Friday, June 15, 2018

Trust North Korea, But Not Canada?

by Bill Gouveia for the Sun Chronicle
Our President says he trusts the leader of North Korea, but the prime minister of Canada is dishonest and obnoxious.
We live in interesting times.
President Trump this week traveled to Singapore to hold an historic meeting with Kim Jong Un of North Korea. Trump deserves credit for having the courage to accept such a meeting, and for focusing on diplomacy rather than exchanging childish insults the way the two did just months ago. It is far better to be talking about issues rather than who has the bigger launch button.
But the juxtaposition of how Trump treats our neighbors and allies with his handling of a ruthless murdering megalomaniac is more than a little unsettling. In fact, it’s pretty weird by almost any standard.
Kim Jong Un has jailed and been responsible for the deaths of American citizens. He has threatened the Unites States with nuclear annihilation. He has executed many of his citizens and family members in order to consolidate his political power. He has insulted and threatened a wide variety of American presidents and politicians of all parties, and his representatives called Trump “a dotard”.
But after meeting him for five hours, President Trump said the North Korean dictator “loves his people” and added, “I think he trusts me and I trust him.” Trump also said the dictator has a “great personality”, a great sense of humor and is supported by his people (like they have a choice).
In contrast, Trump reneged on an agreement he initially approved at the recent G-7 summit because he didn’t like how Canadian leader Justin Trudeau spoke at a press conference. The president summed up his anger saying, “He gave out a little bit of an obnoxious thing. I actually like Justin, you know I think he’s good, I like him but he shouldn’t have done that. That was a mistake. That’s gonna cost him a lot of money,”
Trudeau’s apparent mortal sin is threatening a response to large tariffs Trump has placed on steel and aluminum. He says Canada will not be pushed around. What Trump complained about most is Canada’s 270 percent tariff on dairy products, something the president has cited as a threat to America’s national security.
Hmmm — he trusts the guy who kills Americans and threatens our country with nuclear weapons. But he goes full throttle after the leader of an allied, neighboring nation who has fought wars at our side because he thinks they are stealing our milk money.
There appears to be a bit of a consistency issue here.
Of course, Trump supporters will claim the president never gets any credit. They will point to the meeting with Kim Jong Un and remind us no other American president has ever done this. They will say he deserves a Nobel Peace Prize.
If the summit with North Korea leads to peace and denuclearization (however that is defined), then give Trump his due. Give him the prize. He will have earned it — but only if his work yields substantive results.
In the meantime, we might consider moving some troops to the Canadian border. This milk thing could get out of hand quickly.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at billsinsidelook@gmail.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Monday, June 4, 2018

North's Override Was Done Right

North's Override A Model For Others
by Bill Gouveia for the Sun Chronicle
It’s been a couple months since the surprising (to some) passage of a $6.5 million general override in North Attleboro — a town many had considered the least likely in this area ever to override the limits of Prop 2 1/2.
As the dust has settled, many outside North are asking the question — how did they do it? Some in my hometown of Norton, where two general override questions have lost in the last several years, are certainly curious. Norton has never approved a general override.
Of course, there is no “magic answer” to the question of how to pass one. You obviously need very good reasons to back up such a request. It needs the willingness of selectmen just to place it on the ballot. Then, it requires a lot of information, explanation and old-fashioned political skill and elbow grease to get the taxpayers and citizens to support it. All that goes without saying.
North had all that — but then again, they had all that before only to see previous overrides voted down. So why was this effort successful? Was it simply that the need and solutions to the problems were so clear and obvious they could no longer be ignored?
Maybe. But in the opinion of this veteran local political observer, it was much more than that. And it represents a pretty clear model for all who wish to emulate the success of those who got it done.
North Attleboro’s override passed because it was done the right way — from inside the system rather than outside it. This was not just a group of parents or concerned citizens with no local political experience gathering together and influencing those in power. It was not a town-employee led organization seeking to add staffing and salary increases.
This last override was the result of solid leadership from within — plain and simple.
Over the last several years, some veteran selectmen were replaced with younger newcomers who had a different view of the town’s problems and how to address them. They respectfully and adroitly worked from within, bolstering the credibility and reliability of the town’s executive board. They concentrated less on protecting certain political powerbases, and more on what was better for the entire community.
They certainly did not achieve this alone. Any override effort has to have a dedicated band of supporters who work behind the scenes to make it happen, including other town officials. But this time in North, they were not feeling isolated. They did not have to drag selectmen kicking and screaming to help in their efforts.
This last override was a coordinated effort by those in charge of government to make things better. They put forth their argument in a united, reasonable manner — and the people responded.
This last time, the selectmen didn’t just back the override with empty words and gestures. They maintained their responsibility to not campaign, but made it clear where they stood. And folks – that can make all the difference in the world.
The example set by North Attleboro is that overrides are passed when people believe their town government is committed. Kudos to those in North who got it done.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at billsinsidelook@gmail.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Couch And Schools, Food And Guns...

