence advisers would welcome more inspections and feedback from INZ on advice given. It is frustrating to submit a great file and then be pulled up on the date of an invoice.
      22. Is there a way of asking the Tribunal for clarification notes? IAA response: If the Authority had an issue with a decision we would need to go to Judicial Review. If there was an easy way to seek clarification on the Tribunal’s definition of ‘fees in advance’ we would do so. When the Authority developed its initial guidance it was in the absence of Tribunal decisions. Some of our guidance has been proved to be wrong which we fully appreciate is not good for advisers who needed to change their business practices, which comes at a cost.
      23. A member advised that there are lots of countries where the only entry pathway into New Zealand is through a student visa. Licensed advisers are not needed for this as offshore education agents are exempt. INZ enters into contracts with overseas embassies etc. However, the students do not receive any advice on their long term prospects and ultimately New Zealand gets a bad name when the student cannot stay following their study. Education New Zealand makes money, the education providers make money but ultimately New Zealand gets a bad name. Only the glamour is being sold to the students not the substance. Advisers have been raising this issue for so long. Who is taking this issue up? The Authority needs to meet with people to communicate the problems advisers can see for migrants. If the Authority is protecting migrants then surely this is the type of thing that should be taken up. IAA response: You will know about various announcements around Immigration New Zealand and education providers and we have been to meetings about these things. We have put forward the problems and the importance of people being licensed who are providing immigration advice. But we are in a much bigger picture and if you do want to be communicating on this you need to be going to the Minister of Immigration, the Minister of Education, or Education New Zealand itself.
      24. The Authority needs to meet with INZ to talk to each other as statutory bodies. Does INZ want to promote happy people coming to New Zealand or do they want to make money and spoil the name of New Zealand? New Zealand was the first choice destination a few years ago but is now only second or third. INZ’s short term gains for the economy are bad for New Zealand’s reputation.
      25. Every New Zealand based adviser is well aware of this issue as we pick up the pieces when the students arrive. Credit where credit is due – the Authority has tried but having talked to Education New Zealand, their response is that it’s a billion dollar industry and next year the education agents are going to actually going to be able to more. We know what the problem is but nobody knows what the answer is. IAA response: We understand your concerns and we express them to INZ clearly. This is also raised at the NZAMI board meeting with us every six months. We have advised in the past that you need to raise this at Ministerial level. Raise your concerns with the Minister of Immigration, the Minister of Education and Education New Zealand etc. You need to understand the bigger government agenda on this whole issue and we are really small in that big agenda of export education.
      26. On the website page regarding where you can get advice, there are places on there that cannot actually give advice. The INZ call centre for example is giving damaging advice. IAA response: The website has been changed to show that specialised advice can be obtained from licensed advisers and immigration lawyers and others may be able to offer help. The Consumer Guide is going to be completely rewritten which will be discussed later.
      27.  All agreed that:
        1. guidance should be made available by the Authority but it should not be prescriptive or required
        2. there should be more assessment of competence at renewal
        3. the reference group is not a big enough pool of advisers for feedback on large issues
        4. there needs to be greater trust between the Authority and advisers – advisers must be able to ask questions without fear. Advisers suggest the relationship should be similar to the “trusted partner” relationship between advisers and INZ. Acknowledged that the relationship with INZ has been in progress for three years and is still a work in progress.
  2. Update on 2014 Code
    1. The Authority has sent out an email about the Code which was signed out by the Minister of Immigration in June. The Code is ultimately the Minister of Immigration’s responsibility and we can confirm that we are going ahead with the implementation of the 2014 Code.
    2. The Authority is a little behind the original schedule to prepare for the Code’s implementation.
    3. The Code of Conduct Toolkit has been revised to include language such as “here is an example of how you could….” for anything that is not a “must” in the Code.
    4. E-Agent will be offering an online training course on the new Code. This is not mandatory. This will hopefully be live next week. The course will work through the Toolkit with activities added. These will be a mix of multiple choice,  true/false and reflective questions to think about what advisers may need to change.
    5. All tools being provided to prepare for the Code are voluntary and will hopefully be helpful to some.
    6. A hard copy booklet of the Code will be sent out to every licensed adviser.
    7. The first draft of the designed “Professional Standards” leaflet that advisers will need to provide to clients instead of the Code was shown to the reference group for their comments:
      1. Too much blue ink
      2. Blue ink should be used for message at the bottom – green too faint
      3. Trade mark at top right of page
    8. Reference group was pleased that the Code workshop is going ahead.
    9. Comment that the Code was put together based on sound principles and that interpretation of it is the key thing. Being able to ask questions of the Authority and improved trust levels should mean the Code does not need to be changed again. IAA response: If issues do arise with the new Code we will address them. The Code went through three rounds of consultation and a focus group was held before it was finalised.
