AN INSIDE LOOK - Commentary and opinions on local politics and life in general in Southeastern Massachusetts! Featuring the writings of Bill Gouveia, newspaper columnist for the Sun Chronicle and local cable TV talk show host. Feel free to read, comment and enjoy!
Regardless of what you think of President Donald Trump and the accomplishments (or lack of same) of his administration during his short time in office, one thing is undeniably true and evident: Donald Trump has changed the way government and a free press relate with one another and with the American people.
Whether the changes are good or bad, constructive or destructive, helpful or hurtful to the country — there is no doubt whatsoever they have occurred. And they may still only be the beginning, with deeper and more fundamental changes possibly still ahead.
Yeah, I know — that sounds like a lot of scary talk for political purposes. But it’s not.
It is instead a clear truth Americans see for themselves every day. Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of this situation is that as we are exposed to it more and more on a daily basis, we may be starting to accept it as normal. It is becoming the new standard for both journalism and government.
What am I talking about? It’s pretty simple.
The traditional role of the media in general has been challenged by government at the highest level. With considerable help from the media itself, the Trump administration has in just six months managed to weaken and limit the American ideal of a free and independent press in an unprecedented manner.
Forget the fact Trump has had exactly one — one — individual press conference during his first six months. That is unusual when you consider he has held at least two actual campaign rallies for the 2020 election in that same time. But it is only part of a bigger problem.
Trump’s White House has severely limited the daily press briefing, where much of the news about our government comes from. They have held fewer of them, refused to allow cameras at many of them, and limited access with threats to completely cut off various media and newspapers who offend them.
They have elevated the status of friendly websites and bloggers at the expense of actual journalistic entities. They have “punished” various media by diminishing their access and ability to ask questions.
And of course, the president in particular has branded everything he does not like or agree with as “Fake News.” There has been a clear strategy of winning the day by damaging the people who — in his mind — can harm him. He doesn’t bother with facts. He and his administration are always in attack mode.
This has caused a similar reaction in the media itself. Facing a government that seemingly has no shame and no need to back up what it says, television and newspapers are having to change their ways. In doing so, they are simultaneously strengthening and weakening their adherence to the fundamentals of reporting and opining. And frankly, I don’t think they have yet figured out exactly what to do.
While the government and the presidency certainly have rules that should be followed, this is different. This administration doesn’t play by rules — it makes new ones. And in the ongoing battle between the Trump administration and the American media, one thing is clear — the Trump administration is winning.
Donald Trump has used the media like no other candidate in our history. He sucked them into covering his every breath as a candidate, when frankly the attention was not deserved. He used them when he needed them, and cast them out when he did not.
When the press points out some of the crazy things he does or says (sorry folks, he does say and do crazy things), he claims he is being attacked. He finds those who will curry his favor and elevates their status. He can do this because, in his own words, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”
The government is now effectively bypassing the American public by pretending they are only bypassing the press and the media. And they are doing it in such a way that a sizable segment of the public is praising them for it.
The pure genius of it would be quite admirable, if not for the fact it threatens the very principles upon which this country was built.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.
A short time ago, the entire Norton Recreation Committee resigned.
It was not sudden. It was not unexpected. In fact, they told people well in advance it could happen. Yet somehow, in a weird kind of reverse logic, many are blaming them for “abandoning” the program and the community most of them had worked tirelessly for many years to serve, without compensation.
To put it bluntly – that criticism is a giant load of crap.
As with most things governmental in Norton, the politics of this goes back to the dreaded “O” word – the failed overrides of the last two years. Norton is one of the few towns across the state that has never passed a general override of Proposition 2 1/2. And not surprisingly, that has resulted in cuts across the broad spectrum of municipal services.
Norton has no municipal trash pick-up. It has the same number of police officers it did in 1991. It has gone from five fire stations to one. And the recreation budget has been slashed so often and so deeply that the department itself virtually does not exist outside the small core of volunteers that selflessly kept it going with an embarrassingly small amount of financial support from the town.
For years, they gave of their time and themselves to provide programs for kids and adults. In addition to the recreation department, many of them became guiding forces behind the town’s Tricentennial celebration. That eventually turned into the annual Founder’s Day event. And boy, does everyone love Founder’s Day.
