Friday, June 29, 2012

Public Promoting From Within Both Good and Bad

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on June 29th, 2012

The difficult situation currently existing in the Attleboro Police Department highlights a problem with a common practice utilized in most local Civil Service public safety departments – hiring upper management strictly from within.

The Civil Service system, established in the days before strong unions and labor laws, continues to be in force in many communities. Today it primarily covers practices in police and fire departments, although it can apply to other positions. It affects hiring, firing, discipline and promotions involving department personnel.

When it comes to hiring chiefs and superior officers, Civil Service all but guarantees those spots will be filled via internal promotion rather than from outside. It does allow participating communities to fill positions such as chief with outside individuals, but places so many restrictions on doing so that it is virtually impossible. It is also a system that has become corrupt and obsolete, but that is a different discussion for a different day.

Former Attleboro Police Chief Richard Pierce was forced to resign almost two years ago after 32 years in the department. His departure was directly linked with his actions regarding an investigation of his police officer son, who was fired shortly thereafter. He was replaced by Kyle Heagney, a veteran lieutenant in the city squad. There was no search beyond the department or any attempt to bring in anyone else. Heagney had passed the Civil Service exam and became the 16th chief in the department’s history.

This is the process individuals inside the department obviously prefer. When you promote from within, a great number of people benefit at the same time. If a lieutenant moves up to be chief, a sergeant usually becomes a lieutenant. Then a patrol officer usually moves up to sergeant. Everyone gets a bump in pay, career advancement, and some important job security.

And there are definite advantages to the municipality by promoting from within. You get to keep a lot of the institutional knowledge the advancing candidates possess. The department and taxpayers benefit from the training they have invested in the officers over the years. And many believe it is simply the right and fair thing to do.

But there are also some serious problems. It often means change comes very slowly. You tend to get a continuation of the same general policies and attitudes, and the comfort level employees enjoy with their new boss can be an issue. Even with the best of professional leaders, it can sometimes difficult to suddenly be in charge of people you have worked alongside for years.

Sometimes complete change is a good thing. Infusing a workplace with new ideas, a fresh outlook, and a different set of career experiences can often transform a department. But it can also cause resentment because there is no corresponding series of internal promotions. In addition, many employees are not happy if the routine and rules they have followed for years are suddenly changed by someone from outside their tight-knit circle.

This is not to say or imply that Chief Heagney is not doing a good job. He inherited a mess, and is doing his best to clean it up. As expected, he is running into problems with his former union brothers who don’t appreciate the way some issues are being handled.

Those who stand to benefit personally always point out that it is in fact the public who benefits when trained local officers stay within the department. Then taxpayers recover the money they spent training them, and you get that extra level of caring that comes from living for a long time in the city or town you serve.

But at the same time, those employees maintain their perfectly acceptable right to go and apply for jobs in other departments when they become available. Applying for a chief position in another department is just considered taking care of yourself and your family. But why is it a good thing when one of “our people” takes a leadership role in another department, but a bad thing when a thorough search brings in a professional from another community?

When you never bring in new people to fill leadership positions, you can’t be surprised when the culture doesn’t change. It’s the fault of the system, not just the individuals.

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

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Keep The Room Empty- Kids Come Back

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on October 8, 2011.

Those of you “experienced parents” who believe things will get easier and simpler once your kids grow up and leave the family home - forget it. The situations change, the needs differ, but your kids can be like the swallows from Capistrano: They keep coming back.

That is merely an observation, and not a complaint. My wife and I have two sons and at various points in their lives they have moved out and then moved back in. Each time we welcomed them completely, and they know our home is always open to them. But that does not mean there aren’t adjustments to be made on both sides.

Our oldest has undertaken a career change and brought his family to live with us while they seek to get established in a new place closer to work. We love our terrific daughter-in-law dearly, and of course having our brilliant and handsome three-year-old grandson (did I mention his name is William?) stay with us is an absolute blessing. Our house is large, so there is plenty of room.

But moving in with your parents is something generally done out of necessity, not choice. As wonderful as we are (and we are truly wonderful – just ask us) we may not be the easiest people in the world to live with. Well, I’m pretty easy, but my wife can sometimes be difficult. You guys know how it is.

My son and I are a lot alike, so that makes things reasonably easy. But having two of us (three if you count young Will) with many of the same annoying habits can be a bit much for the two ladies of the house. And in this case, we are talking about two extremely strong-willed women who are used to getting their own way. Having to train both of us all over again can be quite a chore – never mind having to adjust to another adult woman in their household.

Having “guests” has necessitated some cleaning of our home and some rearranging of the rooms. This has highlighted one of the biggest differences between me and my beloved life partner. I like to throw stuff out. My wife likes to keep everything. This is a source of much debate and conflict, most of which I (naturally) find myself losing.

My trips to the trash are monitored more closely than the Iraqi nuclear program. My wife lives in constant fear I may be sneaking out some important artifact of our lives or something that could conceivably be of use to someone in some far corner of the globe. And truth be told – she has good reason to fear this. She has caught me on numerous occasions. She does not appreciate my kind of “cleaning”.

Our basement resembles a Salvation Army supply depot, with things strewn everywhere in a manner that makes sense to us but probably not to anyone else. A lot of it was left by our children when they moved out – then back in – then back out again. But we have generated the bulk of it, and must bear the responsibility for the clutter it has created.