  3. Discussion on renewals review
    1. The Authority is proposing that:
      1. Renewals be competency focussed
      2. Assessment team are doing training with INZ to enable them to better assess competency
      3. Renewals will have a tiered approach; for 1st renewals (qualification graduates), upgrades, and advisers who have made significant changes (i.e. started taking money in advance) the Authority will look at competency and also some aspects of Code
      4. Fast-track will still be for two years. At standard renewals between fast-tracks the level of assessment will not be as in depth, especially in terms of the Code.
      5. The form will: no longer request the activity record from advisers (but Authority would still request report from INZ); have more space to complete CPD activities, be clear as to whether client account bank statements/ledgers are required depending on your circumstances.
      6. The reference group raised that if an adviser has moved company then they should also be looked at more carefully. IAA Action 1: The Authority will make sure that the policy addresses this.
      7. The revised renewal form should be available in January 2014. However the Authority has already begun to make internal changes in the way renewals are assessed. One reference group member commented that their staff member had started their renewal in the old process and had finished in the new and the change was significant.
      8. The Authority will be consulting with all licensed advisers by email about the proposed changes to the renewals process and form. The Authority is aiming to go live with the new process and form on 13 January 2014 which will coincide with the changes being made for the new Code.
      9. The new process would provide a lighter touch overall but with more emphasis on inspections (audits). Inspections would be selected randomly from any adviser undergoing a standard renewal at their third renewal onwards.
    2. Feedback and questions from the reference group were as follows:
      1. How will Authority assess competence of advice provided? IAA response: The licensing assessors will be learning from INZ about patterns and practice. If an assessor needed to address a matter of competence relating to advice given the normal PPI process would follow to allow the adviser to explain the situation. Any action would be based on fact, not on speculation.
      2. Could Authority use INZ knowledge rather than the Authority becoming experts in immigration policy?
      3. Different interpretations of policy will be common.
      4. Involving INZ in assessing competency standards 3 and 4 would still miss eligibility assessment.
      5. IAA response: The client file itself is where pre-lodgement competency can be assessed. INZ will not be doing any aspects of the assessment – the assessors will be looking at the client files. Focus to begin with will be identifying clear things within the competency standards that can be assessed and in time will learn more about how immigration advice itself can be assessed – being careful to focus on significant issues only.
      6. Affording respect to the 80% who pose a low risk and being less onerous at repeat renewals has to be a positive thing.
      7. Client files provided to the Authority should be a good case that the Authority should want to see – the Authority should look at advisers who submit a very simple case at every renewal – they should have a higher likelihood of being audited.
      8. At a recent renewal the assessor was much more understanding than in the past – this is a brilliant change in trust. The Authority is no longer trying to find reasons to trip us up.
      9. Will renewal form still be asking for average fees? IAA response: No.
      10. Changes made to the website so far are very positive. Taking the “Make a complaint” button off the home page and giving just the reasons for why fees may differ are good changes.
  4. Discussion on Consumer Guide
    1. The Authority has received criticism that the Consumer Guide as currently published is “anti-adviser”. The Authority is taking this feedback seriously and will be starting from scratch in designing a new consumer guide. Advisers will be consulted on the proposals. The reference group was asked for initial ideas of what the Consumer Guide should contain:
      1. Purpose should be to provide information – consumers can only be protected when they are informed
      2. Information and short explanations and examples
      3. The value of getting advice from a licensed adviser
      4. How to distinguish between licensed and unlicensed advisers and encouragement to use licensed
      5. Needs to spell out who the trusted professionals are
      6. Clear division between generalist advice providers who can give information and specialist advice providers who can give advocacy and representation
      7. Needs to be very simple and easy to understand – use bullet points
      8. Introduction to explain why you should use a licensed adviser and the law that means advice needs to be from licensed/exempt person. Then options, then what sort of things to look for in an adviser, e.g. their experience, how much they charge etc.
      9. Keep it focussed on the engagement process – do not need to talk about complaints in this document
      10. A UK immigrant, for example, is not vulnerable because they can come to New Zealand as a visitor – people from other countries need to spend thousands of dollars just to get into New Zealand.
      11. VACs could have copies of the Consumer Guide and advise customers to look at the Authority website. The Consumer Guide should say that VACs cannot provide advice.
      12. Should highlight consequences of using an unlicensed adviser and should also warn people about unlicensed advisers guiding customers but not wanting to put their name on anything. Consequences could be: getting incorrect advice; visa may be declined; would not be able to complain or get a refund.
      13. Also include warning about online advice forums – a licensed adviser using one should identify themselves. Anyone else running one should not be giving out systematic advice without a licence.
      14. Does a Consumer Guide need to address differences in fees charged? View was expressed that same kind of information as currently on website, i.e. why fees vary, would be OK.
      15. Should be available in different languages.
  5. Discussion on the Graduate Certificate in NZ Immigration Advice
    1. The Authority is planning to ask in the December newsletter for ideas on what sort of forum would be helpful for advisers to provide feedback on the qualification and its content. At the moment the Programme Advisory Committee meets once every six months which comprises advisers, INZ, lawyers, academics and the Authority. The Committee is run well but is not providing a forum for specific feedback. How can we make this work?
