Monday, February 25, 2008

It Takes More Than Barking

This column originally appeared in the Attleboro Sun Chronicle on Saturday, February 16, 2008.

There is no one single reason why Mansfield is such a political mess these days. In fact, there are many.

But chief among them are the actions and behavior of Selectman George Dentino, the self-proclaimed “watchdog” of Mansfield town government.

Dentino claims to be looking to help solve Mansfield’s problems. If that is true, the first-term selectman has been a dismal failure thus far.

This is not to say Dentino is responsible for the childish, immature and unprofessional mess that is Mansfield’s government today. There is more than enough blame to go around, and enough shoulders on which to heap it.

But while others may have caused many of the difficult problems that plague this town, Dentino is responsible for something arguably worse.

He is preventing them from being properly addressed.

Dentino’s constant showboating at meetings takes up valuable time that should be spent constructively addressing their many pressing problems.

Being a watchdog is great, but if all you do is continuously bark, your value is lessened. A watchdog that runs and gets help is preferable to one who merely makes lots of noise while the home in question is being ransacked.

Dentino has made lots of noise, but accomplished little else. He blames this on his fellow board members and the Town Manager. But his failure to lead effectively is his fault, and he must face that truth.

Dentino is intelligent, articulate and honest. He cares about his town and his fellow citizens, and has a deeply ingrained sense of right, wrong and duty.

But he has yet to master the role of selectman. He seems to think it is about finding fault, assessing blame, and publicly scolding those responsible.

He is wrong.

A good selectman keeps his or her eye on the big picture. As a local leader, your goal must always be to make government work for the benefit of the citizens and taxpayers. That means getting results as a board, not individually.

In no way does this mean unethical or illegal conduct must be condoned or accepted. But it does mean adapting your personal style in order to be effective.

Dentino has succeeded in calling attention to himself and pointing out mistakes. He has also done an amazing job of alienating and angering the other four selectmen, who he needs in order to get any real change accomplished.

But he hasn’t made Mansfield better. He hasn’t brought about serious, lasting change. He hasn’t been willing or able to set aside his considerable ego and form the consensus necessary to achieve true reform.

Dentino constantly harps on issues in order to advance his goal of getting rid of the town manager. He asks public questions not to get answers, but to embarrass the administration. He seems more interested in making his point than solving the town’s problems.

Though supporters love his style, Dentino needs to learn to become at least as effective as he is abrasive. He needs to place substance above show. He and his colleagues need to learn to respect each other in order to cooperatively work for the betterment of the community.

Is Mansfield’s town government better or worse today than it was before George Dentino was elected? That is a matter of opinion and great debate.

But clearly things are bad right now, and there is no indication they are going to get better anytime soon. Some of the fault for that has to land in Dentino’s lap.

It’s not that Dentino is always wrong. He quite often brings up valid points worthy of discussion and action.

But his grandstanding and public inquisitions have to stop. The attempts at public embarrassment need to come to an end.

The sad thing is, Dentino possesses the talent, ability and desire to bring about necessary change in Mansfield. He just chooses not to do it.

“I’m a minority voice. That’s the way it’s been. I just live with it,” Dentino said recently.

Maybe he can live with it, but the people of Mansfield shouldn’t have to suffer for it.

Enough with the petty politics and political showmanship. Get down to the real business of government, and do it in a professional manner. Mansfield’s citizens deserve nothing less.

Bill Gouveia is a community columnist who has been known to bark a little himself. He can be reached at

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Just a Game? Like Hell!

This column originally appeared in the Attleboro Sun Chronicle on Saturday, February 9th, 2008.

I was relatively okay this week after watching my beloved Patriots fall to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl.

Then I read my friend Mark Farinella’s sports column in the Sun Chronicle on Wednesday. On top of everything else, that was enough to send me over the edge.

In said column, Mark advises all Patriot fans to “get a grip”. He decries the reaction of many of us to the devastating loss, and tells us all to get some perspective. He notes winning the game would not have fed the hungry, lowered our taxes, or meant a cure for cancer.

“It’s just a football game, people” Farinella’s prose relates.

Well, I have some equally good advice to my buddy who I covered local sports with more than 30 years ago:

Get over yourself, Mark.

I just love it when the sports media – both regional and national – gets on their high horse and tells all us lowly and ignorant sports fans we are taking these games too seriously. I find their preaching to be the height of hypocrisy.

These nice folks make their living covering games and athletic events. They are only able to do this because people like me care deeply about sports.

Without passionate and even obsessive sports fans, sportswriters would have no reason to do what they do. Without the dedication of this sports-crazed nation, Farinella might find himself covering local selectmen’s meetings and the annual gathering of the Chartley Garden Club.

We devout (okay, somewhat crazed) sports fans know full well the result of the Super Bowl plays no part in the lowering of our taxes, the security of our nation, or the well-being of our brave soldiers. We may not be as smart and worldly as some sportswriters, but we have figured that out.

There is no excuse for anyone to abuse their spouse, their pet, or themselves over a sporting contest – or anything else, for that matter. People who cross the line of acceptable behavior like that, regardless of the reason, need serious help.

And there is no reason for ignorant jerks to write threatening and insulting comments to sportswriters over what they have written or reported. Mark was right in blasting those who wrote such comments about Mansfield native John Tomase’s recent story in a Boston paper.

But sportswriters spend a lot of their time and energy trying to get us involved in the saga of our local franchises. They cover their every move, report on everything they do from preseason to the playoffs, and often delve into the personal lives of the players. They seek to make us care, become invested.

So when they then start preaching about misplaced priorities, it seems a bit disingenuous.

I read Mark Farinella because he is an excellent sports columnist. His understanding of the game, his style, and the way he relates to his readership make his columns interesting and informative.

But does Mark really want us all to become Los Angeles sports fans? Does he want everyone to leave Fenway Park in the seventh inning to beat the traffic? Following the loss, should we have had a parade for the Pats anyway, with signs that said “We don’t care if you lost”?

Good sportswriters take pride in being objective professional reporters rather than just fans. That is as it should be.

But for those professionals to look down their noses at sports fans and smugly remind them “it’s only a game” is irritating and insulting.

We know it’s a game – we are the people who make it possible. Without us shelling out our hard-earned dollars for expensive seats, exorbitant parking fees, outrageous cable television packages and overpriced souvenirs and memorabilia, these games would be played only in schoolyards.

Without us crazies, there would be no need for haughty sportswriters who like to think they somehow have a better perspective on life than we do.

So get over yourself, my friend. All I kicked this weekend was some perfectly innocent furniture.

This was not “just a football game”, it was much more than that. And remember – when we stop caring, you’ll stop working.

Bill Gouveia is a 34-year Patriot season ticket-holder and a certified sports nut, who happens to write a local column. He can be reached at