by Bill Gouveia for the Sun Chronicle

When I was a kid, my mother had one rule that got enforced more than any other: You could not sit on our living room couch with any food or drink.
I didn’t think our couch was all that great, but it was to Mom. She wanted it protected, and with three kids she knew that was a challenge. So she didn’t just have one rule, or one focus on how to get that job done.
Mom tried covering the couch. She had some cloth covers, and one time tried plastic. She had it treated with some kind of stuff (remember, this was a long time ago) that was supposed to protect it. She also tried permanently banning us from the room, but that had limited success at best.
The only thing that sort of worked was not allowing us to take food in the living room. Of course, this just made us want to bring food there even more. We told her we were responsible eaters. We had been around food our whole lives, knew how to handle it, and that the right to eat was basic to who we were.
But Mom was smarter than that. She explained to us that she wasn’t banning all food — that would be silly and unreasonable. But you simply don’t bring some food into certain areas, not because food itself was bad or evil — but because almost every time you brought food into a living room, bad things happened.
I wish those in Congress and the White House would follow Mom’s commonsense example when it comes to the issue of guns, assault-style weapons, and trying to stop school shootings.
Like the aforementioned couch, we have done a lot to protect our schools.
We are designing them with safety in mind. We are installing alarm systems, stronger glass and doors, and even placing resource officers or security guards inside.
But unlike Mom, we haven’t gotten our leaders to understand that covering up something, whether a couch or a school, is not going to stop the real problem. You have to make sure what you are protecting them from is kept away. Otherwise, you will ultimately fail.
Is this a silly comparison? Of course it is. But to be honest, I’m running out of ways to logically explain this problem. I’m not sure anymore how to get through to those who are so wrapped up in their right to have guns of all types that they can’t understand the concept of the greater good, our collective safety, and – to draw another silly comparison – keeping your couch safe for those who sit on it.
Eventually, Mom allowed us to have certain types of food in the living room.
But the foods that could cause the most damage — those that would stain and cause irreparable harm — were only to be eaten elsewhere. We were not allowed to have them outside of the kitchen or dining room.
I keep thinking that if it worked for Mom (minus the occasional renegade eater), then doesn’t it make sense when applied to guns and schools?
Sometimes the simplest solution is the best one.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at billsinsidelook@gmail.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Town Meeting Is Great - But...

