Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Columnist Loves Thanksgiving Holiday

Thanksgiving is my Favorite Holiday
by Bill Gouveia for the Sun Chronicle
This Thursday is Thanksgiving, and it is my favorite holiday. I’m sure that is in part because I wind up with a four-day weekend, but it goes well beyond that.
Thanksgiving is one of the few truly American holidays, a moment when most of the country pauses and comes together to celebrate. There are virtually no controversial Thanksgivings. No one questions what day it should fall on, or who is marching in the parades, or whether or not we are observing it the “right way”. It’s just a time for family, food and football.
Sure, there are the valid points concerning the treatment of Native Americans, both now and centuries before. You can always find those willing and eager to tell you the original Thanksgiving was not a joyous coming together of two cultures trying to respect and love one another.
But in general, Thanksgiving in this day and age is America’s national day off, the one time of the year we tend to stop arguing with both friends and foes and concentrate on what brings us together. It is not a solemn time, or really even a reflective one. It’s just a chance to be with family and appreciate having that tremendous opportunity.
On Thanksgiving we tend to be more tolerant of crazy old Uncle Louie. His Facebook rants that border on racist and sexist are temporarily set aside, and he plays with the grandchildren and tells stories of the old days. We also back off of militant college student Mary, who takes a break from railing against the establishment and the unfairness of everything long enough to have some turkey (with no antibiotics and not raised in cages) and share some laughs.
With all due respect to religion, Thanksgiving doesn’t involve going to church or having to perform those types of rituals and ceremonies. Not that there is anything wrong with rituals and ceremonies. It’s just nice to be celebrating and giving thanks for little more than each other, at least for one day.
To be sure, Thanksgiving does indeed have rituals. High school football games on Thanksgiving are a long-standing tradition in many local communities. Getting up and going to the contests, usually to play your local arch-rival for some mythical championship, is something everyone should experience.
In my house, woe to the poor soul who scoops the Ocean Spray jellied cranberry sauce out of the can rather than removing it completely from one end and slicing it into wafers. My daughter-in-law MJ discovered that on her first Thanksgiving with us, and the poor thing has never completely recovered from the wrath rained down upon her. But since she controls three of the grandchildren – and we love her – all was forgiven.
My late mother had many duties during family Thanksgiving celebrations years ago. Chief among them was making the gravy. Everyone loved it.
Then one year she burned the gravy. It tasted terrible. She was upset, and we took full advantage.
For the rest of her years with us, we joked at Thanksgiving about my mother burning the gravy. “Grandma, we think your gravy is on fire!” my sons would tease her. “Hey Mom, I think the smoke detector is going off. Are you making the gravy?” I would ask in front of everyone. We did it for every single Thanksgiving, and now that she is gone – we still joke about it and how she pretended to be irritated, but actually loved it.
This Thanksgiving my sister-in-law Valerie will probably make her Swedish bread, my sister-in-law Darleen will make her world famous deviled eggs and my wife will make her amazing apple twists for dessert.
Often we have had special guests on Thanksgiving. Church friends with no place else to go, members of special group homes my late sister befriended when she worked there and friends of our kids who were away from home for school or other reasons.
These are the things that make this holiday special. They are the memories that will live beyond me and into future family Thanksgiving gatherings. Decades from now I may be gone, but the smell of my mom’s burnt gravy will no doubt still be discussed at Turkey Day dinners.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be reached at billinsidelook@gmail.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Now Is The Time For Gun Control

