Monday, January 2, 2012

The Great Ironic Foxboro Casino Debate

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on Monday, January 2, 2012

As part of the Great Casino Debate, Foxboro is involved in a serious discussion concerning free speech. Ironically, folks are clamoring to be heard on the topic of denying others the right to be heard. Alas, no one ever said irony was fair.

At a selectmen’s meeting last week, many sought to speak and express their opposition to a resort casino suggested for near Gillette Stadium. They wished to publicly state their opposition to allowing any such proposal to be put on the ballot for all Foxboro voters to decide. They urged selectmen to not allow or engage in any discussion with the proposers on the topic.

Selectmen initially allowed ten minutes for public comments, but expanded that to almost an hour when many wished to speak. One woman opposed to the casino was told time had expired and the meeting was moving on. She angrily demanded the right to be heard. Many in the crowd chanted “Let her speak!” She went on to urge the casino proponents be given no consideration, and received a loud ovation.

Perhaps the irony of people invoking their right to speak in an effort to prevent others from being heard was lost on some there. Hopefully it will become clearer as the heat of that moment slowly dissipates. But that might be unlikely, given the recent penchant for explaining away bad behavior in Foxboro.

The casino issue has been blamed for bringing out the worst in some citizens on both sides. Many have stated the very concept is tearing the community apart and pitting friends and neighbors against each other. There have been accusations of sign stealing and vandalism. Town meetings have been interrupted by shouting citizens seeking to influence town officials and others. All this in peaceful Foxboro, described almost universally as a warm, friendly community.

Foxboro is indeed a great town, full of good people. Those residents are too good to use this issue or any other as an excuse for intolerance and ignorance. Issues don’t behave poorly – people do. It is time everyone in Foxboro – on all sides - started assuming responsibility for their own actions rather than passing them off as the inevitable result of a complicated and emotional debate.

Most residents of Foxboro are doing just that. They are allowing the system to work as intended, supplying their input and opinions when and where they deem it necessary and proper, and respecting their fellow citizens. It is a shame the actions of a vocal few are unfairly casting the community in a bad light.

Those proposing the casino (and it does no good to call it a “resort destination”, it is still a casino) must be sensitive to the feelings of the Foxboro residents. This matter strikes right to the heart and character of a community, or at least people’s perception of those things. It is difficult to walk into town and propose something along the scale of this project without raising great fear and trepidation.

When you do polling, or lobby officials, or put a video on local cable access television – all perfectly legitimate and proper things to do – you have to know some will treat it as though you are dictating rather than appealing. You are going to be the bad guys in this little morality play, and there is little you can do to change that perception.

But having a difficult decision placed before them is not an excuse for the behavior some in Foxboro have exhibited. Granted, the casino is a political topic and will eventually need a political solution. But attacking the integrity of those who present the concept and town officials who support listening to them, intimidating officials with none-too-subtle threats of political retribution, and acting like spoiled three-year-olds at public meetings is not the way to go. Although in truth, it does seem to have been politically effective thus far. Is that really what matters most?.

Communities sometimes have to make tough decisions. Those decisions should be informed ones, made after full and careful consideration. If individuals on either side of this contentious debate continue to cross the line with their behavior, the blame is on them – not the issue at hand. A little less irony, a little more reason…

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and a longtime area town official. He can be reached at

No comments: