Friday, December 7, 2007

That Political Town

This column appeared int he Attleboro Sun Chronicle on November 24th, 2007.

By Bill Gouveia

Tell people from outside this area you are from Norton, you generally get a slightly quizzical smile. Until you mention either Wheaton College or the Great Woods PGA golf course, they usually have no idea where you live.

Mention Norton to people from this area, you get a different reaction. You can see a knowing, almost sympathetic look come over their faces as they prepare to cut you some slack due to your obviously disadvantaged background.

Norton is known as a political hotbed of a town. We are recognized far and wide for our tightness with a tax dollar. But primarily, Norton is known for wild politics, colorful characters, and a penchant for fighting amongst ourselves.

For most of the last 50 years, Norton has entertained its neighbors with politics startling in both directness and openness. If it happens in Norton, it seems everyone knows about it.

If there has been an official sport in town, it has been assessing blame. And we are good at it.

As former selectman Raymond Patenaude once noted in a light-hearted moment, “If Norton had a town physician, it would be Dr. Kevorkian.”

But I’m here to tell you Norton is a very misunderstood community. The truth is Norton and its leaders have set an example over the years of just how to keep local government open and transparent.

Our people aren’t anymore ornery than those in any surrounding town. They just feel comfortable expressing themselves within the framework of the local government.

In Norton, there is no such thing as dirty laundry – only laundry. While other towns discreetly hang their political unmentionables out to dry in private, Norton puts its right out in the backyard for everyone to see.

Norton has few well-known attractions within its borders. Unlike its neighbors, Norton has no shopping mall, no movie theater, no big public park. Many believe unless you live in town, there is almost never a reason to go there.

But they are wrong.

Norton has changed over the years. It is no longer the sleepy little suburb to Attleboro. Norton is an eclectic collection of families and individuals, professionals and blue-collar workers, who live there for the simplest of reasons: They like it.

Despite financial problems, Norton’s schools remain among the areas best. The town’s fire and rescue department has long been an innovative leader in the state.

In the last decade or so Norton has enticed such prestigious companies as General Motors and Bodek & Rhodes to settle within its borders. The PGA course in town has made Norton the golfing capital of New England.

You haven’t lived until you have had a Downtown CafĂ© pizza, a great dinner at the Chateau Restaurant, a hot dog at the Hot Dog Stand, or walked the trails through the Great Woods. Norton is home to one of the finest over-55 housing developments in the country, and the relatively low tax rate (natives will scoff at that description) continues to make it a desirable place to own a home.

While Norton folks know how to fight and argue, they have an even greater capacity for coming together in a crisis. You need look no further than the recent tragedy concerning the Cann family for an example of how generous, loving and caring the people of Norton truly are. We take care of our own.

Norton has indoor plumbing, we don’t marry our cousins, we aren’t all stuck in the past, and we’re not so tight we squeak. Maybe we’re a bit more politically boisterous than some, but is that really so bad?

Ok, so our Planning Board approved permits for chickens in residential zones but won’t allow the Dunkin Donuts in the center of town a drive-thru. And it is true there is only one traffic light in the entire town. And yes, there was a McDonald’s in Moscow before we got one in Norton. Hey, nobody’s perfect.

But Norton is a great place to live and raise a family. And if being known as “that political town” is the price we pay to be that, we can live with it.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and a third generation Nortonian (is that a word?). He can be reached at

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Police Chief Appointment Coming

Norton Town Manager Jim Purcell will appoint a new Police Chief in the next couple of weeks, and only one thing is for certain - it will be one of the applicants from within the current department.

Of course, that is because only current department members were allowed to apply. Afraid to buck Civil Service and the politically active police officers and firefighters, Norton selectmen caved and did the easier thing by keeping the appointment local.

Because of that, we are guaranteed our next Chief will have no experience as a police chief. That is not to say the current candidates are not qualified, or will not do a good job. It is simply recognizing a fact - this was a rigged appointment process that can only result in one of the current officers getting the job.

Supporters of this system will say this is necessary to "keep the politics out" of the process. But that is a load of crap. That will be proven by the political fallout over the appointment, whoever it is.

Appointing a new chief will always be political, regardless of how you do it. Despite the best efforts of the Town Manager, this remains a political appointment as well as a professional hiring. And no matter who is chosen, you will hear grumblings about who got it, why they got it, and who favored who. It's just the way it is.

It is a shame this job could not be advertised in a way that qualified, experienced candidates from across the state could have applied had they chosen to do so. Then, if one of the current department officers had gotten the job, no one could say it was because the pool of applicants was artificially limited.

It will be interesting to see who is hired this week, and if there are any appeals of the process.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Red Sox - Champions Once Again!

I can't honestly say it had the same intensity as the last time in 2004 - but the Boston Red Sox are once again the World Series Champions, and it's a pretty sweet deal.

In 2004 the Sox won it for people like my grandfather, who went most of his life without seeing his beloved hometown team take the title. They won it for the older fans who had spent decades rooting for them, but never reaching the Promised Land.

This year, the Sox won it for the younger folks - the people of Red Sox Nation. This was an EXPECTED World Series win, something that would have been totally unheard of just four years previous. They were supposed to do it, they were favored to do it - and they did it.

The emotion of this great victory was different from 2004, but no less sincere. In essence, the Red Sox are becoming the Patriots of baseball. We now expect excellence from them - no, we demand it. There are no more "nice try" situations. They have proven they can do it, and now it is expected.

This was a great team, and hopefully the Sox management can keep much of it intact. Signing Mike Lowell would be a great step in that direction. Initially, I was in favor of pursuing Alex Rodriguex, undoubtedly the most skilled player in the game today. But I have come around to believing this Sox team would be better off with the quiet leadership of Lowell than the circus that is A-Rod.

And how about Terry Francona? He is so underrated and under-appreciated around here. The job he did this past season was sensational, and the fact he is 8-0 in World Series play says it all. He is the best Red Sox manager in history, and deserves to be paid and recognized as such.

So the Sox are World Champs: The Patriots are undefeated and rolling: Boston College is ranked Number 2 in the country: The Celtics are ready to open their season with three legitimate superstars: It doesn't get a whole lot better than this.

Life is good, sportsfans. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Mansfield Recall is Personal for TM

This is my first column for the Attleboro Sun Chronicle. It appeared on October 13th, 2007.