    2. Next year the Authority will be looking into the licence type that is awarded following completion of the qualification.
    3. Enrolments for the qualification are now open again and 20 places are being held open for employees of licensed advisers or immigration advice firms.
    4. Two members of the reference group have completed the qualification and some have staff doing the qualification. Feedback was as follows:
      1. There were a few rough edges in the first delivery which have not rubbed off yet
      2. Jenny Fountain was an excellent tutor – the main tutor this year is someone else and the quality has dropped as a result.
      3. The scenarios have not been updated.
      4. There is no ability to argue with the tutors.
      5. The resources were excellent when the course started but they haven’t continued to improve – no money is being put in to improve/stay modern
      6. The course is very short – SMC is covered in a week
      7. More hands on experience and experience in completing applications is needed – the focus is on common ones but you only get to complete one of each – need to do at least two or three
      8. The course could easily be doubled in length
      9. The coursework is much more important than the exam
      10. A person’s own limitations also needs to be taught
      11. Good coverage of Code and ethics etc.
      12. Big fan of the course but it is too short
      13. The Polytechnic works hard to get everyone up to the bar by giving extensions and lowering pass marks etc. The bar that has to be reached to be competent has been lost
      14. There is fear that the market is being flooded with low quality practitioners
      15. What has happened to the graduates so far? IAA response: Only 6 or 7 of the 43 graduates from December 2012 did not apply for a licence. The applications come in slowly – not everyone applies for a licence straight away. There were a few applications from July 2013 initially and then they have come through more slowly. People take time before they apply – they have just spent $2,000 on a qualification and then need $2,000 more for their licence fee and levy
      16. Some students on the course were surprised that there was a fee for licensing
      17. NZAMI feels that going straight into business unsupervised when coming out of the course is a problem
      18. Another group member added that more experienced advisers were not supervised in the beginning and that everyone has to start somewhere
      19. Course needs to focus more on core competency – immigration policy. There needs to be more coursework and the bar needs to be set higher
      20. Could return to getting a provisional licence after the course and then providing 4 files to the Authority to upgrade
      21. The qualification alone is not what will make an adviser outstanding – years of experience will
      22. A full academic year would be better
      23. Giving a PowerPoint presentation on the Code does not represent real life
      24. There could be two ways to be licensed – either do the course for a full academic year or do a year as a supervised provisional licence holder
      25. It is easier to do the whole qualification rather than be supervised after completing Courses A and B – this should not be the case – supervision should be encouraged
      26. IAA response: The Authority’s concern is competency of licencees – need to be confident that course is meeting competency standards.
      27. There is the view that graduates should be awarded a provisional licence, but where are the supervisors going to come from? The only way is to extend the length of the course and increase the content with more practice applications and scenarios. Phone calls are received from people asking for a supervisor but business is not big enough to support an employee.
      28. Another option could be some sort of interim licence after qualifying where the Authority monitors you more closely for a year. You could then submit client files to apply for a full licence.
      29. The fact that people have to set up on their own shows that there are not enough jobs in the industry. The fact that someone can complete a course does not necessarily mean that they will have the attributes of a good adviser. People that come for interview have been turned away because they only want the job because they think immigration advisers earn a lot of money.
      30. IAA response: This specific feedback is exactly what we need to go to the Bay of Plenty Polytechnic systematically. What is the best way to do this? The most valuable feedback for the Polytechnic would be from past students and from employees of students.
      31. Employers would be good for on-going feedback
      32. Does the Bay of Plenty Polytechnic share their student surveys? IAA response: Yes, they give positive feedback
      33. We have only focussed on the negative during this discussion – overall it is a great course
    5. The Authority advised that the Bay of Plenty Polytechnic would like to create a bank of scenarios and wondered if the reference group would be able to provide some. Would the reference group be willing to create some application scenarios and model answers?
      1. Several members of the reference group volunteered or agreed to ask their employees to assist.
    6. The Authority could send a survey to advisers to ask about the content of the course – responses would only be expected from past students and employers of students.
  6. Closing and feedback
    1. Returning to competency assessment, it was asked if the Authority has looked at how other regulators such as accountants, lawyers, real estate agents etc. assess competency. IAA response: The Authority is in a group within MBIE with Licensed Building Practitioners and Electrical Worker Licensing. Their regimes are quite different to ours and we want to look at others. However, it can be problematic making comparisons – need to consider carefully. All government legislation is different.
    2. The Authority really values the reference group and really appreciates the time that you give up to attend the three meetings a year.
    3. It would be great if someone from this year’s group is able to volunteer for next year for some continuity. NZAMI and NZAIP will be invited to provide a representative as they have in previous years. An invitation to apply for next year’s reference group will be in the December and February newsletters and members will be decided in February. Please volunteer if you wish to.

Meeting adjourned: 3:00pm