Now Is The Time To Talk Gun Control
by Bill Gouveia for the Sun Chronicle

Yep — it’s another column about gun control, or the national lack of same. I’m warning those who don’t want to read any more about the need to stop people from possessing military-style weapons that kill hundreds in just seconds – stop now. Because I’m not going to stop until we start to actually do something.
There’s been another mass shooting. In a church. By a former Air Force member who was dishonorably discharged after spending time in military jail for domestic violence against his wife and children. Who, after that, was still able to “legally” buy several dangerous guns because the current flawed system failed us all once again.
You know, that system that we don’t need to improve. The one that is a waste of time. We can’t work on making it better, making it stronger, because “it’s not time to talk about gun control right now.”
Such pure, unadulterated crap. Such absolute cowardice in the face of real danger. Such negligent disregard for the lives of all of us. And so very, very wrong.
Now. Now is the time to talk about common sense gun control. Right now. Not tomorrow, not after the mid-term elections, not at the beginning of the next Congress. Now – as quickly and seriously as we can, before more innocent lives are lost simply because of politics and the “tough guy/girl image” we like to put forth.
We have more guns in this country than any other nation. Yet we act like it is some kind of coincidence we also have one of the highest gun-related murder rates on the planet. We register almost every car in this country, and require people to pass tests before allowing them to drive. Yet for some unthinkably stupid reason, we fail to keep as close an eye on weapons that have made us the “Mass Murder By Gun” capital of the world.
If we can’t talk about gun control now, when the hell can we talk about it? We didn’t get any major improvements in the law after school children were shot down in Sandy Hook. If the shooting of small children in Connecticut and Texas, in schools and churches, isn’t enough to have that discussion — what will be?
If the shooting of some 500 people at a Las Vegas concert, near a natural gas facility, wasn’t enough to start the debate on gun control, I guess it is easy to understand why this also would not be. But it still doesn’t answer the question – when will it be time?
Our President was outraged when football players quietly knelt during the national anthem. He called them names, he wanted them fired, he threatened the league that employs them.
But after yet another mass shooting, on the heels of the Las Vegas murders, he insists once again it is “too early” to discuss gun control. He points out — quite correctly — that a lawful gun owner helped stop the Texas killings from being an even bigger tragedy.
But the heroic actions of that individual do not change the obvious need to better regulate dangerous weapons, and provide better nationwide screening of those buying guns. The killer in Texas had a criminal record in the military, and a history of mental illness. Yet the military failed to report it. He was apparently prevented from buying a gun in one state, but merely had to go to another and use one of the loopholes our lawmakers refuse to close.
Why in the world would we not want to stop him and others from gaining access to these weapons? What is wrong with us as a people? Is our country seriously more upset about football players and the national anthem than it is about keeping guns away from those who are unstable?
President Trump can’t talk credibly about “extreme vetting” until he applies it to those buying guns. Every legislator who avoids this topic is a disgrace and a coward.
Stop saying this isn’t about guns. We can work on mental health issues, we can strengthen law enforcement. But all that will fail unless and until we also stand up to the NRA and others, and do all we can to keep guns out of the hands of the irresponsible.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and a longtime local official. He can be emailed at billsinsidelook@aol.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Attleboro's Mayor-Elect Doesn't Need This Controversy

New Mayor-Elect Not Off to Transparent Start
By Bill Gouveia for the Sun Chronicle