While my oldest has no problem throwing things out, my youngest is much more like his mom in that regard. Though he and his wife live in Baltimore, much of his “stuff” still lives with us. We had to pack up a lot of his belongings as grandson Will is staying in his room, and my wife (on his behalf) guards his collection of personal goods as though it were the gold at Fort Knox.

We are dedicated to making sure that each bedroom our boys grew up in remains “their room” even in adulthood. When Nate does come home to visit and brings his beautiful doctor wife (and someday possibly a child) we want him to stay in the room that has always been his. It is as important to us as we believe it is to him.

So the lesson here is: Don’t think that empty bedroom will be housing a hot tub any time soon. Your kids tend to come back. And honestly, we wouldn’t want it any other way. At least on most days.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and proud husband, father and grandfather. You may ridicule him at

Monday, June 25, 2012

Foxboro Town Manager Not Serving Town Well

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on June 25, 2012.

It appears the Town of Foxboro and the Kraft organization are about to re-enter negotiations on the sensitive topics of sewers and billboards. While the idea of a small-town government and one of the most powerful National Football League owners fighting over those two particular topics is amusing at first glance, there has been nothing funny about the potential impact this may have on the town that calls itself “The Gem of Norfolk County”.

To make a long story short, the Kraft Group and the town had an agreement of sorts on Kraft funding a sewer construction project and sharing revenue from billboards located along Route 1. It is a complicated saga complete with conflicting votes, intermingled municipal authority, a lack of understanding on both sides, and many bruised and sensitive egos. It was all intensified when the Great Foxboro Casino Issue was held over town officials as if a giant kid were trying to fry ants with a magnifying glass.

A heated discussion arose over whether the original agreement between the two parties had been done according to state bidding laws, and whether any subsequent agreement or extension would have to come under that process. That led to two embarrassing attempts at soliciting bids by Town Manager and Chief Procurement Officer Kevin Paicos, only to have absolutely no one bid either time.

There was even debate over who owned the land the billboards sat upon, with the town going so far as to propose an article for Town Meeting that would have taken Kraft land by eminent domain. At the suggestion of the town manager, selectmen refused to let a Kraft representative speak to the topic after being recognized at a selectmen’s meeting. That led to the Kraft Group obtaining a court injunction and filing a suit against the town.

You get the picture. It hasn’t been pretty.

It has become clear that much of the problem is the rocky relationship between Kraft Group officials and Town Manager Paicos. While some friction is certainly to be expected in this business relationship between private business officials and a local municipal manger, the Foxboro situation has gotten out of hand. Each side no doubt is responsible for some of the bad feelings and erosion of trust.

But Kevin Paicos has not served either his board or his town well in this regard. He has inserted himself and his personal views where they have not belonged, particularly involving the now resolved casino issue. Though a highly capable professional, he simply does not appear to have the temperament necessary for working in the difficult and unusual position of Foxboro Town Manager.

Paicos has consistently manipulated and maneuvered his Board of Selectmen rather than serving as their employee. Last December he issued what the Boston Globe called “an unorthodox public memo” urging selectmen to not allow Kraft and casino tycoon Steve Wynn to even present a proposal due to the divisive nature of the issue. For a professional town manager to make such a political statement independent from his bosses is – well, unprofessional.

The veteran administrator then made things worse when he went to the press weeks before the local election and claimed then-chairman and candidate Larry Harrington was out to fire him. Paicos also said Kraft was making his job impossible, and famously proclaimed “I’m standing up for a town called Foxboro, not Kraftville”. He said if he was fired “They will be lucky if they get Bozo the Clown. Certainly no one who will stand up to the Krafts.”

Paicos utilized the convenient politics generated by the casino issue to bolster his own position. But that is over now, and what is left is the need to work productively with the town’s largest taxpayer and property owner. That will be difficult because the Kraft folks not only appear to not like Paicos, they also appear not to respect him.

A good town manager cannot and must not simply bow down and do the will of the Kraft Group. But they must demonstrate the ability to conduct hard-nosed business with them on a professional level. Kevin Paicos has not done that, and until he does the taxpayers of Foxboro will have more to worry about than billboards and sewers.

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

Friday, June 22, 2012

He Stopped to Tell Me He Knew My Grandmother

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on June 22, 2012

By Bill Gouveia

It’s amazing how one small, unexpected moment can make your whole day and bring back into focus what is important. I had such a moment this past weekend, and I wanted to share it.

I was shopping Saturday at the country store in Norton when I heard someone call my name. I have lived in town for over 50 years, so it is not unusual for a friend or neighbor to shout out hello. But when I turned, I was greeted by a smiling couple I did not recognize. They were older than me (I know, hard to believe) and I thought perhaps they had recognized me from this space or my time as a town official.

But the gentleman put his hand out and said, “Bill, I’ve been meaning to mail a letter to you for so long now. I read your column all the time and I wanted to say – I knew your grandmother Jessie, the one you wrote about.”

I was shocked for a minute, and then embarrassingly asked him his name. He told me, and immediately I knew who he was. I didn’t ask if I could print his name, so he shall remain anonymous here. But he had lived behind my grandparents when they resided on Highland Avenue in Mansfield not far from the train station. And here he was, taking the time to talk to me about my grandmother – who would have been 107 this year.