Recall elections are messy, difficult, emotional affairs. I know – I organized one in my hometown 15 years ago.

In most communities, the allowable reasons for recalling elected officials are purposefully vague. They generally do not require the target(s) be found guilty of anything.

Two Mansfield selectmen face a recall election next month that is really much less about them than about the current Town Manager. To be sure, their role in a court case where the town was found guilty of discriminating against an employee has raised questions about their competence and integrity. But the true focus of the recall is not on them.

The Mansfield recall boils down to a referendum on Town Manager John D’Agostino. Despite recall proponent claims their goal is more accountability in town government, any objective review of the situation clearly reveals this is all about getting rid of one man.

You want facts? Well, there are lots of them in this campaign. There are depositions, affidavits, court rulings, letters, meeting minutes and other documents and oral histories that present a clear indication of only one thing:

This is a real mess in Mansfield.

All recalls – even the most valid ones – are inevitably about politics at their core. While some may seek recall to right perceived wrongs by their officials, just as many take advantage of the process simply to promote their own political agendas and points of view. It’s just the way it is.

The average length of service for a Town Manager in Massachusetts is three to five years. John D’Agostino has been in Mansfield for the better part of a decade now. There are many advantages to serving in a position like this for such a long time, but there are also distinct disadvantages.

You cannot manage a community the size of Mansfield for ten years and not make political enemies. No matter what decision you make on a particular issue, you are bound to alienate someone. The longer your time in office, the longer the list. D’Agostino’s list contains some unique Mansfield personalities.

D’Agostino said recently “All I want…is to be able to manage this town.” As time goes by, this seems less and less likely to occur.

If as Town Manager you yourself become the main focus and top political issue in a community, managing effectively becomes next to impossible. It may be your fault, or it may be caused by circumstances beyond your control. In the end, it makes no difference.

D’Agostino may find he is desperately seeking to hold on to a job he can no longer effectively do. When the majority of your time and resources are spent defending yourself rather than doing your job, you and the community suffer.

If Selectmen Amoruso and McCarter are removed, the objective of recall supporters will only be partially met. Their goal is not just to remove the two selectmen, but to also get people in who will vote to get D’Agostino out.

This is a nasty recall campaign. It has gotten personal as well as political. With the terms of both Amoruso and McCarter up this May, their opponents could have waited until then to try and get them off the board, saving the town the expense and the emotional turmoil of a recall campaign. But they saw a political edge to be gained here, and are taking full advantage.

Had D’Agostino moved on of his own volition months ago, would this recall be going forward? Mansfield voters should ask themselves that question before casting their ballots.

There is a method for getting rid of elected officials who become unpopular in office. It is called “Voting them out when their term ends”. That should be the preferred method of removing officials, with recall reserved for the most severe of circumstances.

There will no doubt be losers in next month’s Mansfield recall election. The real question is: Will there truly be any winners?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

SportsTown USA

Yes Ladies and Gentlemen, this is SportsTown USA. Welcome to New England, the Sports Capital of the known universe!

The Red Sox are in the ALCS on their way to their second World Series title in just four years. The Patriots are undefeated and favored to win their 4th Super Bowl Championship in the last seven years. The Celtics are suddenly the up-and-coming NBA franchise with the addition of Kevin Garnett and are favored to win the East. And the Bruins - well, three out of four ain't bad.

If you are a true sports fan, this is the time you live for. It doesn't get any better than this. The baseball season is reaching its climax, the football season is well underway, and basketball is almost ready to tip-off. And everywhere you look, our guys are right i n the thick of it.

The Sox have the best pitching in baseball, as well as the best 1-2 hitting punch since Ruth and Gehrig. The Patriots have the best quarterback in the game, and the guy they got for a 4th round draft-pick is leading the league in receiving. The Celtics have three bonafide superstars in their starting line-up for the first time since the Big Three in the 1980's.

Life is good.

This is why we stay up until 2:00 am watching mid-season baseball games on the West Coast. This is the payback for suffering through 2-14 football seasons. This is why we agonized over the Celtic draft postion all this spring. This is the reward for being what we so obviously are:

The best damn sports fans in the world.

We in New England, while certainly suffering from our own peculiar and particular traits, understand what sports is really all about. We know this is what makes our lives so great, aside from all that "family" stuff. We are fans who live and die with our teams, and our worlds revolve on the sporting world axis.

We can bitch and moan about our guys all year long, but we know we will be there for them when they need us. We can kill J.D. Drew for 6 months, then root unbelievably hard for him in the final 30 days. Our interest doesn't end with the season, we don't care about beating the traffic by leaving the stadium early. This is our time - we live it to the fullest.

So enjoy, New England. These things do not happen all that often. The Sporting Gods do not always smile down at us the way they are currently beaming. This is the good times - don't let them pass you by without taking full advantage.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Making a Change

It is with many mixed emotions that, after almost ten years, I am leaving as a columnist for the Norton Mirror.

As of October 13th 2007 I will be writing a weekly column for the Attleboro Sun Chronicle. The Sun Chronicle is the area's largest daily newspaper, and one of the best and most recognized daily papers in the state. I am pleased and proud to be joining them as a columnist, and I look forward to establishing a relationship with their vast number of readers.

Leaving the weekly Mirror, and the sister papers Mansfield News and Easton Journal, was a difficult thing to do. However, the business side of this business sometimes rears its ugly head. I will miss the fine people at these papers, and I thank them for the opportunity they have given me over the years to make my views known.

I will continue to post here, both past columns and my various musings and ramblings. I hope you will continue to read me both here and at the Sun Chronicle, and I thank you for doing so.

Friday, September 28, 2007


This column originally appeared in the Norton Mirror in August of 2001.

Every August my wife and children engage in the annual masochistic exercise they refer to as “camping”. And because they love and adore me, they always ask me to share in it and be a part of their wilderness bonding experience.

Thus it was that last week I trudged up to the barrenness of North Monmouth, Maine – God’s country, where instead of “Do Not Litter” the street signs say “Watch For Moose in Road”. As part of a group of 40 or so friends who annually take this trek, we rented the usual campsite on the shore of some impossible-to-spell lake and settled in for a week of natural bliss.

Unlike my wife and kids I find nothing natural about this “camping” thing. In fact, I find it to be quite unnatural. It is difficult to understand why people with perfectly comfortable beds at home would want to travel hundreds of miles to sleep on the ground inside a canvas structure with walls so thin you can now hear seven people snoring instead of just one.

