Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Eve - Old Guy Style

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, December 31, 2012.

By Bill Gouveia

            It’s New Year’s Eve.  Pardon me if I don’t get too excited.  I think it might be an age thing.

            As someone firmly ensconced in their mid-50’s, I’m not exactly ready for the title of senior citizen (at least, not chronologically speaking).  But if the way I celebrate the arrival of the New Year is indicative of my current status, then I can’t possibly be far away from being classified as “old”.  I believe I’ve officially passed “sad” and am approaching “pathetic”.

            Truth be told, I’ve never been a big partier.  My teens and early 20’s were hardly a testament to the pleasures of excess in anything but food.  Sure, I had my share of alcoholic beverages in those days – after all, the drinking age was 18 then.  But I was married at 21, a parent at 23, and “celebration” was not exactly a high priority except at birthdays, anniversaries and holidays.

            Still, we managed to have some fun.  We would have New Year parties at our home, starting after the kids had gone to bed.  We managed to be festive while still making sure they stayed asleep, but it was difficult to keep our many unmarried friends who did not have children coming back.  It’s funny how your range of active friends is affected when you start having children.

            So we started inviting people who – like us – had young kids.  All that really accomplished was generating a larger crowd of tired people who cared more about keeping the kids asleep than celebrating.  Boy, were they boring.  I was sure it was them, and not us.

            Watching the ball drop in Times Square has been a big deal since I can first remember.  I was hooked the first time my parents let me stay up for the big event.  I’m not sure if Dick Clark was the host that first evening (I can’t believe they are still using his name), but the magic of the lights and the electricity of the crowd guaranteed I would always think of this as the official way to usher in the New Year.

            But as I have gotten older, the emphasis has changed from gearing up to watch the ball drop, to simply trying to stay up to watch the ball drop.  Not only has my intake of alcoholic beverages dramatically decreased, but the beverages themselves have changed.  No more beer – it no longer sits very well in my stomach.        Hard liquor and I have never really gotten along, unless the drink containing it also has a fair amount of fruit juice and an umbrella. 

            So these days I start off with wine, and not exactly the top-of-the-line vino.  I grew up on my grandfather’s homemade stuff, and that forever shaped my taste in this area.  So my beverage of choice tends to come in a jug rather than a bottle and cost less than ten dollars.  At least I’m a relatively cheap date.

            For the last few years we have volunteered to babysit our grandson (did I mention his name is William?) so his parents could go out and enjoy the evening.  That is much more our speed, and truth be told they have been among the best New Year’s Eves of our lives.  We take him out to eat with some of our friends, enjoy a fun dessert, then put him to bed and do our best to stay up.  We often fail miserably on the last part.

            This year he will most likely be spending the night at his own home.  And our granddaughter will be with her family many hours to our south.  This is the way it should be, the natural order of things.
            So we are once again likely left to our own devices, celebrating in the staid and stodgy style that has become our custom over the four decades we have been together.  But at the end of this evening, I get to fall asleep (even if it is a tad early) next to the woman I love and who for some strange and unfathomable reason continues to loves me back.

            There sure as heck are a lot of worse ways to usher in 2013.  Happy New Year, good readers.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Critical Time for the NRA

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on Friday, December 28, 2012

By Bill Gouveia

            Wayne LaPierre is the leader of the National Rifle Association (NRA).  He appeared on the popular Sunday morning television show “Meet The Press” last weekend to discuss the NRA’s response to the renewed call for stricter gun control laws in the wake of the horrific Connecticut school shooting. 

            Mr. LaPierre’s response on behalf of one of the nation’s most influential lobbying organizations was both predictable and disappointing.  He had no problem apportioning blame for what most everyone agrees was one of the most tragic events in American history.  He blamed a lack of security in schools, he blamed a lack of morals in the country, he blamed Hollywood, he blamed the video game industry, and he blamed the nation’s mental health system.

            He blamed pretty much everyone – except guns and their availability.  He apportions absolutely no blame there.  Not a bit. 

Far worse, Mr. LaPierre and his organization refuse to even discuss the subject.  They will not contemplate the possibility – however remote in their minds – that tougher gun laws could possibly result in a somewhat safer and less violent America.

            Of course, that’s what Mr. LaPierre gets paid to do.  He is a hired gun (pardon the pun) for the NRA.  His job is to blindly and politically support their narrow view of the 2nd Amendment and help elect officials who will do the same.  He has one solution and one solution only to the problem of violence with guns – more guns.

            The NRA is proposing an armed guard be placed in every school in the United States.  He says it is a common sense solution that is obvious and reasonable.  He says parents want and deserve the security he claims this would provide.

            He may be right.  Personally, I have my doubts.  I’m not sure it will work, I’m not sure it is practical, and I’m not sure it is intelligent.  But in the wake of 26 dead people killed by an assault weapon taken from a private home, I’m willing to discuss it.  I’m willing to consider it.  I’m willing to have it debated on the national stage.

            If only Mr. LaPierre and his devoted followers were equally willing to debate that with which they do not agree.

            The head of the NRA and his organization refuse to agree to debate the possibility of stricter gun control laws.  He dismisses out of hand the possibility it might prevent even one death.  He says the NRA will not participate on the panel to be convened by Vice President Biden.  He refuses to even consider any changes to current gun laws because he claims they will not work and will not help.

            It is outrageous this man, representing millions of honest and responsible gun owners, would go on national television and say such things.  He knows there were armed guards at Columbine.  Yet he pushes the solution of armed security wholeheartedly, while dismissing any attempt at banning the awful weapon that killed 20 innocent schoolchildren. 

            I’m not asking Mr. LaPierre or the NRA to agree to any new gun laws right now.  But I hope they care enough to at least join in the discussion.  They have made a good suggestion, one that deserves honest consideration.  It should be given respect because it stems from what I believe to be a sincere desire to save lives and protect children.

            Now it is time for the NRA to give gun control advocates that same measure of respect.  Mr. LaPierre and his organization should be a vital part of the national discussion on gun safety and availability.  They know and understand better than anyone the power and importance of powerful weapons.  They bring a perspective to the table that is both invaluable and representative of many Americans.