We chatted for a few minutes, remembering old times and neighbors. We reminisced about days gone by, and he said he recalled my grandmother’s infectious laugh. We discussed local politics, and where everyone has gone now. Then we shook hands and said goodbye – people who had not seen each other in over 40 years. But the fact he took the time to say hello and mention my grandparents stayed with me, and no doubt will for a long time.

It brought me back to when I spent a lot of time in Mansfield, and the neighborhood my grandparents lived in almost all their lives. Perhaps I view it through the rose-colored glasses of youth, but the fact remains Mansfield back then was a great place to be a kid.

I remember the huge field on Draper Avenue that my grandparents would traverse every day when they walked to work at the old Bay State Tap & Die Company. We played often in that field, and my grandfather would take me across it to watch the trains roar by on their way to the big city. And I recall the almost magical trips to the downtown area, which in the 1960’s was a snapshot of the typical rural American town.

We would cross the train bridge to Cuneo’s and say hello to Emma, then have an ice cream soda and buy a comic book. My grandfather would take me next door to the Sunrise Barbershop, where Butch and Harry would cut our hair and I would listen to them talk about sports and town affairs. Then we would get fish ‘n chips from the Mansfield House and head back home (probably after he had a cold one).

My grandmother would take us clothes shopping at Sannies, usually after she and my mom had their hair done at Joseph’s salon on Main Street. I would often wander up and down that busy thoroughfare while I waited, dropping into places like Stearns and Western Auto and the 5 & 10 (does anyone else even remember the 5 & 10?). And sometimes we would end up at George’s Cleaners and Laundromat, where the Coke machine took your money more than half the time.

All those businesses are gone now. The buildings are either torn down or remodeled, and not nearly as many kids wander up and down Main Street. But that Mansfield still lives in my childhood memories.

And today those memories are a little brighter and a little sharper, all because a wonderful couple took the time to come up to me and say: “Hi – I knew your grandmother.” When they left I told them it had been nice seeing them. I only hope they understood just how truly nice I thought it was.

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

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Foxboro Town Manager Invokes "Bozo"

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on April 20, 2012

When town managers start talking about themselves instead of concentrating on their duties, you know their time in that community is drawing to a close. Nowhere is this more obvious than Foxboro, where Town Manager Kevin Paicos is telling just about anyone who will listen he believes he will soon be fired. He may very well be right.

But Paicos also believes his problems in Foxboro are largely caused by his run-ins with Robert Kraft and the Kraft organization, particularly over the casino issue and some billboards the town and Kraft have shared for several years. Paicos believes he has done his job and stood up for Foxboro, which has angered Kraft and in turn caused his relationship with the board of selectmen to sour.

“I understand I’m controversial, but I’m standing up for a town called Foxboro, not Kraftsville,” Paicos told the Boston Globe this past weekend. “These ongoing conflicts with Kraft and (developer Steve) Wynn and conflicts over the casino are making it impossible for me to succeed in my job.”

But in fact, Mr. Paicos has no one but himself to blame for his possibly tenuous employment position. Through his actions, his attitude, and his insistence on going outside his actual responsibilities, Paicos has set himself up to fail. He has been acting less like a town manager and more like a selectman almost since the start of his Foxboro tenure. He has shown a tendency to dictate to his board rather than help them do their job,

A good town manager understands they are employed by the town, but work for the selectmen. That does not mean you can’t stand up to them, individually or as a board, when you believe they are wrong. But you do it in a professional manner, understanding they are the elected representatives of the townspeople and you the person they hire to manage the day-to-day operations.

Paicos has consistently violated this professional principle. He took a position on the casino issue before selectmen finalized theirs, issuing a public statement urging the board to refuse to entertain any proposals or negotiations with the Kraft/Wynn organizations. He attempted to manipulate public opinion and maneuver selectmen into a political corner, trying to create public policy rather than implementing what his board ultimately decided.

Later, when the Kraft/Wynn organizations kept trying to be heard on the casino issue, Paicos used unnecessarily harsh and confrontational language to address the situation. "If they go forward with this application that will be outrageous and arrogant," Paicos said publicly. While that may well represent the opinion of many in town, it is unbecoming the community’s chief executive and does not help in maintaining a respectful relationship with the town’s largest taxpayer.

Then Paicos inserted himself again where he did not belong, raising a “point of order” when a representative of the Kraft organization attempted to speak at a selectmen’s meeting. The town manager loudly and strongly urged the chairman to not recognize the speaker saying it would be improper and compromise an ongoing bid process – both of which proved to be incorrect. That led to a court order and a lawsuit against the town.

To be fair, Paicos has been thrust into a difficult position. He was hired by a divided board, and this group of selectmen has not exactly been a model of consistent and reasonable leadership. He has the tough task of dealing with a powerful organization with tremendous resources in the Kraft group, and when you throw the emotional casino issue and Steve Wynn into the mix it doesn’t get any easier.

But to be the town manager in Foxboro, you must have the ability to bring people together and set aside your own personal feelings. Kevin Paicos has had trouble doing both. Despite some successes, he has failed to be the professional and objective influence Foxboro so desperately needs. No matter how hard he tries to blame Robert Kraft or the selectmen for his failures, he has put himself in this position.

Paicos thinks selectmen would have a difficult time replacing him, telling the Globe “They will be lucky if they get Bozo the Clown.” Bozo himself declined to comment on the matter – which should serve as a lesson of sorts to Mr. Paicos.