I am not a wilderness scout. My idea of roughing it on a trip is when the hotel has no room service after midnight. Sure, I can appreciate the natural beauty of a still lake surrounded by mountains with the sun glistening off it and slowly sinking beyond the horizon. I just would much rather appreciate its beauty from the deck of my well-appointed chalet than from the rickety folding chair that rusts all winter long in my cellar.

And the whole bathroom thing is a real drag. I must be missing the Daniel Boone gene, because I get no particular primitive pleasure from urinating in the woods. When nature calls in the middle of the night (and at my age it seems to be dropping in more often) I don’t enjoy getting up, getting dressed, grabbing a flashlight and walking five minutes to get to what some sick, sadistic campground owner has dubbed “The Comfort Station.”

Comfort my foot. Three toilets, three sinks, a couple of urinals and a questionable shower with a slot where you must put in a quarter is hardly my idea of comfort. Stepping out of the shower and taking the sink between the 300-pound bearded and tattooed motorcycle gentleman and the smiling elderly man with the “I’m Retired – And Loving It” t-shirt is not my idea of a great start to the morning.

And while camping may be a beautiful experience when the sun is shining, it is something a bit less than that when the weather decides not to cooperate. One year my wife told me to dig a trench around our tent so that if it rained, the water would have someplace to run. So I dutifully dug the trench, under her watchful and expert eye.

And sure enough, the rains came. And it rained so hard, and for so long, that I expected to see Noah at the site next door. And my well-constructed trench? Forget it – I could have dug a full-fledged moat and it would not have made a damn bit of difference. Our tent collapsed, our sleeping bags were soaked, our clothes threatened to float away.

My wife asked me to hold up the center aluminum pole of the tent while she emptied our soaked belongings into the car. As I stood in a huge puddle of water, holding up the aluminum pole and watching the lightning illuminate the sky, it occurred to me there might possibly be a better way to spend my vacation.

Of course, the people do make it fun. And there is the evenings spent around the campfire, drinking and telling stories. It doesn’t exactly make me forget the constant longing I feel for my big screen TV and ESPN, but it is fun.

One night the big entertainment for the camping group was to lay out on the beach at night and watch shooting stars. I tried it – I really did. But after three or four times of hearing “Oh look – there’s a good one” followed by a chorus of ooohhs and aaahhs, I had to get up and leave.

They found me hours later, sitting in the seat of my car. I had the radio tuned to the Red Sox game, the Patriots preseason game barely showing up on a battery-operated TV, and reading by the light of a lantern hanging on the door.

Now they only ask me up for a day or two. It’s better that way.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Purple Door

Early on in the relationship you are the Man of the House, the King of your Castle, the head of your family.

Then you come home one day, and your front door is purple. And now the world knows what you in your heart have known for some time. The King is dead. Long live the Queen.

Although most of my friends and acquaintances say it happened many years ago, for me official confirmation of my demise as pretender to the throne of my household came this weekend. Up until Sunday afternoon I was clinging to the pretense of power, putting up a solid front for the rest of the world. But now the symbol of my emasculation is emblazoned upon the front of my once revered domicile – that damn purple door.

It began last week, when my wife asked me (in that sly way that wives pretend to ask) what I thought about changing the color of the front door to our house. I reacted in typical male fashion. I told her there was nothing wrong with the color it was now, that I liked that color, and I did not want it to change. In my mind, thus endeth the discussion.

Then she asked me a trick question. She asked me what color our front door was. I scoffed at her ridiculous question, ignoring her knowing smile. I hemmed, I hawed, but she was not to be denied. I was finally forced to admit that I had no idea what color the front door of the house I have lived in for almost 14 years truly was. Damn those tricky females.

Despite this setback, I was adamant that the color not be changed. She said it was time to change it, and suggested black or purple. She says our house is grey, although the name of the paint color is Federal Blue. She said black would look good, but purple would really look wonderful.

I knew this was the time to stand firm. I said I did not agree, I thought the red (remember – red, I told myself) was the best color. I emphatically stated I did not like either black or purple, and would not grant my consent to such a drastic and outlandish change. It was out of the question, a bad idea, and I would not grant my needed agreement.

My wife looked at me in disgust, and told me I had no taste. It has been the same color for 14 years, she tried to reason with me. It will look classy and you’ll really like it when it’s done, she went on hopefully.

But it was no use. I felt like General Custer the night before Little Big Horn. I was calm, I was cool, and I was confident. The answer was no. Of course, I was smart enough not to state it as an order or an ultimatum. After all, 26 years of marriage had to teach me something.

My wife seemed to take it well. She shook her head, looked a little angry, but went on to bigger and better things. I swaggered off savoring the heady taste of my small victory, secure in the knowledge my red door was safe.

Then came the weekend, and work took me out of town. I talked to my wife several times while I was gone, and she couldn’t have been nicer. I was cautiously optimistic there would be no after-effects from the firm stand I had taken in turning her down flat.

Then Sunday afternoon I got home, turned my car into the driveway, and stopped short. There, glaring down at me like a maniacal giant jar of jelly, was my newly-painted purple front door. It was mocking me, and I knew in my heart I deserved it.

Oh, I went in and made the rather pointless complaints. I asked her why she painted the door after I said no. Her answer was simple and complete.

“I told you I wanted to do it”, she said.

I’m now telling people the purple door was my idea.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Debt Exclusion loses at polls

It was close – but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

Town officials now may have to take a hand grenade to the town budget following the defeat of a $1.9 million debt exclusion designed to fund repairs to the Middle School and Yelle School. The controversial question failed by a mere 68 votes, with 2090 in favor and 2158 opposed.

Although the override passed in three of the town’s five precincts, that was not enough to win the day. Buoyed by a 461-316 margin in Precinct 3, the “No” side won a hard-earned political victory and avoided a temporary tax hike that would have lasted eight years and cost the average taxpayer about $36 annually.

Anyone who doubts Norton is a town divided need only look at this vote. About 40 percent of voters, some 4252 of them, turned out to decide the immediate financial future of their community. They were just about completely split down the middle, and their visions of this town’s future could not be more diametrically opposed.

If you are a young, professional couple with small children in the school system – you are probably reaching for the real estate ads today. And frankly, I don’t blame you.