That’s when the town celebrates as a community. We have picnics. We have fireworks. We eat pies and cotton candy and sing lovely songs. It’s nice. It’s comfortable. It’s reflective of a community coming together.
But there was no Founder’s Day this year. That’s because before the last override, after years of waiting for the town to step up and take some of the burden it should rightfully bear, these volunteers warned residents and officials they were not going to keep doing it.
They helped get behind an override effort that supported schools, police, fire, senior citizens, and recreation. They believed in it, they fought for it. And they told people plainly, clearly, and without malice – if this plan failed, they were going back to their families. They were not going to continue enabling the town to run a professional program without professionals.
The override failed. They were disappointed. But they accepted the decision of the townspeople, and fully expected their decision would be extended the same courtesy. They stepped down.
And the whispering started. It turned into newspaper articles, letters to the editor, and postings on Facebook pages. And the blame for canceled programs and celebrations was pinned on them.
There was an attempt to save Founder’s Day this year. Ralph Stefanelli, the self-proclaimed “spokesman for voting No”, leader of the anti-override efforts, and part of the original Tri-Centennial planning group, volunteered to help oversee the new organizing effort. That is to his credit. But time and resources were scarce, and now the focus has shifted to next year.
In a video presentation on local cable access earlier this year, Mr. Stefanelli made a statement revealing his general philosophy on local government, and explaining in part why he opposed the override seeking to provide improved local services, stating:
“Because most of us don’t believe in community, we believe in individualism.”
Founder’s Day is great. It is a wonderful, fun celebration of community. And it is a shame it got canceled this year.
Of course, community is more than a single celebration. It is good schools, good public safety, good services and yes – a properly-funded recreation department. Fighting for those things is not always fun. It is not glamorous. It is not easy.
The recreation and Founder’s Day volunteers who stopped volunteering were not punishing the town. They were not sore losers concerning the override. They did not abandon their community.
They merely tired of enabling the town to claim it provided recreational services without paying its share for them. They sacrificed their individualism without getting much community support in return. They just wish the value of the Recreation Department was deemed as important as keeping Founder’s Day. Because to them, true community is important.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime Norton official. He can be emailed at email@example.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook
Gouveia: A lot of blame to go around on "BudgetGate"
By BILL GOUVEIA / For The Sun Chronicle
Now a full week removed from Attleboro’s “BudgetGate” incident, reaction throughout the city is trending in a fairly predictable manner.
Some opponents in the upcoming mayoral election, as well as a fair number of citizens, are blaming the mayor and his administration. A lot of experienced observers are blaming the budget director. Virtually everyone is blaming the city councilors.
And to various degrees, they are all correct.
Let’s start with the obvious. Without exception, every single individual involved in any way with the annual budget process should have known about the 45-day deadline for acting on the mayor’s proposed spending plan. There is no valid excuse for not knowing.
It is akin to running off third base and directly into the dugout in the bottom of the 9th inning of a baseball game with your team down a run, after the batter flew out to the outfield – for the second out. Maybe no one specifically told you there are three outs in every inning, but you should know it. It is part of your job.
Was this a bonehead play to end all bonehead plays, or was it an effort to throw the game? Did someone have a bet on the outcome, and stage the whole thing for their personal advantage? Conspiracy theories are always popular.
When the owner comes in after that monstrosity, he or she may have trouble deciding who to fire first. The runner who screwed up? The third-base coach? The manager? Or maybe he/she just sells the whole team and looks for one that can actually count?
As someone with decades of municipal budget and political experience (though thankfully not in Attleboro), I have a pretty straightforward take on all this I’d like to share with you.
I absolutely believe this was a total systematic failure of city government. I do not think it was the result of any plan, conspiracy, or political scheme. Quite frankly, to believe otherwise would be giving those involved too much credit for their political acumen.
The fact absolutely no current city councilor says they knew this basic rule is disgraceful, but ultimately believable. If they wanted to take a pass on this year’s budget, there are a lot simpler ways to do it that would not make them all look ignorantly uniformed — which is exactly what they look like right now.