Congratulations are in order to Attleboro’s new Mayor-elect Paul Heroux. His convincing and solid victory over seven-term incumbent Kevin Dumas was set up by his intense campaigning, a solid record as state representative, and his earning the trust of the voters.
But less than 24 hours after being elected, Heroux found himself in a political controversy of his own making. While he claims to be surprised it has made headlines, it is obvious he knew or should have known this issue deserved public comment during the campaign.
Just hours after his victory, Heroux casually let it drop — arguably for the first time in public — that he intended to keep his state representative seat even after taking office as mayor. He did not initially put it that way, preferring to simply state he intended to stay long enough “to try and finish my projects” on Beacon Hill. To add to the confusion, he later said he might be able to wrap those up by the end of the year and resign just before he’s inaugurated.
But if Heroux indeed remains a member of the Legislature after being sworn in as mayor, several issues are raised. First and foremost is this simple one:
How can this self-proclaimed “full-time legislator” possibly give full effort to that job while simultaneously running the area’s largest city on a full-time basis?
Heroux has an unquestioned work ethic. He has been a tireless advocate for his district, and while doing that still managed to run one of the most vigorous campaigns in city history. He cites this as evidence he could more than adequately perform both tasks, particularly in the short-term.
He points out if he resigned upon becoming mayor, the district would be without representation for many months. There would most likely have to be a special election to fill his seat, which he says would cost taxpayers about $50,000.
He also claimed that having a special election in the next few months would be “unfair” to possible Democratic candidates. Heroux (a Democrat) says city councilor and Republican Julie Hall has been planning a run for his seat for a long time, and thus an accelerated election schedule would provide Republicans with an advantage over potential opponents.
Saving the city money is admirable, as is finishing important projects going on at the state level. The point about leaving Attleboro without a state rep for a period of months is concerning. But despite all that, Heroux should have talked about this sooner publicly, and he should resign from the Legislature as soon as he assumes the mayor’s office.
A claim by the mayor-elect that he didn’t talk publicly about staying in his current position because “no one asked me” is pretty lame. He says he was asked the question dozens of times while knocking on doors, and was always honest and upfront about his intentions. If he was asked it that often during campaigning, he had to realize it was an important point to clarify publicly.
Rep. Betty Poirier, R-North Attleboro, was correct in criticizing Heroux for not making a public announcement during the campaign about intending to hold both offices, however briefly. She called him “disingenuous” on this issue, and that may be kind. Heroux is a savvy politician and campaigner. The idea he is now surprised by this reaction is just not credible.
As for being fair to Democrats in any upcoming election — that is simply not Heroux’s job. He is the representative for all the people of his district, not just the Democrats. He should be protecting the district, not his party.
“I do not know of any Attleboro Dem who can beat Julie in a special election,” Heroux said. That may or may not be true, but it is a bad and partisan reason to delay the election and selection of a new representative.
Forget the fact Heroux would be collecting two public salaries for two full-time jobs at the same time. The real point is he chose to run for mayor, and city voters have the right to demand and expect his full attention and devotion to that job. His motives may be pure, but this would be a serious mistake.
It certainly is not how a new mayor should start a new, transparent, open and full-time administration.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be reached at billsinsidelook@gmail.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook

Friday, November 3, 2017

Stefanelli Violated Law And Trust Of Voters

Norton Official Abused Trust Of Citizens
by Bill Gouveia
If you are going to demand honesty, openness, and respect from your fellow citizens and local government, you first have to display those qualities yourself.
That is a lesson apparently not yet learned by Ralph Stefanelli, a Norton political activist and town official. Stefanelli was recently cited by the state Office of Campaign & Political Finance (OCPF) for violating state campaign finance laws, misleading investigators, and attempting to obstruct a review of his activities surrounding the last Proposition 2 1/2 override in town.
But through his actions, Stefanelli did something arguably far worse than violating state campaign laws.
He abused the trust of a significant portion of the voters of Norton while cheapening and disrespecting the electoral process that is the heart of every local municipality.
Stefanelli has long been a vociferous voice against overrides in Norton. This past spring he campaigned vigorously and ably against the proposed tax increase, appearing on cable television and at multiple meetings and forums to aggressively criticize both the plan and its proponents.
However, he also engaged in purchasing campaign materials urging a “No” vote without either forming a ballot question committee or reporting his spending, as required by state law.
Questioned about it after the fact, Stefanelli gave conflicting stories. First he claimed he and others got together at a local coffee shop to discuss their joint opposition, stating they all “pitched in” money for the cause. Then when OCPF told him that required filing campaign finance forms, he changed the story to say they only “pitched in” to pay for coffee and meals. He refused to identify the other people.
He then claimed he personally spent only $230 on campaign flyers. When challenged on this by the OCPF, Stefanelli said the organization was wasting its time and that he was proud to have spent his own money to “beat the bastards”. He also stated if OCPF decided to issue a subpoena, he would “wipe my a— with it”.
However, Stefanelli’s tune and tone changed when OCPF discovered receipts proving he had actually spent $1,583 at Minuteman Press in Raynham for 6,500 postcards and 2,000 flyers seeking “No” votes. Confronted with the evidence proving his original story was false, he finally agreed to submit the financial disclosure documents.
One form filed by Stefanelli was 108 days late, the other 70 days. Michael J. Sullivan, director of the OCPF, wrote that existing law did not allow him to fine Stefanelli, but added “If I could, I would impose the $25 per day fine upon you for a total of $4,425.”
Director Sullivan’s letter to Stefanelli also said, “It is clear that your intent was to influence the election and not provide the voting public with any information as to who financed the opposition to the ballot question.”
Ralph Stefanelli went on TV in Norton this past spring and said that during overrides, the public “must demand accountability”. He said he wanted to bring the truth out, and “shine the light” on the darkness. He told the people of Norton they should demand the truth, because in his words, “Knowledge is power”. He told them “I am the spokesperson for voting No” on the override, and defended the work of the “people on my committee.”
But at the same time, Stefanelli hid the truth. He violated campaign laws, then attempted to cover up what he had done. He denied the existence of the committee he earlier claimed to lead. He appears, in many instances, to have had a tenuous and distant relationship with the truth.
Many concerned parents and citizens who he called “bastards” worked within the rules to try and pass the override. They did not hide. It is doubtful Stefanelli’s illegal actions affected the ultimate result of the election, but what he did was certainly wrong and unfair to everyone, including his supporters.
He owes the entire town an apology. Perhaps his original failure to follow the law was simply out of ignorance, but there can be no excusing his disgraceful attempts to cover them up and mislead investigators.
Stefanelli should serve as an example to all local political activists and officials that if you are going to “talk the talk”, you first need to “walk the walk”.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be reached at billsinsidelook@gmail.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook

Monday, October 23, 2017

Stop Using Soldiers As Political Pawns

GOUVEIA: Using the military

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Let me say this as simply and as emphatically as I possibly can. And let there be no mistaking the emotion and sincerity of this simple and direct message:
Stop using our troops and fallen heroes to advance your political agendas. It is wrong, disrespectful, and disgusting. This applies to everyone, regardless of where your views may place you along the political spectrum.
Our armed forces are one of the crown jewels of this nation. The brave men and women who serve this country come from all races, religions, backgrounds and places. They signed up to protect us, and all they ask for in return is support, financial and otherwise. That doesn’t seem like a lot to ask, given the measure of devotion they contribute.
When we insert our fighting men and women into our political battles, we do not help them. We undermine the very real and important role they play in keeping this country free and safe. It is even less honest and more wrong than those who criticize soldiers and the military for their own purposes. At least they aren’t pretending.
Using our military men and women as political pawns has reached a sad peak in recent days. Starting with the national anthem controversy and concluding with the recent discussions over how Presidents notify the families of fallen soldiers. We are unfairly making military personnel the object of political bickering, rather than simply admiring and appreciating them for what they do.
When NFL players began kneeling during the anthem, it had nothing to do with soldiers or the military – absolutely nothing. The people doing it clearly said that. It is understandable that many did not see it the same way, but the undeniable truth is demonstrations like that were in no way aimed at our armed forces.
But President Trump and others found it convenient to make it appear they did. They made it about our military men and women. They lit a fire under the controversy and stuck those extraordinary people in the middle of a fight they did not deserve to be in. And most of them did it to earn a political advantage in totally unconnected battles.
Then came the issue of how Gold Star families are notified when their family members are killed. President Trump faced criticism when he took more than 12 days to personally communicate with the families of the four heroes who lost their lives in Niger. Then he faced even more criticism for what he allegedly said to one of the widows.
On top of that, President Trump felt it necessary to accuse previous presidents (from both parties) of not calling or reaching out to Gold Star families. That prompted an avalanche of political accusations, all while these poor families are still grieving.
This is just wrong – on all sides.
When our President is so egotistical as to have to use dead soldiers and their families in political issues, we have a serious problem. And when those so eager to discredit said President do exactly the same thing in reverse, they are just as bad.
These are emotional topics, and a lot of people are guilty of sometimes cashing in on one for reasons not directly connected. I know I have done it, and when I did – I was wrong. Maybe that’s a phrase both the President and some of his critics could try and learn: I was wrong.
The White House Chief of Staff got dragged into this, himself a Gold Star father. He wound up gratuitously insulting and inaccurately attacking a Congresswomen who had previously criticized the President for his remarks to a soldier’s family. Then the President kept the politics of the issue going via Twitter on the very day of Sgt. La David Johnson’s funeral.
The focus here should have been the tragic deaths of four American servicemen. Their names are Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, Sgt. La David Johnson, Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright and Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson. They and their families deserve better than what their country has given them thus far.
Whether the criticism over the handling of this is legitimate or not, these men and their families have been dishonored. And that is very wrong.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be reached at billsinsidelook@gmail.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Friday, October 13, 2017