This community’s school system will continue to slide and suffer next year, as it has for the last several. The police and fire departments will continue to have glaring needs unfunded. The capital needs of the town will continue to be postponed, delayed and ignored.

But worse – there is absolutely no reason to believe it is going to get any better in the foreseeable future.

It is impossible to miss the message sent by the voters on Tuesday. They simply refuse to pay any more in property taxes, regardless of the reason. They neither trust nor believe their town officials, and there is nothing short of refusing to raise taxes those officials can do to satisfy them.

This question was not decided on its merits. The need was extremely well documented. The town’s objective financial advisors strongly recommended its passage. It was a temporary tax increase, with a relatively low impact on even the community’s least affluent taxpayers.

To the “No” voters, this was essentially a matter of principle. They voted to uphold the letter and the spirit of Proposition 2-1/2, consequences be damned. They believe the money for these repairs can come out of the existing budget, and they either do not believe the resulting cuts will be devastating or they simply do not care.

As long as they are in the majority – and clearly they are – this town will not be financially able to address its most critical problems. From this moment on, the focus of town officials must stop being on making things better in Norton. Instead, they must concentrate on simply making them survivable.

It is now up to the town’s leaders to give the voters the kind of town they have chosen to become.

The people clearly want cuts over more taxes. They think the town spends too much money, and spends it unwisely. They want fiscal restraint. There can be no doubt that on Tuesday, they voted for budget cuts.

So give them those cuts. Don’t cut for effect, don’t make cuts designed to deliberately make things worse than they are. But don’t avoid the devastating cuts we have skipped around for years. Give the people what they chose.

We are about to enter a dark chapter in our town’s long history. You can call that doom and gloom if you want, but I have another phrase for it: The truth. And we have nobody to blame for it but ourselves.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Bill takes on the NO Folks

The link below will take you to the An Inside Look page of the Norton Community Television website. Click on the latest show (September 12) and listen and watch what Bill has to say about the upcoming debt exclusion and how the campaign has been handled thus far.

Mansfield Selectmen Need Dope-Slap

This column appeared in the September 14th edition of the Mansfield News.

I have a suggestion for a new motto for the Mansfield Board of Selectmen. It should be inscribed on a banner and hung on the wall in their meeting room. The sign should read:

“If we can’t win the game – we’ll just change the rules.”

Changing their positions more often than Senator Larry Craig, the Mansfield board continues to put on a clinic of how not to act as a responsible governmental body. They continue to ignore the major problems that threaten to tear this community apart, instead concentrating on correcting the annoying habits of those who continue to irritate them.

Recently the board’s actions hit the height of absurdity when they voted to change their rules concerning members’ casting votes. In a move specifically aimed at maverick selectman George Dentino, the majority of selectmen voted to require any member who abstains to explain his or her reason for doing so. Dentino has often abstained during votes of the board.

The vote on the new policy was 4-0-1. Dentino, in a beautiful piece of political gamesmanship, abstained. You have to chuckle at that move.

But it is the actions of the four majority members that are truly laughable. While they seek and demand accountability from Dentino, they continue to ignore calls for more accountability from them to the people who really matter – the voters and taxpayers of Mansfield.

This is not to make a martyr out of Dentino. His votes are often self-serving, designed more to draw attention more than to actually solve problems. But his fellow board members continue to fall into the political trap laid for them by Dentino and others, and they show no signs of wising up anytime soon.

Faced with growing anger from at least a small group of citizens over the recent jury verdict against the town, selectmen have totally melted down. For two weeks they hid behind their elected offices, refusing to allow the public to ask questions at their meetings citing their inability to discuss all aspects of the case.

They initially discussed blocking a recall effort generated by citizens before allowing it to continue. They continue to tell people everything they cannot do, when all people want to know is just what it is they actually are doing.

Memo to the majority board members: You are allowing yourselves to be played, and it is hurting both you and the town.

Let’s be realistic here. This recall and political upheaval in town right now is all about one thing: Getting rid of Town Manager John D’Agostino.

Whether there exist sufficient grounds for firing D’Agostino is certainly debatable. But that topic will be debated throughout this community whether selectmen acknowledge it or not. Ignoring it as if it were the pink elephant in the corner does no one, least of all the Board of Selectmen, any good.

Trying to get back at Dentino by changing the rules on abstentions is like responding to the horrible events of 9/11 by invading Iraq – it might be deserved, but it does nothing to solve the original problem.

Selectmen need to stop acting like administration officials during the final days of the Nixon administration. They need to face the problem before them head-on and deal with it.

No one said it will be easy, and no doubt they are somewhat hamstrung in their efforts. But a court of law said John D’Agostino did something illegal, it cost Mansfield money and its integrity, and the townspeople are demanding to know what is going to be done about it.

On this question, no selectman can abstain.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Straight Talk on the Debt Exclusion

Ok, now I want to take a few minutes and talk to the people of Norton. I want to ask you to stop for a minute, put aside all the emotion and anger associated with any override effort, and take a good hard look at the truth and the facts surrounding this Tuesday’s important vote.

To those who always vote against any override no matter what – you can stop reading now now. Your minds are closed, and the facts don’t matter to you. The same to those who will vote in favor of any override that benefits schools or other interests. There is no sense in anyone explaining anything to you.

But to the majority of the good people of my hometown – the ones that judge both people and issues on the merits rather than the spin others put on them – I ask your attention. I ask you to focus on what needs to be done in our town, figure out the best way to do it, and take care of it in a business-like manner. As voters, that is our job here.

We have real problems with our buildings in town. One of them, a ten year-old school, needs expensive repairs because someone didn’t make sure it was built properly. We have a right to be angry about that, but the fact remains – the building must be fixed, and that cost money that was not expected.

Another school in town has walls that are simply not safe. The supports are corroded and must be replaced. This school is more than 50 years old. It’s walls are not crumbling because of neglect, they are crumbling because of age. It needs to be fixed, and that is not the fault of anyone.

We have a town hall that is an old gymnasium. It was in crappy shape when we renovated it in the mid 1970’s, and it gets worse every year. We have major equipment needs to fund in our public safety departments. We have to spend money on maintenance to make sure our infrastructure does not continue to collapse around us.

The money to do some of these things has already been approved at Town Meeting. The buildings will be fixed – that is not at issue. The only question is – how will we pay for these repairs?