            They do their members and the country a grave disservice by merely retreating into their familiar and thus far invincible political shell.  They need to do more than arrogantly tell us laws which have not even been formulated yet will not work.  They need to talk to us, instead of at us.

            This is a moment of truth for the NRA.  They now must choose to be either a part of the solution, or a part of the problem. 

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Monday, December 24, 2012

My 2012 Local Christmas Poem

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on Monday, December 24, 2012.

By Bill Gouveia

Christmas Eve is one of my favorite nights of the year.  After all, celebrating an evening where you expect a fat guy to drop by is right up my alley.  And like Santa, people pretend to be asleep when I come visiting.

            This is a day and a night for joy, reflection and celebration.  It is also the time I revive what has become something of my own personal Christmas tradition, offering up my stilted version of the famous yuletide poem “The Night Before Christmas”.  I know you’ve all been waiting breathlessly since last year.  Well, maybe not all of you.

            So once again with never-ending apologies to Clement Moore (and my thanks to our local governments and officials), I give you the latest local political version of the greatest of all Christmas poems:

T’was the night before Christmas, and the political scene
Seemed to be quiet, though not quite serene.
In Attleboro, Councilors met and ate Christmas cookies
While rehashing arguments from both Veggies and Bookies.

The taxpayers were settled all snug in their beds,
While nightmares of fiscal cliffs danced in their heads.
Your esteemed local columnist was preparing to rest
And soon would be snoring away with great zest.

Then from the front yard there came a big boom
That rattled the house and shook every room.
I ran out the front door and stifled a yawn,
Amazed at what rested upon my front lawn.

The moonlight was reflecting off the newly fallen snow,
As workers on overtime plowed the white streets below.
When suddenly, plummeting down through the night
Was a sleigh with five people engaged in a fight.

They were arguing and griping, and disciplining their elves.
They were Seekonk selectmen (they never blame themselves).
They were delivering presents for towns nearby,
They were running very late, but they still had to try.

Their gifts to North Attleboro were supposed to be free,
But everything there now comes with a fee.
They left a few presents and a very warm greeting,
And tried reducing the size of Representative Town Meeting.

When they hit Plainville they made it a point
To fly over the site of the proposed gambling joint.
Over Wrentham and Norfolk they continued to soar
As through the still night their complaining did roar.

Norton’s present was a school boss who really might stay,
And finally those search committees can just go away.
The selectmen’s present was nothing to fear -
They’ll  go to New York for UN Day next year.

In Mansfield, Comcast Center gets a new sold-out show
Featuring Dentino and Montgomery just rarin’ to go.
A true gift would be a year with no more tragic losses,
But that requires cooperation between all of the bosses.

An area democrat as state rep was past due,
So they gave Attleboro citizens new Rep. Paul Heroux.
Our other state reps got a gift for their quirk –
They get per diem payments just for going to work.

Sen. Scott Brown was not the voter’s selection,
So his gift is – yes, yet another election.
For Rep. Frank, who chose not to run,
It’s a retirement of torturing Republicans for fun

Their stop in Rehoboth was very, very brief -
Selectmen have stopped handing out as much grief.
Some see that as town government starting to snooze,
They have let Seekonk take over as the town in the news.

They saw me and considered just running me down,
Then settled for glaring, and a serious frown.
In executive session, they then took a vote
To totally ignore anything I ever wrote.

They finished their deliveries (the DPW was last),
And headed home to reminisce of Christmas’s past.
But I heard them exclaim as they rode out of sight,
“There’s Bingo at the Senior Center tonight!”

Merry Christmas, good readers. 

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist, town official, husband, parent, grandfather, and terrible poet.  He wishes you all a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, and can be reached at

Monday, December 17, 2012

Today I Stop Being a Coward About Guns

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on Monday, December 17, 2012.

By Bill Gouveia

            I have been a coward.  Today, I stop.  Starting now, I will step up and be counted.  I will make my voice heard on the most important issue of our time.

            I want stronger gun control laws.  I want them now.  I want us to start working on them immediately, before any more innocent lives are lost.  No more excuses, no more bowing to political pressure, no more wasting time and costing lives.  This gun craziness must stop.

            I know the guns that killed 20 beautiful children and 6 brave adults last week in Connecticut were obtained legally.  I know the murderer who did this might have gotten guns no matter what the laws say.  I know you can’t stop every nut-job out there who decides to kill with guns or any other weapon.  I know all this.  You don’t have to tell me.

            But I know – and you know – there are too many guns in America.  There are automatic and semi-automatic weapons in the hands of people who should never have them.  And please, spare me your definitions of “automatic” weapons.  Guns that shoot a whole lot of bullets in a short amount of time should not be available for sale to the public.  That is a simple fact that has been ignored too long, because politically-oriented people like me have let it happen.  No more.  It stops now.

            President Obama needs to convene a national discussion on gun control today.  All leaders of congress from both parties should join him.  Every governor in every state should form similar panels.  Mayors, town councils, and selectmen should bring folks together for a discussion on what local laws can be enacted.  And it should be done now, not a day later.

            The NRA should call for national gun control laws that maintain the right of private ownership but restrict the number and firepower allowed.  Second amendment fanatics need to understand and admit that the framers of the Constitution never imagined guns shooting hundreds of rounds in seconds.  More guns equal more violence.  That is an indisputable fact.

            How do I know?  Critics say gun laws today are tougher than they have ever been.  If they haven’t worked so far, why should we believe stronger ones will make any difference?  After all, as we are often told – “If we outlaw guns, only outlaws will have them”.

            That’s crap.  I know what hasn’t worked - doing absolutely nothing.  Sitting back and letting gun advocates intimidate and bully politicians.  Ignoring statistics clearly indicating a correlation between the number of guns and the level of violence.  Standing by and blaming others.