It's Been Ten Years Of Columns - Thanks!

GOUVEIA: Time flies when you're on deadline

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As I was preparing to begin today’s column, it occurred to me I had been filling this space for quite some time now.
Actually, it was 10 years ago today my first opinion column appeared in The Sun Chronicle. Combine that with the fact today is Friday the 13th, and you can make a strong case you poor readers just can’t catch a break.
So on the auspicious occasion of completing one full decade of columns (important only to me), I thought I would pause for a moment and say thanks to all who have made it possible for me to have this regular conversation with folks all across our wide readership area.
When I started doing this, Mike Kirby was the editor. Thanks to him for bringing me onboard here. George W. Bush was president (boy, does that now seem so long ago). The Red Sox were about to win the World Series, the Patriots were beginning an undefeated regular season culminating in a crushing Super Bowl loss, and the Celtics were on their way to their 17th championship.
That first column a decade ago was about an upcoming recall election in Mansfield. Most that have followed have been about local government and politics because that is something I have great experience with and enjoy. Some columns have been positive, a lot have been critical, and more than a few simply sought to inspire discussion and shine a spotlight on local government.
Sometimes I veer off into national or statewide issues. This has led to people calling me a “leftist” columnist, something that always makes me chuckle. While I’ve certainly never hidden my political inclinations or opinions, I don’t consider myself to be a disciple of any particular ideology. I write about things that interest me, and I express my opinion on them.
I don’t do that to plug anything, or advance a certain side, or promote individuals or philosophies. I do it because it is what I am supposed to do. I write about what I think is important. And I don’t generally hold back. I’ve found that an un-opinionated opinion columnist just isn’t very interesting.
But perhaps my favorite columns are the ones I have written about people, friends and family. They are the columns I go back and read because they make me smile, sometimes make me cry, but always make me reflect.
My two sons and their families might have been mentioned a few times. I had no grandchildren when I started writing this column in 2007. I now have five. My oldest grandchild Will (have I mentioned his name is William? Yes, I said it again) is now 9. He is followed by Avery (5), Sammy (4), Addison (2) and Tommy (2). I talk about them here often, and my wife and I love them more than life itself.
Ah, my wife. She too has been the subject of a few columns, and has been a great sport about them. She is not only often my inspiration to write, but serves as my editor and sounding board. Almost every column is read to her before it is submitted, and her intelligence and ability to be honest with me has made me a better writer. Thank you, my love.
I’ve written about many special people over the years — my former teacher Al Nuttall, my late friend Fred Burchill, and a slew of other individuals including politicians, local officials, and just regular folks who have touched my life. I hope you enjoyed those too.
And of course, none one of this would be possible without you – the readers of the Sun Chronicle and this space.
I’ve gotten to speak and communicate with many of you over the last 10 years. I’ve gotten some touching handwritten notes, some very nice emails, and a lot of intelligent criticism – along with some not-so-nice stuff. But I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world.
So thanks for reading me for a complete decade. I treat the ability to reach out to you twice every week as a privilege, and hope our conversations continue for a long time. You‘ll always get from me the only thing I can offer – my honest opinion.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be reached at billsinsidelook@gmail.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.