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

Passing Along Baseball to the Next Generation

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on April 13, 2012

I can’t remember exactly which sportswriter once turned the phrase, but it’s one of my favorite quotes: “Spring – when a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of glove.”

Baseball is underway, and for this fan that has always been the sport which brings with it the greatest emotional attachment. Right now that emotion is mostly frustration, given the painful start by our beloved and bewildering Red Sox. But this baseball season brings a new beginning for me and opens yet another chapter in the rather boring saga that is my life.

You see, today I am less concerned with what goes on at Fenway Park and more with what is taking place at Everett Leonard Field in Norton. The games I can’t wait to watch are not going to be televised, and won’t even be on radio. I won’t need a ticket to attend them, and in fact may have to provide my own seat.

This spring and summer, my grandson Will (did I mention his name is William?) will be playing baseball in Norton. It’s really T-ball, and I guess “games” would be a generous description of the actual activities. After all, he did just turn four years old and I assume his teammates and those on the opposing squads will be around the same age. I’m not sure many of them even know yet what a team is yet.

At this age there is little emphasis on competition and a great deal on having fun and learning the game. Normally, that would not hold much interest for me. I’m a pretty competitive guy, though athletically I’ve never been much competition for anyone. But whether playing checkers with my uncles as a kid, shooting backyard hoops with my sons, or playing online word games with my wife – I always want to win.

But being a grandfather has apparently softened me up a bit. Right now I can’t wait to go and watch my favorite four-year-old swing a miniature bat at a ball set up for him on a stick. He is on a team, will have a uniform shirt, and will be playing the greatest of all sports. I’ll just have to adapt to the fact no one is keeping score.

I already bought him a real baseball bat so he could practice with me and his dad in the front yard. It’s a little heavy for him, but he manages to get around with it pretty well. He’s got a good stroke, hitting the ball regularly both off the tee and pitched from a relatively close distance. He’s not too sure which way to run after he hits it, but a little coaching should take care of that.

I gave Will a real baseball glove for his birthday, and soon he will figure out which hand it goes on. He has already decided hitting is a lot more fun than fielding, and when we play he usually makes me wear his glove while I pitch to him. He is also very impressed with the batting gloves I gave him, although I’m pretty sure he thinks they are just to keep his hands warm.

My son is helping to coach Will’s team, something which makes the experience all that more meaningful and fun for me. I never coached him when he played in Norton Youth Baseball (although I did coach his brother’s team, as he reminded me recently), but I am so happy he is getting involved early with his son’s sporting activities. He’s complaining he got roped into it, but the pride and excitement in his eyes renders that moaning and groaning meaningless.

With all due respect to the many wonderful sports-minded mothers out there, baseball is a game that somehow magically bonds fathers, sons and grandfathers. My dad was never a huge fan when I was growing up, but my grandfather was a real baseball guy. He bought me my first glove, and it is a tradition I was proud and determined to keep alive.

So most Saturdays in May and June, you’ll find me watching a bunch of preschoolers run around chasing baseballs. I’ll be easy to spot. I’ll be the guy with the big smile yelling at the coach.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and a big fan of both his grandchildren. He can be reached at

What Really Happened to the Foxboro Casino

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on May 11, 2012

In March when discussing the political situation in Foxboro, I wrote the following:

“The basic premise of successful campaigning is: If you can frame the question to be discussed, your side usually wins. Controlling the topic is often more important than winning the actual debate. This clearly applies in Foxboro, where the upcoming local election will be viewed as an early referendum on the volatile casino issue. Candidates for selectmen are going to be identified as anti-casino or pro-casino. And that is exactly how the anti-casino folks want it.”

Steve Wynn and Bob Kraft have a lot of influence, but they failed to use it wisely with regard to the recent Foxboro election. They had said the results would make no difference in their casino plans. But the truth is there will likely never be a casino in Foxboro, largely because the savvy Wynn/Kraft folks got beaten like a drum – politically speaking – by ordinary citizens who knew how to do what they obviously did not: Run an effective local campaign in this area.

Despite claims to the contrary by everyone except the anti-casino groups, this week’s election was all about the casino. With all due respect to the four talented candidates, their qualifications played little to no part in the process. All that mattered was their stance on the casino. Were they in favor of listening, or were they opposed? As the similarity in vote totals for the winning and losing candidates proves, voters cast their ballots for a “team” far more often than they chose an individual.

The Kraft/Wynn people needed to make this election about voters being allowed to choose their own future. They needed to convince Foxboro citizens their right to make a final and informed decision on a casino was being hijacked by their board of selectmen. The focus should have been almost exclusively on the “ability to vote” issue and how citizens were in effect not being trusted, how selectmen seemed afraid Wynn/Kraft would somehow bedazzle them and snooker the poor ordinary masses into making the “wrong” choice.

But they didn’t. Instead they sent out mailings showing what their project would look like. They formed a group called “Jobs for Foxboro”, which simply was the wrong tool at the wrong time. They were busy working on the second part of the project, and neglected the first and most important – getting the board to agree to negotiate.