Power And Responsibility - Town Meetingby Bill Gouveia for the Sun Chronicle

The institution of open town meeting (OTM) is an example of democracy in its purest and simplest form.
But in these days of multi-million dollar budgets and complicated municipal finance regulations and obligations, OTM can also serve as a dangerous threat to the long-term stability and financial planning of a local community.
That was in evidence in Norton this week when town meeting began work on the town’s $55 million proposed budget. The budget total recommended by the finance committee was ultimately approved, but there were some changes proposed and one amendment passed concerning how that budget is distributed.
Voters approved an amendment put forth by the school committee to add $143,900 to the school budget, and another to reduce the town’s health insurance account by the same amount. School committee member Deniz Savas said the figure represented the amount of health insurance saved by the committee’s decision earlier that evening to privatize the school food services and eliminate the jobs of cafeteria workers.
Because the decision was made literally minutes prior to the start of town meeting, there was no opportunity for the finance committee to review it or assess the impact.
But it was passed overwhelmingly by those in attendance at town meeting, who seemed to represent a mostly “pro-school” crowd.
That in itself is not alarming, as it is the right of town meeting to pass the budget it wants.
However, there was talk of adding even more to the school budget by transferring from various other accounts and budgets that were deemed “not as critical” by some speakers.
If school officials had been so inclined, they no doubt could have gotten the meeting to add a lot more money to their budget. To their credit, they stuck to the amount they had voted to support. But the very real possibility was there, and such a move would have caused major financial and budget problems in other areas for the town.
What’s the point? Well, voters at town meeting have complete power to change the budget numbers, but no responsibility to have studied them or be aware of the ramifications. This means the final word on crucial budget decisions is made by whoever decides to show up to just one single meeting.
You don’t have to convince a majority of councilors or selectmen or finance committee members. You don’t have to go to hearings, provide information in advance, or meet any other standards other than getting the most votes in a popularity contest after perhaps an hour of discussion.
All you have to do is turn out people who will support your efforts. It becomes a battle of political wills and organizing skills, rather than a discussion of facts before elected representatives.
Kudos and respect to all those who make the effort to be informed and show up for town meeting.
But when it comes to spending $50 million to $100 million budgets, the decisions should not be the result of a vote by whoever happens to show up.
Democracy is a wonderful thing, but it still has to be tempered with the right dose of responsibility.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist, longtime local official, and the Norton town moderator. He can be emailed at billsinsidelook@gmail.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Friday, May 11, 2018

It's Trump's Country, And Our Fault

It's A Trump Country Today...
by Bill Gouveia for the Sun Chronicle 5/11/18
Make no mistake, this is Donald Trump’s America.
Which is, to an extent, as it should be. As the 19th century French philosopher Joseph de Maistre famously said, “Every nation gets the government it deserves.” We can debate whether or not America deserves President Trump and his version of government, but the fact that America got what it voted for is indisputable.
There is very little President Trump has done since he got elected that can be termed a surprise. He hasn’t snuck up on anyone. He acted like an immature, bombastic, uninformed, arrogant, misogynistic, insulting, rude, and self-serving candidate when he was running. He has done little to nothing that changes that general description since taking office.
In terms of legislative and political accomplishments, he has given permanent tax breaks to corporations and temporary ones to individual taxpayers. He has pushed through legislation to take away health insurance from millions of Americans. The centerpiece of his foreign policy has been to propose the building of a giant wall, eliminate the DACA program that protected children/young people who have lived here since an early age, and a court fight to ban people from coming here based upon little more than their religion.
On the more personal front, Trump the candidate mocked a disabled person during one rally. He insulted the appearance and character of every opponent he had, regardless of party. He lied about revealing his taxes. He lied about crowd size at his inauguration. He has lied about big things, small things, old things, new things, red things, blue things — lied so much he gets special attention when he actually tells the truth about something.
His former campaign manager has been indicted. His hand-picked National Security Adviser was fired, indicted, and plead guilty in a federal investigation. His personal lawyer has had his offices raided after admitting he paid a porn star $130,000 to remain quiet about an alleged affair with Trump. Hell, a tape with Trump admitting to sexually assaulting women came out right before the election — and his popularity increased.
His son, son-in-law, and campaign manager met with Russians during the campaign because he was promised dirt on his opponent. He often mocks his own attorney general, publicly attacks the integrity of the intelligence agencies he oversees, and admitted firing the FBI Director to protect himself against investigation.
But no one should be surprised by all this. Disgusted? Sure. Disappointed? OK. Some are very pleased and satisfied, perhaps even more than they expected to be. That’s understandable.
But don’t be surprised. This president is merely reflecting America, not reshaping or remaking it. He’s not instilling this type of behavior and leadership in Americans — he’s just making it acceptable. He’s the vessel, not the source.
Donald Trump is what happens when we as a people value bravado more than bravery, insults more than integrity, equity more than equality. There have always been Donald Trumps among us (though Trump is unquestionably the trumpiest ever), but we generally chose to keep them from positions we knew full well they would abuse for their own benefit.
This is indeed Donald Trump’s America. But that’s our fault, not his.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at billsinsidelook@gmail.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Norton's Water Problem A Dirty One

Norton's Water Problem More Than Just Water
by Bill Gouveia for the Sun Chronicle

In Norton, the water many citizens have coming into their homes is absolutely awful. The governmental authority responsible for overseeing delivery of that water is arguably worse.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just Google “Norton Dirty Water” and do some clicking and reading. What you’ll see is nothing short of disgusting. Yet the argument can be made the horrible water is not even the biggest problem in the system.
Norton’s multimillion dollar Water/Sewer Department is overseen by a three-member elected water/sewer board. Over many years, the responsibilities of these part-time, public spirited volunteers have grown to levels never anticipated when it was originally created.
An independently elected board, they do not come under the centralized authority of the town manager. They are not obligated to work in concert with the board of selectmen or other town entities — though they often do. They are ultimately responsible for the multi-million-dollar water/sewer department’s enterprise account, which is not subject to town meeting approval as other budgets are.
Forget for a moment the recent large expenditures for a new water treatment plant, long delayed by the state because of possible archeological issues on the site. Forget the messy way former commissioners worked with other towns and the state to build the Mansfield Treatment Plant, located in Norton, which the town pays to use.
Norton’s town meeting unanimously approved an additional $1 million a few weeks ago to finish the long-delayed plant in order to get rid of the dirty water. Now they might be asked to provide an additional $400,000 or more for a project along Route 123 that is expected to run over budget for reasons many believe should have been anticipated by those overseeing it.
Norton does not have a DPW. Although it has consolidated many smaller departments into the general responsibilities of the highway department, the town continues to suffer from a lack of centralized authority and responsibility on the water/sewer side. But it is difficult to blame commissioners, past or present, for that.
On several occasions over the years, Norton voters have declined to eliminate the water board, or bring it under the authority of the town manager by making it an appointed committee. But they have changed the board of health, tax collector, town treasurer, and town clerk positions to appointed ones for similar reasons.
Within the past couple years, voters at Town Meeting overwhelmingly defeated an article to eliminate the elected water/sewer commission. The argument against it was elected officials are more accountable to voters than appointed ones.
Norton water is not brown because the water/sewer commission is an elected board. But the lack of a unified, centralized approach to protecting and distributing Norton’s most precious natural resource has clearly produced negative results over the last half-century or so.
Norton needs to fix its water. A critical first step would be to fix the way the system is managed and led. There simply is no need for an elected water/sewer commission that gives the appearance of accountability, while actually preventing it.
The solution to Norton’s water problems starts at the top, not the tap.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at billsinsidelook@gmail.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Monday, April 2, 2018