Council President Frank Cook did not equivocate in accepting blame, taking responsibility for not being aware of the rule. As well he should. More than anyone else in this sad scenario, Cook bears the responsibility for this huge error. It is not totally his fault, but when he accepted the position he accepted the responsibility.
As a result, Cook should immediately resign as council president. No other action can adequately reflect the lack of informed leadership that led to this situation.
Every other councilor is just one small notch down the blame marker. This is their failure, and any attempt to shift blame or responsibility in any way just makes it worse. There is no political advantage for them to gain here.
The budget director certainly should have known, and as a well-paid city employee had a responsibility to stay on top of the situation. His slice of the blame pie is plenty large.
The mayor also gets a heaping portion, although it is nowhere near as big as that belonging to the council members. Dumas should have known this rule, but his responsibility for it is slightly less than the legislative body. Remember, he fulfilled his part of the budget process by submitting it on time. But in the earlier analogy, he is the baseball manager – ultimately responsible for everything.
In the long run, this is far from the end of the world.
The budget submitted is not greatly different from the last one.
The damage to the city’s finances will be far, far less than the serious blow dealt to the credibility, competence, and commitment of city government.
This is not a conspiracy, but merely incompetence. That certainly doesn’t make it any easier for voters to accept.
But given most of those involved were elected by those same voters – who really made the bigger mistake?
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.
As you read this, my wife and I will just be returning from our annual trip to New Hampshire with two of our grandsons. You’ll be able to pick us out -- we are the ones smiling while we limp and desperately gasp for breath.
To be accurate, this was the eighth straight year we have taken 9-year-old grandson Will (did I mention his name is William?) up to the North Conway area to visit StoryLand and all the other great attractions for kids up north. It is the second year his younger brother Sammy has been old enough to make the trip, and we are looking forward to adding our youngest grandson Tommy next year (our granddaughters live some distance away, so we are still working on a plan for them). That’s assuming we are still mobile at that time, of course.
Will is an old pro at this now, and handled the pre-trip anticipation with ease. Sammy? Not so much. He has a conceptual problem with time, as do most 3-year-olds. When you tell him the trip is coming up in a few months, you might as well be talking about an eternity as far as he is concerned.
“Are we going to StoryLand today?” that hopeful little voice has asked us virtually every time he has seen us since last summer (and he sees us a lot). We tried each time to explain that it was still a bit into the future, but stress how much fun we would have when we did go. Sammy pretty much heard nothing after “not yet”, and the look of disappointment was like a constant dagger through our hearts each time.
When it was only three days away, we figured he would be happy and thrilled the time was so near. Silly us -- when we told him it was three days away, he looked at us like we had just postponed Christmas by six months.
“Three whole days?” he asked, his voice cracking a bit. We worked intensely to change the subject. We won’t make that mistake again.
As grandparents, it is so wonderful to be able to have this tradition with our grandkids. My grandparents took me to New Hampshire and StoryLand when I was just a boy, and the memories are among the fondest of my childhood.
Of course, they include the time my younger brother managed to drive one of the self-propelled “antique cars” off the rail and up a nearby hill, making it necessary for the man running the ride to wildly chase after it. That was just before he went on the slow-moving boat ride and steered his ship head-first into the side of a bridge, then urged my younger sister riding with him to save herself and jump into the knee-deep water.
More than the rides and attractions have changed since I was a kid. I remember one of the biggest deals was begging my grandmother for quarters to put in the vibrating bed inside the motel where we were staying. That was all the rage back then, and I was sure we would soon see them in every home in America.
The kids love the natural beauty of the area, much as I did when I was younger. We can’t show them the “Old Man of the Mountain” anymore, since it disappeared a few years back. But we make many stops along the Kancamagus Highway, watching the water flow over the rocks and letting the kids climb out onto them. At least, a little bit -- I have to keep Sammy within reasonable reach.
A lot of our time is spent at a nearby water park, and where the boys have a blast. Will loves the water slides, which involves several flights of stairs that have to be climbed for each trip. Until they get an elevator, he does many of those solo. Grandpa prefers the wave pool.
We tell ourselves these annual trips are for the kids, but in truth they are for us. We love spend timing with the boys, and know the time when they want to be spending days with their old grandparents are limited.
So the limping and the soreness today is a small price to pay for the best time we have all year.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at email@example.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.