So while they talked about jobs and economic growth, their opponents were cutting them off at the pass, just like in those old TV westerns. Anti-casino folks didn’t spend an inordinate amount of time disputing the job claims, or the revenue figures, or the traffic projections. Instead they focused like a laser beam on stopping the project before it could even get started. They recognized the tremendous pressure they could bring on local officials. They were playing checkers while the Kraft/Wynn organizations were trying to playing chess.

In essence, Foxboro voters turned out in record numbers to elect people who campaigned on a platform of not letting their fellow citizens vote on arguably the most important issue in the town’s history. Anti-casino folks did a great job of making it seem like preventing the town from even negotiating was protecting it from the dangers of casino gambling and the many evils they associated with it – all while the proponents talked about jobs, revenue, and other things that just weren’t relevant to the “let them vote” issue.

There seemed to be a split between the Kraft organization and the Wynn group towards the end. They did not use their collective abilities together in the most effective manner. While the anti-casino crowd deserves tremendous political credit, the Kraft and Wynn organizations also deserve their fate because they insisted on fighting the wrong battle at the wrong time.

Foxboro residents should be concerned that their government thinks it is so much smarter than they are. Those who rode the anti-casino platform to victory now must prove they didn’t kill the golden goose and must solve Foxboro’s many ongoing problems. And as for the Wynn and Kraft organizations, when the autopsy on this campaign is complete, it will show their side was done in mainly due to self-inflicted wounds.

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

I'm Even Losing the Battle of the TV

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on May 4, 2012

In a few weeks I will have been married to my lovely wife for 35 years. That’s a long time, and has required a great deal of acceptance and patience. Okay, maybe a tad more on her part than mine, but let’s not split hairs here. I don’t have many left.

Most victories I have achieved over that period (there are relatively few) were because she either strategically allowed me to win in order to gain some other advantage, or just didn’t care enough about the particular matter to make it an issue. But one area where I have historically exerted my undeniable dominance is television. When it comes to TV, I am the one in control.

Or at least I was. But things have changed a bit. While my beloved bride continues to maintain she could live without television, her actions say otherwise. She has started to assert herself in this area, and I have unwittingly aided and abetted her efforts through my devious attempts to disguise selfishness as generosity.

A few years back we bought a television for our bedroom. The set it replaced had been with us for an astonishing 26 years, serving first as our main TV downstairs. When it finally stopped working, my wife and I had some slight disagreement over just what should replace it in our average-sized master bedroom. Basically, I wanted a 60-inch wide-screen HD TV with surround sound, and she would have been happy with a 19-inch used set.

So I played a little dirty. Her birthday and Mother’s Day are right around the same time, and I saw an opportunity. Her big gift that year was a 30” wide-screen HD television with simulated surround sound and a terrific picture. I spent a lot of time picking it out – all with her in mind, of course. It’s just the kind of guy I am.

She was appropriately grateful, though it was obvious she was not fooled despite my brilliant and cunning plan. I don’t know what more she could have wanted. I set it up for her, connected the DVD player and new HD cable box, and programmed my favorite shows to record so she could share them with me. It was obviously every woman’s fantasy, and I was just happy to enable her to live the dream.

It was wonderful for a while. The Red Sox and Celtic games looked great on the new screen, and she appeared happy – even though she seemed incapable of recognizing the difference between the HD and standard definition picture. But I was slowly educating her on all matters of television, and things were good all around.

Then they began to change. It happened slowly, which might explain why it took me so long to recognize the danger. One night I went up to join in her in bed and watch the end of the ballgame, and there was something strange flitting across that beautiful screen. I thought it was a commercial at first, and patiently waited for the Sox to reappear. But the silliness just continued, forcing me to ask her just what it was she was viewing on “her” television. She smilingly informed me it was a show called “Dancing With The Stars”. I felt the first warning chills run up and down my spine.

And so it began. She discovered this infernal network known as “HGTV” that airs shows where men fix things and appear useful. There was a constant barrage of people selling and buying homes I could not afford. There were wedding shows – oh good Lord, were there wedding shows – where obnoxious brides tried on dresses and sniped at each others reception plans. It was pure agony, and there was little I could do. After all – it was “her” TV.

She learned how to record things on the DVR. I began seeing things like “Say Yes To The Dress” and other scary titles. And now, when I want to get a bigger set for my nocturnal viewing, she says she likes this TV. She doesn’t want to change, even for a bigger and better screen.

And this after all I have done for her television-wise. I’m telling you, she doesn’t fully appreciate me.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be reached at You can also follow him on Twitter at @billinsidelook.

In Massachusetts, Marriage is Just Marriage

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on June 4, 2012

Last week my wife and I celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary. Well, “celebrated” may be a bit of an exaggeration. We spent the day volunteering for our church by working at a Gillette Stadium concession stand during an NCAA lacrosse tournament, followed by Chinese takeout because we were too tired for a restaurant experience. Who says I’m not a romantic?

But despite our rather pathetic observation of this landmark moment, we both appreciate the fact we have made it this far together. Marriage is a lot of things, but easy isn’t always one of them. While I’m sure there are many storybook couples who spend endless days staring dreamily into each others eyes, we are more likely to be found arguing over the checkbook, or what to have for dinner, or whatever I happen to have done wrong that day.

But we don’t care if our marriage conforms to the standards others may have. What we have works for us, and our love is as deep and lasting as I can possibly imagine. We have raised two great sons, are enjoying two perfect grandchildren, and live our lives according to what makes us happy rather than what may be expected of us. To us, that’s what marriage is truly all about.