            I believe the second amendment as written was a good idea in the late 1700’s.  But I think it should be adapted to the present.  The world is a different place.  People are different.  Guns are different.  Bullets are different.  Slavery is dead, and women can vote.  It is time we realized our attitudes on guns need to change too.

            To those who suggest we start arming teachers and principals in an effort to make our children safe, I say you could not be more wrong.  The answer is not more guns.  We’ve tried that.  I find it difficult to believe so many are willing to turn our schools into armed camps rather than accept reasonable and rational limits on gun ownership. 

            You want to partially blame the lack of morals in society today for tragedies like Connecticut?  Ok, that’s fine.  You want to partially blame video games and lack of parental influence?  I’ll buy that.  But you also have to accept the undeniable fact that guns themselves play a major role.

            You can’t legislate away crazy or evil.  Those things have existed since the beginning of time.  All you can do is try to limit the opportunities crazy and evil people have to obtain awful weapons.  And we as a people have not done a good enough job in that regard.  Just because we know stronger laws won’t stop all these incidents is no reason to not try and stop at least some of them.

            Today I stop being a coward.  I support common-sense gun legislation, and I support the politicians who promise to make that happen.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Another Norton Character and Old Friend is Gone

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on December 14, 2012

By Bill Gouveia
Every town has people in their history who are simply unforgettable. Some are community activists, some are curmudgeons, and others are simply unique characters. My hometown of Norton has had many of each type over its 300 year history.

Paul “Zeb” Rich would properly fit into all three categories, but the one that most reflects his life is being a unique character. He was one of the last of a dying breed, a throw-back to the days when politicians slapped you on the back, knew the name of everyone in your family, and could practically recite the voting list in their sleep. Zeb was a true politician, and I mean that in the good sense of the word.

I’ve known Zeb for about as long as I can remember, and his death last week really hit home. My first memories of him are from when I was just an elementary school kid, and he was the teenager racing the fancy sports car up and down Route 123. We thought he was pretty cool, though probably not as cool as Zeb himself thought he was. From an early age, the one thing Zeb never lacked was self-confidence.

His father was a selectman during the 50’s and 60’s, and Zeb learned a lot about town affairs at his own kitchen table. It was inevitable that he would get involved in local politics. With his keen sense of humor, wide grin and outgoing personality he was a natural. And with his hard-nosed determination, way with words, and ability to remember and file away every enemy who ever crossed him, Zeb was a force to be reckoned with in town and elsewhere.

His first local election was a run for school committee. I was a student at Norton High at the time, and we were holding a mock election. Zeb came to me and wanted to know what the students cared about, how he could appeal to them. It may have only been a pretend election, but he still wanted to win it. He did, and went on to be elected to the committee and serve several terms. He recruited me to write some of his campaign fliers, and a lifelong friendship was begun – though we did occasionally have our differences.

Zeb went on to win a selectman’s seat in the mid 70’s, continuing his family’s tradition. This was in the days when Norton selectmen meetings were true events, even before local cable television. Remembering some of the shirts and ties Zeb wore to those meetings, it is probably a good thing there were no viewers who could watch back then. He was a hard worker, and never more than at election time.

Watching Zeb running for office was a real experience for this future local elected official. First of all, the entire family was involved. Each parent, brother, sister and cousin had a job to do and people to call. At the center of the effort was Zeb, who would stand at the polls all day and in his mind keep track of who had not yet voted.

At 5 pm he would turn to one of his family members and say “I haven’t seen John and his family yet – call them and make sure they get here to vote.” He didn’t have a list, or checkers, or a computer. He just knew, and he was never wrong. He never forgot a face.

Zeb was a huge sports fan and a longtime referee and umpire. He was also a big guy who loved to eat, and paid the price for it when his weight ballooned. Then you would see this huge hulking man jogging, even on the hottest day of the year, with sweat pouring off him like a waterfall. But he kept at it, and his weight slowly was reduced. Unfortunately, his health over the latter stage of his life was not good.

But I will always remember the smiling Zeb, the bearded Zeb, the one who would walk up to you and loudly say “Let me tell ya something” while slipping his arm around you. He was a true Norton Townie, and will forever be a part of the Norton I love.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and lifelong Norton resident. He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Weak Explanation on Legislative Expenses

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on Monday, December 10, 2012


By Bill Gouveia

The topic of state legislators receiving and filing for “per diem” travel, meal and lodging reimbursements simply for showing up to do the job they were elected to perform is a touchy one. Some folks believe lawmakers are entitled to these expense payments, and others believe it constitutes an abuse of the system.

I believe it can be both, and respect the validity of the arguments on each side of the issue. But I have a hard time swallowing those who want to have their cake (or per diem) and eat it too. A little consistency goes a long way.

Per diems reimbursements are in addition to a legislator’s salary. They are intended to offset expenses for lawmakers who actually show up at the statehouse and who file for them. Many representatives and senators who live far from Boston file for them regularly and generally receive the highest totals. Lawmakers from Pittsfield, Provincetown, Nantucket and Lenox are all in the top ten list of those receiving reimbursements.

But some local area representatives also are not shy about receiving the per diem payments. With the Sun Chronicle area generally less than an hour’s travel to Boston, this raises legitimate questions about whether or not their acceptance of the payments is fair and reasonable to taxpayers.

An example of this is Rep. Steven Howitt (R–Seekonk), who was re-elected to second term last month and represents Rehoboth and parts of Seekonk and Norton. The affable lawmaker took per diem payments two years ago, but had not yet filed for this past year by election time. However, he did say he was planning on doing so in the near future.

But Howitt explains his acceptance of the payments by saying he donates the money to charities. He said in his first year as a state rep he actually donated all the per diem money he received – after taxes – to local food pantries and other charities.

At a debate with his opponent in October, Rep. Howitt did not back away from his acceptance of these payments in any way. In fact, he was proud to have donated the funds to worthy causes. He said that if he had not taken the money, it would have been “swallowed up” at the end of the year and gone who-knows-where. At least this way, he pointed out, the state funds did some good for his local constituents. He adamantly said he planned to accept them again and do the same thing this year.