We have two choices. Please listen to them carefully.

We can finance the extra money by issuing bonds. This is the municipal equivalent of taking out a loan. We will borrow the money for the repairs, and we will pay interest on the loan. The interest, plus the principal payment, will come out of the regular town budget. This will mean these emergency repairs will in effect be deducted from the town’s operating budget. That most likely means cuts in the bigger budgets – schools, fire and police.

Our second option is to pass the debt exclusion. What this does, greatly simplified, is place $1.9 million for repairs and capital projects outside the Proposition 2-1/2 limit. This will bring about a temporary tax increase. This increase will average about $36 per year for eight years for the average homeowner. At the end of eight years, the tax increase will disappear, and the town will be back under the Proposition 2-1/2 limit.

This will allow us to pay for the repairs, but without spending any money on interest. The repairs will cost LESS if the debt exclusion passes than they will if it is defeated. That is worth repeating, for those who may have missed it the first time: The repairs will cost LESS if the debt exclusion passes than they will if it is defeated.

But override opponents tell you it is a bad idea to pass the debt exclusion. They note – and quite correctly – that you will pay more taxes if it passes than you will if it loses. But they conveniently don’t tell you, as Paul Harvey so eloquently says, the rest of the story.

They want you to be penny wise and pound foolish. They want the town to unnecessarily spend more money so they can save a few bucks in their pockets. To them, the impact on town services does not matter.

The override opponents are simply not being honest with the voters. Their flyer says “How this money will be spent and what it will be spent on is anybody’s guess”. Yet they know selectmen and the Town Manager have already pledged to spend the money on the repairs and capital improvements.

And their own “expert” on Prop 2-1/2. Chip Faulkner of Citizens for Limited Taxation, told everyone on John Freeman’s TV show that he has never seen any town promise to spend override money on one thing and then spend it on something else after it is voted. But that didn’t get put in the flyer somehow.

Ladies and gentlemen, your town has never passed an override in the history of Prop 2-1/2. For 26 years Norton has lived within the constraints of 2-1/2 as though it were a religion. We built a school and a police station without any relief from 2-1/2.

Yes, there has been questionable spending over the years. There is in every town. Override opponents can point to instances where money was spent unwisely, or mismanagement occurred. No one is saying otherwise.

But defeating this intelligent, important debt exclusion does nothing to make up for the mistakes of either the past, present or the future. They think it sends a message – and I agree with them.

But they think the message it sends is “Just tell the town officials No, and teach them a lesson”. I think the message it sends is “We don’t care what makes good sense – we just want to flex our muscles and feel important”.

Voters of Norton – don’t let a small, angry and stubborn group of citizens make you disregard the clear facts of this matter. Don’t let them turn this election on Tuesday into a referendum on the performance of town officials. This is not about that. It is about the best, most economical way to pay for needed repairs to our buildings.

Vote with your heads, not your hearts. Don’t be swayed by empty threats and groundless accusations. Look at the facts, and figure it out for yourselves. Don’t rely on me, or John Freeman, or anyone else for the right answer. Rely on your own common sense.

Put the politics aside – do what is best for the community. Don’t let hatred and mistrust guide your vote, but rather intelligence and a desire to do the right thing. If you do that, I am confident you vote to pass the debt exclusion on Tuesday, and set Norton back on the right financial track.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Patriots Caught Cheating

For the record, I have been a Patriots season ticket holder for most of the last 35 years. I go to every home game, and a fair number of the road games. I have been to three SuperBowls, as well as every AFC Championship game the team has ever played.

So I am a big fan.

But I am not so big a fan that I cannot admit what seems to be undeniable - the Patriots violated NFL rules last week against the Jets. In short - they cheated.

They violated the rule that prohibits video cameras being used on the sideline. They were fliming the defensive calls from the Jet coaches. What they did is illegal, and they deserve to be punished for their actions.

But please folks - let's not get carried away here.

While what the Pats did was definitely against the rules, it does not rise to the level of offense that many nationally and even locally are claiming. That does not mean they are not guilty - it just means this is not a hanging offense.

Every team in the league steals signs from the sideline. Most teams have personnel dedicated to doing just that. They watch the coaches, and report on the signs given. That is why every team in the league guards their signs, and in fact use decoys to display false signs. This has been going on in the NFL since the very first game.

The difference is - the Pats got caught. They used a video camera, which is clearly illegal under the rules. They were dumb. Why and how their very smart coach allowed this to happen, I do not know. But make no mistake, he is the one responsible for it.

But I have heard people today comparing Bill Belichick to Barry Bonds. I mean, seriously - give me a break.

Belichick is not a likeable guy, much like Bonds. That is about the only thing they have in common.

Teams are caught cheating in this kind of manner all the time. That does not excuse the Patriots - we expect better of them. But it puts it in perspective.

Teams have been fined for playing fast and loose with the salary cap, for stashing players, for banned substances, for violating scouting rules, and a wide variety of similar offenses. This clearly falls into the category with those.

But because it is the Patriots, who have become the Yankees of the NFL - this is a big deal. I have heard and read where people said they should give their Super Bowl championships back, Belichick should resign, and even that they should forfeit the last game to the Jets. That one is funny, considering the camera in question was confiscated during the FIRST quarter of Sunday's game. So why were we killing them in the final quarter?

This is a very disappointing thing for Patriot fans. It has taken some of the fun out of what promises to be a great season. It has cut into the pride we all feel as Pats fans, rooting for one of the finest franchises in sports.

But we shall deal with it.

The Patriots cheated, they got caught, and they will pay an appropriate price. Then the season will go on, and the attention will be focused where it belongs - on the field.

But spare me the hypocracy and New York hype.

Taking Care of Kitty...

This column originally appeared in the Mansfield News in December 2005. It received a third place award from the New England Presss Association in the Serious Columnist category.

A short time ago I came across a letter from a man who had encountered difficulty trying to adopt a cat to give to his elderly mother. This made me stop and ponder the strange and wonderful world we live in.

The man had been greeted warmly at his local cat shelter and shown many lovely animals. He picked one out for Mom, happy she would have a pet and companion. He began the adoption process, and ran into immediate trouble.

When filling out the necessary paperwork, the gentleman ran across a question concerning how the cat would be housed. He answered the cat would be kept indoors primarily, but also allowed unfettered access to the outside.

At this point, the adoption process ground to a swift halt.

It seems many shelters these days have strict rules regarding how their adoptee kittens are to be kept. Many will not allow adoptions to people who do not pledge to keep the pets indoors, away from dangerous automobiles, coyotes and other natural predators.

His reaction to this was somewhat similar to my own: You have GOT to be kidding me.

I understand the need to care for and protect animals. I understand the need to have them spayed and vaccinated. I totally approve of the care in which they are doled out to their adopted homes.

But now cats can’t be trusted outside the home itself? Good grief, have we become that anal as a society? We are talking cats here – not kids. They are animals, for goodness sake. They were meant to live outside, not necessarily in warm, comfortable homes with wall-to-wall carpeting and kitty toys in little wicker baskets.

I love cats. I have had many of them over my life. Some lived to ripe old ages, others met untimely ends. I treated my cats well, and considered them part of the family.

But keep them strictly inside? I never felt the need to do that. I lived in homes with yards where they loved to wander, chase squirrels, and often torment the neighbor’s dogs. I had no need to implant microchips in them, or tuck little roadmaps in their collars. They always seemed to find their own way home.

Yes, cats can be snatched away by coyotes or predators. And yes, many a Buick has ended the life of a sweet little kitten. But for crying out loud – they are cats. They are living animals, not robots created to keep us company or give us a cuddle toy at night.

Where will this end? Will shelters insist on every kitten having its own room? Will agreements have to be signed, committing one spouse or the other to pay for kitty college in the event the cat wishes to better itself?

It is not my intent to demean or belittle in any way the good work done by the many cat shelters and organizations throughout the country. They are run by sincere, caring people who seek the best for the animals they love.

But insisting cats be kept inside is patently absurd, unless of course it is an older cat that has never been outside before. Do we somehow feel the need to regulate everything that happens in this country?

Fears of roving bands of wild cats are just plain silly. While feral cats sometimes cause problems, let us remember that not every cat who spends considerable time outside is wild. Some of them just like it out there.

Now that the kids have moved out, maybe it is time for a new cat. After all, I have two empty bedrooms. But then, there’s no cable in one of them…I’ll never be approved.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Why Do I Do This?

This column was originally published in the Mansfield News in September 2004.

There are questions that this intrepid local columnist gets asked all the time. The first is – Will you please just shut up?

But it is the second most frequently asked question that I would like to discuss in this space today. That question is – Why do you do what you do?

Many people cannot understand what would motivate someone to write a local opinion column for a weekly newspaper, never mind three of them each week as I do. Believe me when I tell you, it is not for the money. I will never be able to retire on what I make here..

Some folks think it is to gain power and prestige in order to advance some personal or political agenda. If you have read this space on a regular basis, you know that my views are uniquely my own and do not align with any particular group or philosophy.

In fact, my wife has a theory of why I put myself out there in this manner each week. She says – tongue-in-cheek - it wasn’t enough for me to be hated in one town, I had to go for a couple more.

But the truth is, I love to write and I love to discuss the issues of the day. I am a firm believer in the need for ordinary citizens to be involved and lead. Since I am as ordinary as anyone, I consider myself qualified in this regard.

What bothers me is how few people seem to understand this desire to be involved. In today’s world, people struggle mightily to maintain their anonymity. They seek not to be noticed, to simply melt into the background and enjoy the pleasures afforded by their own families and friends. There is certainly nothing wrong with that.

After all, they see what happens to those who dare to speak out and lead. Those people are subjected to intense public scrutiny, their faults are made public and expanded, they are placed under the glare of a spotlight from which few if any can come out looking perfect.

Who in their right mind would subject themselves to this type of treatment unless they had something significant to gain? These people surely must be masochistic, egotistic or crazy. They must love to fight.

Perhaps that is true. No one who puts their opinion out there every week is without ego. If you don’t strongly believe you are right, you stand no chance of convincing anyone else you are. And crazy? Well, my family members will concede that issue to almost anyone who raises it.
But I speak directly to the public on a weekly basis because I want to – no other real reason. It makes me feel good. It makes me feel as if I am serving a purpose, as though I am making a difference. I do it for myself.

I do it because I enjoy the give-and-take when someone contacts me to dispute my view on an issue. I do it because of the way I feel when someone writes to thank me for saying what they wanted to say in a way they had been unable to express successfully themselves.

These columns are meant to inspire thought and debate. They are meant to lead, even if they wind up leading people in the direction opposite of where my printed words want them to go. I write to make people think, to learn from their responses, and to express myself.

What bothers me the most is how few people realize that. There is nothing exceptional about me. I simply say what I think, and the truth is I can’t understand those who do otherwise.

So the answer to the question of why I do this is – because I enjoy it and because I believe it helps me make a difference. Also, it is considerably less expensive than a psychiatrist.

What's this all about?

Hi All -

After nearly ten years of writing weekly columns in the Norton Mirror, and also adding the Mansfield News and Easton Journal along the way, I thought I would experiment with a Blog!

My goal is to make this an interactive conversation between myself and my readers. I will post columns I write here, as well as merely writing to the Blog when the mood strikes me. This gives me a chance to respond instantly to issues in the communty, and allows readers a voice also.

I hope you will take the time to read this space, and to pass it along to friends and foes alike. I hope to make it interesting and informative!

Bill Gouveia

Monday, September 10, 2007

Gadget Junkie

Even though I was not caught up in the iPhone frenzy of a few months ago, when it comes to things like that I’m afraid I have an admission to make.

My name is Bill – and I’m an electronics gadget junkie.

I’ve always been fascinated by technology and the toys that allow us to take advantage of it. Televisions, cell phones, computers, sound systems – they tend to draw me to them like a fish to a shiny lure.

My home is a testament to that addiction. Against the will of my lovely wife, our home is full of electronic gadgetry which performs a myriad of necessary (in my judgment) tasks that no modern household should be without.

In the Gouveia home, that addiction begins with the centerpiece – the television. Mine is a widescreen 50” High Definition LCD TV I bought just before Game 6 of the Sox/Yankees playoff series in 2004. Since then I have treated it with deference and respect, and it holds a place of honor in our home.

Of course, no good television is worth its salt unless you surround it with devices which allow it to be utilized to its full potential. I owed it to the TV to make sure it had what it needed – that’s how I explained it to my Beloved.