So perhaps that explains why we are so puzzled by the great debate going on in this country. It is difficult to get into a political discussion today without treading on the topic of “gay marriage” and whether or not it should be allowed. In fact, President Obama recently changed his position and became the first sitting president to formally endorse the concept. Frankly, we don’t understand that either.

Maybe it’s because we live here in Massachusetts, where marriage is an inclusive institution rather than a restrictive one. In the Bay State we believe it is more important to celebrate marriage than to define it. We don’t have gay marriage, or straight marriage, or religious marriage, or marriage of any particular race, creed or color. We just have marriage. It is the same for everyone, with no regard to your race, religion, sports team affiliation, favorite color, or sexual preference.

And yes, there are some obvious and important common sense restrictions on marriage that are enforced. You can’t wed your sibling, or your dog, or your car, or any of the other silly and foolish examples often mentioned in an effort to defend discrimination in this great institution.

But here marriage needs no defending. In fact, it is flourishing. In Massachusetts people who love each other and want to commit to their relationship are all given the same legal and social rights – except where the federal government prevents that from happening, of course. Here we don’t judge those who marry, beyond perhaps wondering why you might want to get yourself entangled in this wonderful yet complicated institution.

Here we don’t try and stop people from getting married if they so desire. It always amazes me when some feel the need to protect the value of their relationship by lessening or diminishing the value of the relationship of others. Some folks extol the virtues of marriage – but only if you believe as they do. If the integrity of your relationship is somehow dependent on the relationship of others, you may want to rethink marriage. And that goes whether your partner is of the opposite sex or the same gender.

I don’t claim to be any sort of an expert on marriage. My 35 years as a part of one is much more a testament to my wife’s patience than any abilities I may possess. Our marriage – for better or worse – is based on our personal commitment to each other and the life we have built together. The only marriage rules we follow are the ones my wife lays down – er, I mean the ones we mutually agree on after much sharing and discussion. I hope I got that right.

Marriage is about telling your spouse what to do, not about telling others who they can marry. And that’s the way it should be everywhere. Just ask my wife – she’ll explain it to you. She had no trouble explaining it to me…

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

Veggies and Bookies - the Eternal Struggle

This colum originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on April 16, 2012

The Attleboro City Council is a very busy group charged with creating and maintaining city ordinances, making important budget decisions, and ensuring the voice of the public is heard loudly and clearly inside City Hall. They are a formidable and powerful collection of citizen politicians.
The councilors must stand up to many groups. They are consistently being targeted by the police lobby, the fire lobby, the school lobby, the construction lobby and many other influential and persuasive organizations. Through it all they must be fair and forge alliances that benefit the city.

But some special interest groups are just too powerful, even for this distinguished board. This council has survived angry employees, enraged private citizens, belligerent department heads, even stubborn and determined mayors. But recently they met their match as they ran headlong into a veritable cornucopia of political pluck and power they simply could not handle.

The Attleboro City Council became the latest victim of that coalition that has shaken lawmakers from Beacon Hill to Capital Hill, from the shores of Boston Harbor to the banks of the Potomac. They came to Attleboro and planted the seeds of revolution. That’s right – the city council has been beaten into submission by the incredibly influential “Vegetable Lobby”.

The Veggies (as they are known in smoke-filled backrooms all across this country) play for keeps. They are not afraid to use the dirt they dig up for their own purposes. They have left many a soiled politician in their wake, the growth of their movement obvious as they have spouted up here in Attleboro.

The Veggies recently harvested the councilors like a good crop, monopolizing their meeting on the Attleboro Farmer’s Market for three hours and 15 votes one night and four hours and 19 votes on another. Not since deciding the weighty question of what color to paint the meeting room walls has the council been this confounded by a situation. The aroma of fertilizer seems to linger yet today like a cloud over City Hall.

In the end, the Veggies appear to have been victorious. They have earned the right to gather peacefully in a city parking lot on Saturday mornings next to the library, and seem to have weeded out any serious opposition. To do so, they had to overcome the concerns and political strength of another strong organization, known as the Bookies. The early money was on the Bookies to prevail and add yet another chapter to their long and storied success. But it appears the book has been closed on this ongoing dispute as the council has turned the page in a novel approach.

There is no doubt this has been a political hot potato for both the city and the organizations involved. During their meetings the councilors debated many half-baked proposals before whipping up the eventual solution. They designated the Police Chief to act as their shield – er, representative – when it comes to deciding if the Veggies need to hire an officer to manage traffic wishing to visit their gatherings. The Bookies are worried those gatherings may make it difficult for their clients to reach them, and sought some sort of compromise which could allow both groups to grow and flourish.

But the confused councilors could only manage a bushel full of motions, some that even the makers wound up voting against. At the end they were pretty much where they started, plowing little new ground in the long-running debate. There was many a beet red face in the chamber by the time all was said and done, but the Bookies position seems to be on borrowed time as the council made a decision that was long overdue.

That begs the question – why is it so hard for these two fine groups to get along? Given their ultimate goals, they would seem to be two peas in a pod. But whenever the bean-counters get involved, it can leave a bitter taste in many mouths. Yet it would be nice if everyone could come together and simply reflect on a higher purpose and a common goal. So let’s gather in the parking lot, join hands, and begin the healing process.