My Oldest Grandchild Is Now A Decade

My oldest grandchild completes his first decade on the planet tomorrow, something that both thrills and amazes me. As our family prepares to celebrate this momentous event, I can’t help but run the highlight reel of how he has made my life better repeatedly through my mind.
The first Gouveia of his generation was born at Falmouth Hospital on the evening of April 3, 2008. He was a bit tardy, but accelerated his arrival at the last moment. I was home in Norton, having just brought my wife home from the hospital after surgery, when we got a text from my son. It was short and to the point, saying simply “Now!”
I looked at my wife, knowing she was not well enough yet to make the hour ride. She simply smiled and said, “Go —if it was me, I would leave you here in a heartbeat.” I kissed her, jumped in the car and headed down 495.
On the way, my phone rang. It was my son. As he started infuriating small talk with me, I heard a baby crying in the background.
“Is that my grandchild?” I asked impatiently. Aaron just laughed. I quickly advised him of just how much danger he was in if he did not answer my question immediately.
At long last he said, “Dad, just hurry up and get here — your grandson is waiting for you.”
At that point I rolled down the window while driving and began screaming at the top of my lungs: “I have a grandson!” I then asked what his name was, but my son merely laughed and said he’d see me when I got there.
The next thing I recall is walking into the hospital room and seeing a bald little person peacefully sleeping. I stared mutely, then walked to the bed to embrace my daughter-in-law. Then I hugged my son and turned toward the new focus of my life.
Aaron picked him up, handed him to me, and said, “Here, hold your grandson.” As I held this miracle in my arms, he added, “By the way — his name is William.” At that point my knees buckled, and I had to sit down before we both fell.
William George Thomas Gouveia (did I mention his name is William?) has been a joy to his family ever since. Though he has been joined in the ranks of grandchildren by two brothers and two adorable female cousins, he will always be our first. The love his grandmother and I feel for him is matched only by our pride in the young man he has become.
Will is smart. He is funny. He is compassionate. He is also a wise-guy of the highest order, definitely inheriting the sarcasm gene from his father and grandfather. He acts like his dad, looks like his mom, and will always hold a special place in my heart. We are fortunate to have been able to be so close to him.
So happy birthday, Will. You cringe when I call you “a decade,” but this is just the start, buddy. Your future is bright. Watch out world — Will is on his way.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at billsinsidelook@gmail.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Blaming Victims Rather Than Guns

Blaming Victims Rather Than Guns
by Bill Gouveia for the Sun Chronicle

The obsession with guns and the “freedom” they allegedly represent has reached new heights.
The latest sick and twisted message from the NRA and other pro-gun groups is that we should blame the victims and potential victims for school shootings. You see those kids walking out in respectful protest? It’s their fault because they have not been nice enough to their fellow students.
Gun advocates believe that fact there are no standardized national background checks to buy a gun is not the problem. Nor is the fact high school students can buy an AR-15 in many states. No waiting period to buy a gun in many places? That’s not the real cause of this violence, they claim.
The problem is that students aren’t nice enough to each other. It’s their fault.
Instead of walking out to bring attention to the need for better laws and policies, those kids should seek out the bullied, the troubled, the unstable and help them fit in. That would be more effective than urging their adult counterparts in government to strengthen and standardize gun laws.
That is such a self-serving, insensitive, and stupid argument.
Hey, I’m all for kids being kind and inclusive. Bullying is wrong, and kids are key in stopping it when they can. We can all be nicer to each other.
But it is sickening to see adults who have power pass the blame for their own shortcomings to kids who don’t. Are we this desperate to avoid responsible gun regulations nationwide?
Is this the most effective way to curb gun violence in schools? Should kids make friends with the kid who is killing his/her pets and making threats towards others? Sitting at the lunch table with an overly introverted peer might make him/her more sociable and involved. Or it could make that outcast more likely to obsess over you.
Is it possible limiting access to guns for that child might keep everyone safer? Don’t adults have the responsibility of keeping guns out of the wrong hands?
Oh no – we need more guns. We need to arm teachers, place more weapons in among the children. What could possibly go wrong with that idea? A school shooting was ended this week by an armed police officer stationed in the school, but that’s a sad but reasonable reality.
Clearly, this is not an either/or situation. We can and should do both. Bringing kids together and providing stronger counseling services should be pursued.
But in addition to strengthening gun laws — not in place of that effort.
Criticizing these kids for the responsible actions they have taken is akin to blaming the victim in a rape. We should show students as much respect and honor their place in our society as we do guns. Considering it is their lives being threatened, we should be proud these kids have assumed some responsibility for their own safety.
We blame poor mental health services. We blame video games. We blame declining moral values. We blame families. And now, we blame students trying to speak out. We blame anything — except the ease with which guns can be obtained.
Thank goodness our kids seem to get what so many of us don’t.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at billsinsidelook@gmail.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.