That starts with a digital HD cable DVR box, needed to capture the incredible High Definition programming available today. It also allows for digital, tapeless recording of any program. That is accompanied by a Direct TV box, which I keep because it is the only way to get the NFL package during football season. Can’t miss any games, after all.

Beside that sits a DVD player/recorder, enabling us to watch the latest DVDs as well as record movies and shows onto discs to be watched later. Transferring our old home movies from VCR tapes to DVD is now a snap.

Below that on the electronics rack sits the newest piece of electronic bliss – a Bose surround-sound system. This is my newest pride and joy, an anniversary present for both of us (at least, that’s what my wife agreed to say) we bought in celebration of our 30th.

The unbelievable sound this generates alone is worth the time it took to set it up. It also serves as a giant music source, digitally recording up to 200 hours of music for playback. The fact I have not listened to a total of 200 hours of music in the last 20 years does not restrict my respect for this great ability.

Also occupying a place of great respect is a unique device called Slingbox. This modern technological miracle allows me to connect to my home television from any web-based computer with no monthly fee. This has come in very handy when traveling on business, allowing me to still watch the Red Sox games in areas of the country where they are not being shown.

My wife and I both have satellite radios in our vehicles. My cell phone is pretty basic, but I do also have a PDA to keep track of business and personal records and appointments. My wife has a phone that connects to the web, gets email, and does everything but make dinner. She’s working on that last part.

Our cars have automatic starters. Our computers are hooked up to wireless high-speed internet. Our home phone is wireless and portable.

I am driven to this addiction not out of the need to keep up with anyone, but rather by sheer laziness and selfishness. I love gadgets. I love the ease they add to my life, the things they allow me to do. I am hopelessly hooked.

As I sit typing this on my laptop computer and prepare to send it to my editor by email over my wireless internet while watching a movie in high definition on my widescreen TV with the sound pouring through the surround sound system, I say again I am an electronic gadget junkie – and happy about it.

Do you think those iPhones really work?

Norton Debt Exclusion - The Facts

“Shall the Town of Norton be allowed to exempt from the provisions of Proposition 2 1/2, so-called, the amounts required to pay for the bonds issued in 1998 in order to construct, equip and furnish the Middle School?”

The above question will be on the ballot when voters go to the polls on September 18th. Those voters will either approve it or defeat it.

But just what does that rather vague and confusing question really mean? In plain English, what does the approval or defeat of this question mean for the voters and taxpayers of Norton?

Well, let’s try and cut through the political mumbo-jumbo here and talk in simple terms about what this question means to the average taxpayer. Voters need to understand just what will result from their actions a few weeks from now.

If approved, this will take the amount of money remaining to be paid on the Middle School built ten years ago and exempt it from the Proposition 2-1/2 limit. These payments total $1.9 million, the amount of extra taxation this question will generate over the course of the eight years remaining on the debt.

Think of it as a mortgage on the Middle School. If approved, the question will place the amounts of the town’s mortgage payments outside the Prop 2-1/2 limits until the mortgage is paid off. This is very common among towns, and is how most communities fund their major building projects.

The money this generates over and above the Prop 2-1/2 limit will be used for repairing school and municipal buildings, as well as other capital improvement projects. These projects are absolutely necessary, and will for the most part be done whether the question passes or not.

If the question fails, the projects will be done in part by using money taken from other parts of the existing town budget. Money will be drawn away from schools, public safety, and other major parts.

If the question passes, voters will pay extra taxes beyond the limit of Prop 2-1/2 for the next eight years. After eight years, the tax increase will disappear and the town will again be within the limits of Prop 2-1/2.

The average home in Norton is valued at $352,000. If the question passes, the average homeowner will pay $36 extra per year, or slightly less than $300 over the eight-year period. This comes to just over $3 per month.

If the question fails, voters will not pay any more in taxes – at least, not in the short term. However, the town will be forced to finance some of the needed repairs by borrowing money and issuing bonds. This means the town will pay interest on top of the repairs, thus raising the price of fixing the buildings.

Voters need to weigh the cost of the temporary tax increase - $3 per month for eight years for the average taxpayer – against the impact of severe budget cuts on town services. If they are not prepared to live with the small tax increase, they must be prepared to deal with major service reductions.

Some of the problems that now need to be fixed – though certainly not all – could have been prevented with better maintenance. If the budget is further reduced in order to pay for the repairs, it will be even more difficult than in the past to provide proper maintenance.

So to summarize:

Vote Yes, and you will pay a small amount of extra taxes for the next eight years in order to fix the town’s schools and infrastructure.

Vote No, and you will pay no extra taxes this year but will most likely see major service reductions in schools and public safety, increasing the need and the likelihood of a permanent general override in the near future.

Voters of Norton – the choice is yours. Choose wisely.

Mansfield Recall

What a difference a week makes.

On August 16th Selectman Lou Amoruso was quoted saying he believed in the recall process, and that it was in place for a reason.

“It works. That’s the important thing,” Amoruso said. The selectman later added “If they can’t find 5 percent of the people who aren’t happy with me, then I’m not doing my job.”

But Amorosu seems to have had a change of heart. Just a week later, the veteran selectman was singing quite a different tune. Along with two other selectmen, he voted to ask for a review of the recall petition by a special counsel to determine its legality.

Amoruso and Selectman David McCarter, the two targets of the recall, now have suggested the petition and the process itself are flawed. Amoruso even talked about possibly suing to stop the recall, the process he said only a week earlier “works.”

McCarter told the board the recall petition “does not rise to the level of an affidavit.” He also claimed the petition talks about the verdict delivered against the town recently, but notes no individual names appear in the verdict.

“I believe the statement is a half truth,” McCarter said. I do not see my name, or your name, or the board of light commissioners in the verdict,” he told Amoruso during their meeting.

Unlike McCarter, I am not a lawyer. But I can read a verdict, and my reading of the verdict posted on the town web site seems to show otherwise.

The defendants listed on the verdict are “Town of Mansfield Municipal Electric Department and John D’Agostino.” The members of the Board of Selectmen also serve as the Board of Light Commissioners. In that capacity they oversee the operation of the Electric Department. As selectmen, they also are responsible for D’Agostino. That would include Amoruso and McCarter.

The point of names not appearing in the verdict is just plain silly. Your name does not need to appear on a verdict to make a recall legal. The recall process is deliberately vague as to the reasons for allowing recall. The charter was designed that way, believing it best to leave the final question of validity up to those best equipped to decide it – the voters of Mansfield.