Lettuce pray…

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist who loves both vegetables and books. He can be read on these pages, fed almost anytime, and reached at

Debate No Longer a Real Part of the Process

This colum originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on February 27, 2012

I really long for the days when government was a place where ideas were discussed rather than methodically executed, when the outcome of legislative sessions were determined during the actual process and not before it, when people went to Town Meetings to decide rather than dictate.

I miss the bygone era when debate – true debate – was a meaningful part of our political process.
We rarely engage in actual discussion of important issues anymore, even in towns where Open Town Meeting is billed as the last vestige of true democracy. Instead, we seem to make immediate decisions on our goals and who stands in our way of achieving them. Then we do our level best to destroy the opposition and their credibility, because we can’t take the chance the majority opinion might actually not ultimately agree with our own.
Recently members of t
he Massachusetts legislature bemoaned the fact no one listens to debate on the floor of the House or Senate anymore. Members give speeches for the record or the cameras, while their colleagues ignore them in favor of rude private conversations or worse yet don’t even bother staying in the room. Most bills are decided in private by the leadership, away from the prying eyes of members and the public. Any debate is strictly for show, and plays little part in the actual decision-making.

Nationally, you can pretty much predict how most votes will go by simply looking at the list of party affiliations. It is a system that allowed a newly-elected senator from Massachusetts to become one of the most influential members of that historic body not by giving his party a majority, but by simply allowing them to consistently stop the opposition from accomplishing anything. Regardless of party, the minority today always seems more interested in being the majority than in representing the true will of the people.

At the small-town level the lack of civility and unwillingness to listen is less, but still all too prevalent. It doesn’t exist everywhere, but rears its ugly head whenever the issues to be decided are personally important enough to those involved. A prime example is the current situation in Foxboro, where local government and politics have been buried in a tsunami of casino gambling possibilities. The usually calm and respectful town political climate has been turned into a churning mess of political maneuvering, with many claiming they must do whatever it takes to implement their own version of what is good for the future of the community.

There is a significant portion of the Foxboro population that does not even want to hear about the possibility of a casino being located in town, despite the fact it could put $10-$15 million per year or more into the town coffers. While this could conceivably lower the property taxes and increases services, they rightfully point out it could have a detrimental effect on the quality of life in the town’s neighborhoods. They are so convinced of the merits of their argument they have urged selectmen to refuse to even contemplate placing the issue before the voters and allowing them to decide.

In other words, they don’t want to debate the actual question at hand. They are unwilling to risk even the chance a majority of voters could pass any proposal put forth. They would rather debate the issue of whether or not to debate the issue. The goal here is to win by never letting the “other side” really get into the game.

This is not a new strategy. It has probably been around since the first group gathered in a cave to talk about rules to govern their society. But today it is more and more becoming the norm rather than the exception. Politics today is all about winning, rather than debating and deciding.

Don’t get me wrong, I like to win. But I also am an admirer of the dying art of true debate. I miss the days when political candidates actually answered questions during debates, when negativity was an ineffective policy, and when people went to Town Meeting because they felt a civic duty to do so.

Ok, now everyone can tell me that I’m wrong. Welcome to the system.

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

Welcome to the Family Avery Elizabeth!

This column was originally published in the Sun Chronicle on March 23, 2012

Almost four years ago I became a grandfather for the first time. My grandson (did I mention his name is William?) was born in 2008 on Cape Cod. I wasn’t at the hospital when he made his debut, but I did make it within an hour of his arrival. It was a memorable night.

This past Monday was an equally unforgettable evening as I became a grandfather for the second time. But there were a couple of major differences, aside from the fact it was the younger of my two sons who was the proud father. First, he and his wife live more than 300 miles away, so driving there and arriving moments after the birth was simply not possible. And second, this child is a beautiful baby girl.

Avery Elizabeth Gouveia was born on March 19 in Maryland. She will have to wait until later this evening to actually meet her proud paternal grandparents, who as you read this are winging their way down Interstate 95 towards a moment we have been anticipating for a long time. After two sons and the world’s most amazing grandson, we have a little girl. I have a granddaughter. I’m not sure that has fully sunk in yet.

Our vigil for her birth was more agonizing than the one for her cousin because of the distance. Four years ago I was awaiting the okay to jump in the car and drive to my new grandchild. The call announcing it was time seemed to be the beginning of that night rather than the end. It spurred me into action, gave me an outlet for all the pent-up emotion of the process of becoming a grandparent.

This time the call was the climax of the evening, every bit as welcome and as exciting as the first. The joy was incredible and the happiness unbelievable. Thanks to the amazing technology existing in the area of communications today, we were able to watch our beautiful granddaughter live from the comfort of our own home.

But after we hung up, there was no trip to take that night. I was left to try and go to sleep when all I wanted to do was hug my new granddaughter and tell the world of her arrival. Despite the late hour I texted all the people I knew wouldn’t kill me for making their phone beep late at night, and then tossed and turned until it was time to go to work.

Of course, during that uncomfortable period I thought about my long-awaited granddaughter. I have this irrational fear that I won’t know how to act around this precious little princess. I know it is an imaginary problem, and will no doubt disappear the first time I hold this little angel in my arms. But I still worry I will be clumsy and unable to convey just how much I already adore and cherish her.