To which many say – are you kidding me?

While Howitt’s charitable inclinations are certainly praiseworthy, they should be done with his own money and not state-funded reimbursements. It is fine if the good representative wants to donate from his pocket to local charities. But he should not do so from the pockets of those he serves.

If he is not keeping the money he takes for per diem payments, then he should let it remain in the state budget. While not a lot, it would help to offset the expected deficits in state spending. If Howitt wants the funding to go to local charities, he should file a bill to do so. Granted, the odds of it passing would be slim to none. But so are the odds of most people accepting this weak and silly explanation.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Christmas Shopping for the Grandkids

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on Friday, December 7, 2012

By Bill Gouveia

It’s Christmas time, and the pressure is on. For this proud grandfather, that means searching for the perfect gifts for my two perfect grandchildren. But that is not as easy as it might seem.

My beautiful granddaughter Avery is not quite nine months old, so shopping for her first Christmas will be relatively simple and a lot of fun. When kids are under the age of two, you can pretty much give them some loose wrapping paper and they will be thrilled. But I intend to continue the spoiling of my little princess this Yuletide season. There appears to be no end to the many wonderful and annoying toys I can buy her, that her exasperated parents will have to truck back to Baltimore. I can’t wait.

Now my grandson Will (did I mention his name is William?) is a different story. At the ripe old age of 4-1/2, he is getting a bit more discriminating – and expensive. Since he has the vocabulary of a college journalism major, he has no difficulty expressing exactly what it is he would like Santa to bring. The problem is I generally have no clue what he is talking about. I am out of touch when it comes to what kids his age like these days.

I recognize the names of some of the popular toys on his list for Santa, but those are the ones his parents are already getting. That leaves me listening to Will’s description of toys I have never seen and don’t understand, or being presented with the “wish list’ of stuff he figures he has a better chance of getting from Grandma and Grandpa than Santa.

Last year we asked him what he wanted for Christmas, and thought he asked for an iPad. Turns out what he was really saying was he wanted an “eye-patch” like a pirate. We were happy to comply with that wish. This year, there is no misunderstanding his words. He now wants the real thing. And truth be told, he knows how to operate my iPad better than I do. His mother’s iPhone might as well be his, because he uses it as much as she does.

I have already bought him lots of sports equipment, including a baseball glove and bat. Right now he’d rather watch a Disney movie than a football game, and we’ve given him plenty of those too. He loves playing video games, though soon he may start to realize he’s really not winning all those Mario Kart races. Dinosaurs and dragons have been popular up to now, and I’ve loaded him up with action figures and Ninja Turtles.

Grandma does most of the Christmas shopping in our household, leaving me to concentrate on the fun items for the grandchildren. She buys clothes and the other boring but necessary stuff, while I lay claim to the more glamorous side of present-shopping. Of course, she will buy a considerable number of toys for our two grandkids also. But she graciously allows me to go out on my own and try to feel good about myself, though she holds her breath the whole time just trying to imagine what I might bring back.

I am already worrying about future years, now that I have a granddaughter. With two sons and a grandson preceding her royal arrival, I have little to no experience shopping for a young lady. Grandma has already bought enough dresses and those hair/headband things to outfit her for quite a while. I’m perfectly willing to get her the stereotypical dolls and stuff (insert Neanderthal/chauvinist comment here), but she has and will continue to get plenty of Patriots/Red Sox/Celtics/Bruins apparel and souvenirs from both of us.

Of course, more important than what we buy is the fact we have these amazing grandchildren. Avery has recently started to crawl, and Will is correcting my grammar. They are growing up before our eyes, and being a part of it is one of the great experiences of our lives. This holiday will be extra special.

But I’m still determined to go out and find some very special gifts for these very special little folks. If you have any ideas, you know how to reach me.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Seekonk Needs To Stop Cheap Shots

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on Monday, December 3, 2012

Some think the national pastime in America is baseball, while others believe football is king. This no doubt varies from state to state, and town to town.

But in Seekonk, the popular sport these days is humiliating and attacking people at the weekly board of selectmen meetings. It has become a regular and disturbing practice, one which should concern the community as a whole and all who live within it.

The most recent display of this form of political grandstanding occurred when selectmen and Town Administrator Pam Nolan severely and publicly reprimanded Human Services Director Bernadette Huck for obtaining a Bingo license from the state Lottery Commission for the town’s senior center without first notifying them. Since the license was obtained, one bingo event was held. It was allegedly attended by three people, who may have spent as much as $1.25 each playing the popular game. It wasn’t exactly Foxwoods.

Huck was called on the carpet to explain her actions in failing to seek approval or permission to obtain the no-fee license, which she received on-line. She apologized for her apparent breach of protocol. But that was not enough for either Nolan or some selectmen, who proceeded to pretty much publicly flog the town official for what appeared to be – at worst – a minor indiscretion.

Selectman Bob McLintock tore into Huck, telling her she “should not have done what you did as it relates to your own board, this board and also the town administrator.” Chairman Francis Cavaco read from a transcript of a July Human Services Commission meeting where it was said Huck should talk to TA Nolan about the issue. He also chastised her for failing to open a separate checking account which he claimed was required by state Bingo laws.

Nolan criticized her employee on several levels. She questioned holding the Bingo at the Seekonk Senior Center building, which she described as “questionable” and “not up to code”. She also told Huck, “This was a new program we had no knowledge of whatsoever. I am your boss.”

And right there is the real issue. Being a boss is about making sure things are done correctly and professionally – not making a big deal of them after they are done and the situation has been addressed. You don’t make yourself look bigger by making the people who work for you look smaller. That signifies a serious lack of real leadership.

While Huck’s actions may well have been incorrect and deserving of criticism, it hardly seems they required being aired at a public meeting. Most good administrators would have addressed the matter with the employee in private and – in no uncertain terms – made clear that it must not happen again. If it was serious enough to warrant disciplinary action, then that process could have been begun.