Most of the objections to the process stated by Amoruso and McCarter are groundless and nothing more than a smokescreen designed to damage the credibility of the recall effort. But unless the two selectmen are careful, the only credibility they may seriously damage is what remains of their own.

The process being followed is no different from the ones that have taken place in the past. The legality of the recall provision of the Town Charter has been unquestioned prior to now. If selectmen have questions about the process, it is curious they did not bring them up until they were personally affected.

Amoruso and McCarter should fight with all their might if they believe they have done nothing deserving of a recall. They should tell the voters that in a loud and clear manner. The citizens of Mansfield deserve nothing less.

But to tell those voters the system is important and works one week, and then question it a week later does nothing to advance their own cause. It smacks of politics and desperation, neither of which is attractive in a leader.

If the recall is groundless, the voters will tell us. But it has been done in accordance with the rules and the law, and that needs to be respected. It is time for Mansfield’s leaders to stop playing games, and prepare to stand on their records and their performance.

Remembering a Life, Not a Death

People from out-of-town are this week talking about Beth Cann, the Norton woman who died a tragic death.

But here, friends and neighbors talk about Beth Cann, the woman who lived a life so big, so full of love for family, friends and others that it took two towns and two churches to celebrate all she was and all she did.

This past Saturday a Canton Roman Catholic church opened its doors and its hearts to a Norton Protestant Congregational church to hold a memorial service for a woman who throughout her life stood for the values each church, in its own way, celebrates and honors every day.

It was her death that brought Beth to the attention of people across the state and country over the last two weeks. But it was how she lived, not how she died, that brought people to pack that Canton church and honor the memory of this extraordinary lady.

Most of us have no control over how we die, or the circumstances surrounding our inevitable demise. Death is a moment in time, and to know or judge a person based on that fleeting snapshot is unfair and often inaccurate. After all, dying often takes no effort. But living – and living well – is an achievement worth noting and celebrating.
Beth Cann lived a life worth celebrating.

Beth was no celebrity in life. She didn’t hold political office, invent medical vaccines, or rescue children from burning buildings. She never won a Nobel Prize, wrote a best-selling book, or won an Olympic gold medal.

But the things she did do, she did incredibly well.

She raised three beautiful daughters with all the love, patience and understanding any parent could possibly give. She taught them what is important in life, and to treasure the love of family.

She exemplified the word “friend”, giving of herself to so many it is a wonder there was enough of her to go around. She was quick with a smile, infectious in her good humor, and sensitive to the plight of others.

She also understood service, and was a living example. She loved her church, and understood she could only get out of it what she put into it. She devoted countless hours to making it a better place. As a Youth Group leader, she passed on her own special brand of caring and wisdom to the generation that would follow her.

Beth’s memorial service was packed with friends and people who loved and respected her. Fellow church members organized and planned the event with the love and effort only true friendship can inspire. What they did is more of a testament to Beth than could possibly be offered here.

She leaves three daughters, all facing a long journey to recover from the events surrounding their mother’s death. As they grow older, they will come to appreciate the foundation their mother laid for them, which will give them the strength and faith to grow up and live on.

When the photographers and news crews disappear, and the sad story of last week’s events fades from the pages of the newspapers, the emphasis on her death will be over. The out-of-towners will go home, and the plight of others who suffer terrible tragedies will dominate the news.

But here – and wherever her friends and family may gather – Beth Cann will always be remembered not for the terrible way in which she died but for the wonderful manner in which she lived.

Becoming a Grandparent

When my son and daughter-in-law walked into my office together on a Monday morning, I should have known something was up. When he asked me to settle an argument between them, I was still not suspicious.

“We can’t agree,” my smiling son said, slapping a small black and white photograph on my desk. It looked to me like a weather photo showing the eye of a hurricane. “Do you think that looks more like a boy or a girl?” he grinned.

That was how I discovered I am going to be a Grandfather.

Though it may be hard for those who know me to believe, I was temporarily speechless. Then I rose from my chair, hugged both parents-to-be, stepped into the general clerical area of my office and yelled “Excuse me – but I’m going to be a Grandfather!”

Now I know what all you good readers are thinking – that I am way too young and good-looking to be a Grandfather. Nonetheless, it is true. My oldest son and his beautiful wife are expecting their first child sometime in April.

I praised my son on his planning. The baby will be born after baseball’s Opening Day, but before the NBA playoffs. The birth avoids all potential conflicts with Red Sox or Patriots playoff game possibilities also. At least the kid learned something from his old man.

I always wondered exactly how I would feel if I ever discovered I was going to be a grandparent. Now I know. I am thrilled beyond words, excited at all the good times to come, and already impatient for the little bundle of joy to arrive. I want a grandson now – not in April.

And yes, I said grandson. I know I will be just as happy with either a healthy boy or a healthy girl, but make no mistake. This is a grandson. There is no doubt in my mind.

The proud expectant parents have decided they do not want to know the sex of the child until the birth, and I think that’s great. I have always hated it when parents want to know the sex early so they can paint the walls blue or pink, or so relatives know what kind of clothes to buy. Having a baby isn’t about being practical, it’s about family – and family seldom makes sense.

I have already made known my intentions of spoiling this expected child rotten. I am working on a list of things he (yes damn it, I said he) can do at my house that he can’t do at home. And I am preparing the forms for him to sign guaranteeing he won’t tell his mother.

I quickly figured out that when my grandchild graduates from high school I will be 70. By the time the kid graduates from Harvard I will be 74. I haven’t yet decided on a graduation gift.

As you can see, this is really all about me.

But in all seriousness this is one of the great moments of my life. I am happy for my son and his wife, who is the daughter I never had. They are a great couple, and they will make fantastic parents. I am so proud of the both of them.

I remember my own grandparents with great love and fondness. I was particularly close to my maternal grandparents, and they each played a major role in helping me grow up. They impacted what kind of person I became.

That is the kind of role I hope to play in my unborn grandchild’s life. It is a role I believe I was born to play, and I intend to earn an Academy Award.

Now truth be told, my lovely wife is slightly less thrilled with the idea of becoming a grandparent than I am. While happy for the kids, she feels too young to move on to this stage.

I don’t know what she is complaining about. After all, I’m the one that will soon be sleeping with a grandmother.