Some selectmen seem intent on inserting themselves into the day-to-day operation of the town at nearly every level. Their micromanaging has resulted in a slowing down of town government in Seekonk, and in creating an atmosphere of fear and distrust amongst town officials and employees. Some board members seem more intent on making sure everyone knows they are in charge than actually and effectively being in charge.

No one is suggesting anything be hidden or kept from the public. This was not executive session material. It needed no secret or closed meetings with selectmen. It simply required the self-recognized “boss’ to handle the situation in a professional manner. That clearly did not happen.

And if the current Senior Center is indeed “not up to code”, shouldn’t it be secured so no one can go inside? Wouldn’t the selectmen and the town administrator be responsible for making sure that happens?

The Board of Selectmen in Seekonk sets the tone for town government. If the town’s highest board is reactionary, rude and impatient – then the town’s government will be also. They need to make sure they conduct themselves in a responsible and professional manner, and show the proper respect for town officials, town employees, and others.

This is not the first time the selectmen’s weekly meeting has been used as a means of intimidating or punishing an employee or official. But it certainly should be the last.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Time to Zero Out TM Quorums

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on Friday, November 30, 2012.

By Bill Gouveia

About 150 Mansfield citizens took time out of their busy schedules recently to attend a duly-called and posted Town Meeting. Those good folks were there to attend to the business of the town and make many decisions affecting the community as a whole.

But they were turned away and respectfully told to go home. They were not allowed to cast their votes or conduct town affairs. The meeting was postponed until April because Mansfield’s Town Meeting requires a quorum of 200 to conduct business. In essence, the 150 voters who showed they cared were neutralized by the thousands who were otherwise occupied.

That is – in a word – dumb.

Mansfield has over 13,000 registered voters. They are represented in part by a five-member board of selectmen and a five-member school committee. That means three members of either board can carry a vote. Those committees make major decisions which have tremendous impact on the citizens and taxpayers of that fine community.

They can apparently be trusted to do so, but 150 citizens are not considered sufficient to give final consent and endorsement of those choices. It is okay if you have 200 people making these decisions, but not 150. That is somehow not considered a representative group. This is a clear case of favoring quantity over quality.

The idea of having a quorum is to prevent a small number of citizens with possible selfish interests from showing up and dominating the Town Meeting. After all, 200 citizens represent a mere 1-1/2 percent of the total number of voters in town. You have to draw the line somewhere, right?

Wrong. You can take the step many other communities have successfully made and eliminate the quorum entirely. A zero quorum guarantees town business never goes undone and is conducted in an open and straightforward manner. It also means rewarding the participation of those who show up, and recognizing the silliness of creating an arbitrary standard that has proven to be nothing more than a political weapon.

The quorum is presented as a way to guarantee the integrity of Town Meeting, but in fact often does just the opposite. When a meeting runs late or is particularly boring (this happens quite often) many people go home. Those who stand to lose when a vote is taken often ask for a quorum count as a way to delay their defeat and give themselves time to rally more supporters – while appearing to be defending the concept of democracy.

In Norton, a zero quorum has been in effect for more than two decades. The overall impact has been to generally raise the average attendance at the meetings. Sure, there have been a few where participation has been under 100 hearty souls. There have also been meetings where 1500-2000 have turned out. But people know when and where the town’s business will be decided, and the idea of winning by staying away is not an option.

In fact, the fear of a handful of voters showing up and leading the town towards disaster has been a great motivating factor for Norton citizens. People tend to show up just so that can’t happen. Some believe fear and distrust is not the best way to inspire attendance, but the numbers and human nature say otherwise.

Many claim a quorum of at least 200 is needed to prevent special interest groups from “stacking” any particular Town Meeting with their supporters. Excuse me, but isn’t that really what Town Meeting is all about? Isn’t the whole idea to get more people to vote the way you want than the other side does? It’s only “stacking the meeting” if you lose. If you win, it’s a great exercise in democracy.

If you have controversial and “sexy” issues at your Town Meeting, people will turn out. If you merely have the important but mundane business of the town to conduct, you will attract fewer. That’s life and politics – which is exactly what you find at Town Meeting.

Here’s hoping Mansfield and other communities ditch the antiquated quorum requirement for this uniquely New England Town Meeting form of government. If you are going to have a system dependent upon citizen participation, you should accept that participation as it comes.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and the Norton Town Moderator. He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Sad Demise of Devil Dogs

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on Monday, November 19, 2012.

By Bill Gouveia

            When I first heard that Hostess was going out of business, I was not bothered at all. 

Sure, I have eaten a few Hostess chocolate cupcakes in my day.  And yes, those little powdered donuts are nearly impossible to stop devouring once you start.  But I have never been a fan of Twinkies, the Hostess delicacy that has become the very symbol of nutritionally disastrous yet tasty fare.  The passing of this snack food giant initially seemed to have virtually no effect on my gluttonous lifestyle.

Then I got a text message from my daughter-in-law.  She wrote to express her sympathy that one of my favorite guilty pleasures – Devil Dogs – would be disappearing from store shelves.  I chuckled at her obvious error, and wrote back that my Devil Dogs were safe.  They are made by Drake Cakes and not Hostess, I explained.  I had nothing to fear.

Then she texted back that Drakes was owned by Hostess.  A chill ran up and down my spine as her words crossed the screen of my mobile device.  Surely she was mistaken.  I began to text back to tell her she was wrong.

Then there was a beep, and my eyes went to the Wikipedia link she had texted me explaining the relationship between Hostess and Drakes.  I was stunned.  Yet there it was, undeniable and yet still unthinkable.  And the horrible reality of the situation began to descend upon me like a gloomy storm cloud.

I am now facing the possibility of a future without Devil Dogs.

You may scoff at my plight, and consider it trivial.  But Devil Dogs and I have been best of friends for some five decades now.  The elongated chocolate cake halves and creamy filling have been an integral part of my life.  It is like losing an old friend – even though that friend may not have had the best of influences on you.

When I trudged off to first grade at the LG Nourse School in Norton back in the early 60’s, there was a Devil Dog in my lunchbox making the trek with me.  It was a reassuring familiarity, packed away by my Mom with love to try and make sure I felt safe and secure in my new surroundings.  I ate my sandwich, drank my milk, and then savored my Devil Dog.  It gave me the strength and confidence to work my way through those grueling alphabet drills and kept me running and playing at recess. 

Devil Dogs were often my reward for achieving something or simply getting through the day.  They have been my emotional crutch, one of my sources of support and comfort.  While they may well be largely responsible for my rotund shape and general nutritional failure, they deserved a better fate.  It should not have ended for them like this.

Ring Dings are not my concern.  Yodels are something that should stay in the Swiss Alps.  Funny Bones you can laugh about if you choose.  But Devil Dogs are a genuine piece of Americana.  They are up there with apple pie and ice cream in the Pantheon of snack foods and desserts.  While there have been many imitators who have aspired to copy and capture the flavor and character of Devil Dogs, none have succeeded. 

I remain hopeful Devil Dogs will continue somehow.  Perhaps the brand and the super-secret recipe will be sold to some brilliant and enterprising businessperson.  If Hostess and Drakes had just concentrated on this one special product, they would no doubt still be in business today.  Devil Dogs practically sell themselves.

In the short-term I will be okay, thanks again to my daughter-in-law.  Knowing my plight, she went out and secured a stash of this valuable commodity to tide me over through the initial crisis.  While she does not approve of me gorging, she does understand.

I have not been so depressed and worried since Coke did that stupid “New Coke” thing a few decades ago.  Public outcry saved that iconic product.  Perhaps it can happen again. 

If the government can save GM, it should be able to save Devil Dogs.  Wait until my congressman gets this letter.  But my grandchildren should not have to grow up in a world without Devil Dogs.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Friday, November 16, 2012

North Attleboro Needs Centralized Authority

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on November 16, 2012

User fees – particularly in school systems – are never a popular thing. That is especially true with those who have to pay them.

This past year North Attleboro joined the growing ranks of area towns charging students and parents fees for things like athletics, extracurricular activities, parking and other privileges that were formerly fully funded by the community. School officials instituted the fees in the face of growing expenses and slowing revenues, spurred on by efforts to keep the Allen Avenue School open. According to estimates, some 1700 parents forked over the extra charges.

Last month North’s RTM transferred $1.2 million into the town’s saving account, known as the stabilization fund. They did so to try and set aside funds for the uncertain financial future ahead. Any monies in the stabilization account are usually used to eventually offset drops in revenue, large increases in operating expenses, or to fund large capital purchases or expenditures.

But apparently not everyone was impressed by the town’s efforts to plan for the future. Selectman John Rhyno said he was “besieged by phone calls” from parents angry they had paid money when the town apparently had funds to spare. He said the money should be given back to the people who paid it as a matter of trust, explaining “there are a lot of frustrated people out there”.

He also tied the recent talk of a Proposition 2-1/2 override to the fees, stating “that money is going to have to be paid back before that override is going to go anywhere”. He then added that “maybe if you did that, there’d be some trust”.

If Selectman Rhyno and his fellow board members are really concerned about “trust”, they should start by establishing a little more with their elected school committee. They voted to send a letter to school officials asking them if they were going to consider the issue. Considering the deadline for placing an article on the warrant for the January 7 town meeting is November 26 – and the school committee has no scheduled meeting before then – this is a move lacking in substance but overflowing with politics.

For the umpteenth time, the lack of centralized professional authority in North Attleboro is on full display. In most towns the town manager is in effect the budget officer. In North, the weak position of town administrator does not have that authority. That leads to a disjointed process and political grandstanding such as this.

Eliminating the fees going forward is one thing. Taking nearly a half-million dollars and going through the expense of refunding it is yet another. While the selectmen’s desire to return money to struggling taxpayers is laudable, their logic is faulty. Town Administrator Mark Fisher told the board it would take approximately 840 hours to refund the fees, and that it may leave the town short of funds in the future.

More than that, it simply is not their decision. What Selectman Rhyno hopefully told those who “besieged” him with phone calls is to call their school committee members. The fees were part of the budget package voted on at town meeting. It was a policy decision by the school committee. The selectmen do realize they are not responsible for that policy, which is why they are asking for consideration from school officials.

Talk of refunding the fees helping to make a case for a possible override is just silly. If your financial position requires considering an override, why would you start returning funds? Refunding the fees means eventually those funds would be made up via the property tax. You have to wonder if selectmen will be “besieged” by calls from people without kids in school wondering why they have to make up that difference.

Rhyno’s fellow members seemed lukewarm about the proposed refund, backing the request to send the letter but clearly concerned about the politics involved. They agreed the final decision rests with the school department, and Selectman Mark Williamson went so far as to state he did not “want this to be a political hot potato between us and the school committee.”

Let’s hope it is not too late for that. Town policy is not something you change at the last moment after receiving phone calls.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Selectman's Facebook Posts Not a Problem

This column originally appeared int he Sun Chronicle on November 13, 2012.

By Bill Gouveia

Last week in Mansfield, Selectman Olivier Kozlowski came under fire from the school committee and others for comments made on his Facebook page.  The discussion that ensued was an interesting commentary on the use of social media in local government, as well as a textbook example of how to solidify political advantage.

Kozlowski was on the defensive for posts he made regarding the budget sub-committee of which he is a member.  That committee was created to facilitate discussion and hopefully improve communication between the “town side” and “school side” with regard to funding and the splitting of revenues.  This is in the wake of a huge budget disagreement last year, which was settled at the last minute and presented to Town Meeting with little to no public scrutiny.

School committee members were upset not so much at the content of Kozlowski’s comments as they were their context.  The selectman apparently referred to things allegedly told him by other committee members, and openly questioned and discussed what direction should be taken in budget strategy.

School officials said Kozlowski’s Facebook comments were a major problem to their negotiating process with school unions.  They were concerned his continued posting on such matters would inhibit open and honest discussion on the budget, and result in a return to the animosity and budgetary protectionism of the past. 

This is a two-sided coin.  There is no doubt bargaining strategy within a negotiating team should be kept private at least until the negotiations are complete.  That is not “hiding” anything from the public, but merely doing your job properly and professionally.  After all, Bill Belichick doesn’t send his game plan to the other team prior to each Sunday’s contest. 

At the same time, the budget subcommittee is not a negotiating team.  It is a public body formed for the purpose of providing give-and-take on the budget.  You would hope it was also formed with an eye towards changing the way things are done and the philosophy that has dominated negotiations and contributed to budget shortfalls.  Perhaps it might even be a way to gain public input towards shaping the town’s economic plan.

School committee members claimed Kozlowski’s remarks were causing “serious damage” to their negotiations.  Frankly, there is little to nothing in the way of hard facts to prove that opinion is accurate.  While school officials may well believe any public discussion of how they can and should proceed with regard to regulating salaries and benefits for employees is improper, they may also be exaggerating that impact while seeking to protect their education budget.

When the budget fiasco hit Mansfield last year, the real losers were not either the board of selectmen or the school committee.  Those who lost the most were the citizens who wanted good advance information upon which to make solid financial decisions at Town Meeting.  They were forced to basically rubber-stamp something that was a done deal before they even voted.  They were irrelevant in terms of having an actual say.

That is much more of a threat to Mansfield than any alleged undermining of negotiations.  That is an undermining of the entire democratic process.  It happens all the time, and not just in Mansfield.

A cursory review of Kozlowski’s posts do not seem to reveal any secrets or comments that would cause “severe damage” to any negotiations.  Could they anger some of the union leadership and members?  Sure.  Could that then wind up in some type of increased adversarial confrontation at some point in the negotiating process?  Quite possibly.

But it is just as possible the school committee is upset because the remarks somewhat negate the inherent political advantage almost all school committees have.  They come with something of a built-in constituency with regard to parents.  They have a tough and important job, and they work hard to provide the best educational system they can.  Anything that makes that more difficult is no doubt upsetting.

Asking town officials not to personally post anything that can possibly upset negotiations is a wide-ranging request.  Virtually anything can be claimed to affect negotiations.  And frankly, sometimes the whole point is to try and influence negotiations.  It’s called “leadership”.

Selectmen are not students, and the school committee really shouldn’t treat them as such.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Foxboro Selectmen Now Totally Transparent

by Bill Gouveia

 When the Kraft Organization, owners of Gillette Stadium and Patriot Place, announced they were pulling out of "negotiations" with the Town of Foxboro, it seemed like a negative for all parties.  But this may be a good thing, especially for the town.

            You see, the term "negotiations" has not fit this situation for some time now.  The truth is Foxboro stopped "negotiating" with the Kraft Group when selectmen decided to not even allow the presentation of a casino proposal.  That was not negotiating - that was dictating.  Since that time, Foxboro officials have adopted that as their official policy.

            Maybe it's because it worked with the casino.  It helped get one selectman booted out, one elected, one reelected, and brought forth a tremendous election turnout.  The selectmen who prevented discussion were certainly riding high afterwards.  Perhaps some of them decided this "get tough with Kraft" policy was the politically wise way to handle all dealings with the town’s single largest taxpayer.

            So since that time they have been tough.  They stalled talks with the Kraft Group over future development at Patriot Place for well over a year.  They formed at least two different negotiating teams, and then disbanded them.  They insisted on negotiating with Kraft officials in public, and then canceled several meetings with little notice.  Some publicly stated they will not make any agreements with Kraft until they get what they think they are owed from the last negotiations.  Unfortunately, their argument they are owed anything is based on what their former attorney called “a social contract”.

            They failed to adopt a plan put forth by their own attorney placing their professional administrator Kevin Paicos in charge of negotiating a deal which they and/or Town Meeting would have ultimately approved or rejected.  They claim to do this in the interest of "transparency" for their citizens.

            Recently the Kraft Group became tired of the political posturing.  They decided "negotiating" in this manner was a waste of everyone’s time and effort.  So they pulled out, saying for now they will restrict the future development of their property to what they can do without "help" from the selectmen or other officials.

            This might cost the Kraft organization a chance at more liquor licenses.  It might prevent them from expanding their retail space along Route 1.  It may well restrict their ability to create additional profits from their business interests there.

            But it will undoubtedly cost the Town of Foxboro the additional tax revenue they would have received with any expansion.  It also eliminates the opportunity for the town to try and get back the $7.5 million the Kraft Group pledged for the building of a sewer plant last time, which Town Meeting turned down when they decided not to build it.  That is a huge potential loss for Foxboro's property taxpayers as well as their current and future sewer ratepayers.  The money has gone away, but the pressing need remains.

            Selectmen and Town Administrator expressed surprise over the Kraft Group decision to no longer participate in the painstakingly difficult process.  Paicos said the board had been ready to once again reconstitute a bargaining committee.  He also reiterated the selectmen were right to insist the alleged and dubious terms of the first agreement be honored before any new one is created.

            So now there are no “negotiations”.  There are no talks.  There are no expansion plans, at least none being discussed publicly.  There is no $7.5 million for sewer construction, nor the current possibility of obtaining it.  There is no public/private collaboration on creating a brighter future for a wonderful community.

            There is just the selectmen and their toughness.  They really showed that Kraft Group who’s boss, right?

            Yep, that’s total transparency.  The citizens of Foxboro can clearly see that absolutely nothing is happening.  Their elected leaders have created a situation where they isolated themselves from their largest property taxpayer.  It will now fall to Foxboro’s residential taxpayers to shoulder the burden of unavoidable future costs.  And the philanthropic Kraft Organization might be a little less so inclined in the future.

            Clearly, this was a good thing.  The selectmen have gotten their wish and created total “transparency”. 

Now everyone in town can hopefully see right through them. 

            Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at #billinsidelook.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Hometown Parade With Grandson is the Best

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on Monday, November 5, 2012.


By Bill Gouveia
If you ever find yourself getting a bit jaded or wondering what life is supposed to be all about, take your grandson to a parade in your hometown. It works wonders in adjusting your attitude.

Recently my wife and I got to take my 4-year-old grandson (did I mention his name is William?) to the Halloween parade in Norton. I am generally not a big parade person, but when you have grandchildren you do these things. So just before noon that Sunday I was in the parking lot of the Chartley Post Office on Route 123 with a very excited child.

Young Will was in full costume, dressed as Wolverine. For those not familiar with Wolverine, this is a character with large yellow muscles, a black and yellow mask, and long claws. My grandson was quick to explain to me that Wolverine is “a good guy”. I was relieved to find out I was not consorting with criminals.

We were a bit early, and I wondered how we were going to keep Will occupied. That turned out to be no problem. Parked next to us was Captain America and The Incredible Hulk, both close to his age. They quickly became friends, running around saving the world and each other as only kids can.

We also met their very nice parents and grandmother. After talking to them a bit, we discovered the mom had gone to Norton High with our youngest son Nate. Then just to drive the “it’s a small world” theme home even further, we found out the grandmother’s brother had gone to Norton High with my younger brother. It was a strange kind of Norton High reunion.

The parade started, and Wolverine and his buddies raced to the sidewalk to see what was coming. They were excited when the police officers and firefighters came by with sirens blaring (though Wolverine was seen covering his ears - even superheroes have their vulnerabilities). They were even more excited when candy began being tossed out of the vehicles, and they began filling their bags and containers.

They enjoyed the bagpipes, and loved the floats full of kids waving and tossing them more treats. I had forgotten just how amazed little kids can be by the simplest things, and it brought me back to a simpler time and place.

For Grandpa, it was a lot of fun. I teased old friend and Town Crier Butch Rich as he led the procession yelling “The parade is coming” – like we were going to miss it somehow. I knew so many of the local police officers and firefighters, as well the local businesspeople sponsoring the floats.

Then came the Board of Selectmen, who I had written about in a satirical manner recently. I’m not sure, but I think they noticed. While tossing candy gently to children along the route, they saw me and began firing candy firmly AT me. It was all in good-natured fun, and I laughed along with them.

Afterwards, as I dried out and prepared for a day of football, I reflected on the big event. I realized my grandson had sat on the side of the same streets where I perched as a kid, watching a local parade go by. I thought about how not every family gets to share these important moments, with our society being so much more mobile and wide-spread these days.

My mind flashed back to a Christmas party held at my house back in mid-90’s when I was a selectman. I remember standing in the kitchen with my son Aaron (Will’s dad) and Fire Chief George Burgess and Police Chief Ben Keene. We were swapping stories, and then Chief Burgess stopped and talked directly to my young son.

“Someday you’re going to be standing around, telling stories about listening to the old fire chief and old police chief in Norton,” he boomed in that unique and full voice. And he was right – but don’t ever tell him I said that. He'd enjoy it way too much.

There really is nothing like a hometown parade to make your weekend – especially when you still live in that hometown. And grandchildren make it all even better.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Rep's Remark an Insult to Veterans

By Bill Gouveia

The race for state representative in Attleboro has been a hard-fought and bare-knuckled battle between challenger Paul Heroux and incumbent George Ross.  The two candidates give Attleboro voters a clear choice, as there are wide differences between them.   They have different visions for the city and the state.

Ross is an experienced local politician, and Heroux a relative political novice.  The challenger has been quick to call attention to the incumbent’s voting record, and Ross has responded by highlighting Heroux’s voting record – not as a public official, but as a private citizen.  That has created an interesting discussion of just what voting is, and what should be expected of voters everywhere.

Ross has publicized how many times Heroux has voted since turning 18.  Heroux became of legal voting age in 1995, but records show he did not vote in an election until 2004.  Heroux says he was not motivated to vote until that time in his life, and says he has changed from being apathetic on the matter to now getting involved in running for public office.

Ross has charged the fact his opponent chose not to vote in many elections is an insult to military veterans who risked their lives to protect that freedom.  When Heroux responded by claiming he knows veterans who do not always vote, Ross replied that if you are a veteran and do not vote, “there is something wrong with you.”

It seems pretty clear everyone in this country should vote if at all possible.  It is one of the great rights and privileges we are given in America.  It is difficult to make a difference and a better life for yourself, your family, and your friends and neighbors if you don’t take the time to make your voice heard at the ballot box.

But George Ross is incredibly wrong and entirely off-base when he takes the issue of voting and tries to tie it to our brave men and women serving in the armed forces.  If he wants to take issue with Heroux’s choice not to vote for quite a period of time – that is fair game.  But casting it as disrespect to our veterans and servicemen and servicewomen is petty, political, and a cheap shot of the highest order.

There are many reasons why so many men and women have served our country with such great distinction throughout history.  Protecting the right to vote is no doubt one of them.  But overwhelmingly, the veterans I know have said defending their country and guaranteeing freedom were the biggest reasons they put their lives on the line for the rest of us here at home.  And part of that freedom – like it or not – is the right to decide whether or not to vote in elections.

Ross has a perfect right to hold fast to his own belief, but no right to claim it is the standard by which all shall be judged.  He should know and understand that some veterans come home inspired, and some come home disillusioned.  Some vote in every election after serving, and some vote in none.  But the fact some choose not to vote does not mean there is “something wrong” with them.

I don’t really know either of the candidates in this race personally.  I do not live in their district.  I can’t vote for either one of them, and I don’t know which one would better serve the good citizens of Attleboro.

But I do know exploiting the service of veterans for political purposes is disturbing.  Candidates should concentrate on veteran issues today, as well as things like the state budget, local aid for education, and other areas where as state representatives they can have a direct and meaningful impact.

Raising the issue of your opponent’s voting record is fine.  But using our veterans and the good men and women currently serving in the military as a way of gaining political advantage in a local race is simply inexcusable.  That is far more an insult to them than any lack of voting could ever be.

Here’s hoping that in this final week before Election Day, the candidates can concentrate on the real issues.  Better yet – let’s hope the voters do it for them.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.