I can’t say I ever really ever thought too much about never having had a daughter. I did luck out and acquire two wonderful daughter-in-laws, both of whom have put up with me and all my quirks and idiosyncrasies. I love them both very much, though we will never know how I would have fared if I had been their parent during the years they were growing up. That’s probably a good thing.

But now any questions I had about having a granddaughter will be answered. And not because of this mental image I have had in my head all these many months. I no longer have to imagine what it will be like to have a granddaughter – I actually have one. And tonight I get to hold her in my arms, tell her how much I love her, and how I have dreamed about her for so long.

Avery Elizabeth - Grandpa is on his way. He may not be too sure just how to handle you yet, but he has no problem loving you with all his heart. You are surrounded by family who will always stand by you, and that makes you a lucky little girl. But this grandfather feels like he is now officially the luckiest person in the world.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and the proud grandfather of Avery Elizabeth Gouveia. He can be reached at

Finding New Hope in Alzheimers Battle

This colum originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on March 5, 2012.

It is pretty much impossible to speak with local resident and successful author Brad Pitman without fully engaging your thought process (meager as my own may be). He’s a man who makes you think.
These days the life-long Attleboro resident is widely known as the author of “Ma Is Back! Memoir of an Alzheimer’s Discovery Restoring My Mother’s Memory”, self published through ICAN Ltd of Attleboro. The book is the story of Pitman’s time caring for his elderly mother who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, and his tireless efforts and intelligent approach which ultimately led to her transformation from being helplessly trapped by dementia to once again functioning as the mother he knew and loved.
But it is not Pitman’s story-telling skills that have earned my admiration and respect over the years. Rather it is his simple approach to life, his ability to utilize common sense where the rest of us seem determined to insert complicated processes. Brad sees things many overlook, a skill widely lacking today.
Of course, he is a bit of a throwback. If you look up the term “Yankee” in the dictionary (not the baseball Yankee, but the original usage of the term) you most likely will find Pitman’s picture next to it. A born and bred New Englander, he brings a certain style and simple elegance to anything in which he becomes involved, along with a burning intensity and a focused vision, something he has utilized successfully throughout his life and beyond his precious time with his mother.
As remarkable as the story of his mother is, what struck me was the approach her son took in determining her care. While making sure she had topnotch medical care, he refused to simply rely on what doctors and others constantly reminded him they did not know. He was already painfully aware of what he and they did not know. So he made a conscious decision that worrying about this lack of knowledge would not help the situation.
Instead Pitman did something so stunningly simple that it confused many and caused them to dismiss his efforts. He concentrated on what he did know, and what he saw. He refused to be bound and restricted by conventional wisdom, choosing to rely instead on first-hand experience and give it equal weight in his long-term consideration and planning. He didn’t think out-of-the-box, as the popular phrase goes. He simply refused to disregard the significance of anything he found inside the box.
When his mother would seem just a tad more responsive and be having a “good day”, he didn’t only believe it a blessing and merely be grateful for it. He considered the possibility it may have been caused by something she did or was exposed to, in the same way he knew some of her “bad days” were caused by certain other things. If she seemed better after eating tomato sauce or corn, he wondered why. He did not dismiss the positive changes he himself observed. He quite logically figured if it worked in one direction, it could also work in the other.
So many today are conditioned to simply accept certain unpleasant realities in life. We tend to focus entirely too much on the complex things we don’t know, and ignore the more mundane but sometimes equally or more important things we do know. We look for fast and simple cures to our problems. We want a pill, a website, a certain behavior that will cure what ails us physically or otherwise.
Yet often our problems require that we analyze our situations and study our own behavior. We can’t always “cure” whatever our target is, be it disease or something else that stands in our way. But if we concentrate on the facts and information we do have, instead of bemoaning all that we do not know, we greatly increase our odds of success.
Brad Pitman’s book stands on its own, and each reader can judge its worth. But the general philosophy behind it is one we would all do well to more often work into our daily approach to life. Even if I am fortunate enough to never have to deal with Alzheimer’s Disease in my family, I have learned that important lesson from both Brad and his mother.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be reached at

Women, Catholics, and Birth Control - Wow!

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on February 17, 2012

As a local columnist, I generally leave the debate over national policies and issues to others. But the recent discussion on health insurance and contraceptive coverage is simply too outrageous to overlook, and the effect on women and families in our area too profound to ignore.

It has become the latest hot-button national political issue. The Obama administration has backtracked on a part of the new healthcare law that would require employers including hospitals and other institutions owned or operated by religious organizations to offer health coverage that includes birth control. The compromise says religious groups do not have to pay for that part of the coverage. Employees can go directly to the insurance companies and they must provide the service at no additional cost.

Now the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has come out against the compromise, saying it has “serious moral concerns” over the revised policy. They point out contraceptives would still be paid for out of revenues earned in part from the religious organizations.

I was born and raised Catholic. Baptized, First Communion, Confirmation, seven years of CCD classes, Mass every Sunday until I was about thirteen, being an altar boy – I lived it. It gave me a keen appreciation and a proper respect for the Catholic religion and those who practice it.

But this position I do not view as valid, and polls show most American Catholics do not either. This is not about exercising religious freedom, but rather about exerting religious control. It is not about preserving any group’s religious rights, but about imposing them on others. This is about elevating religious dogma over individual liberties. And it most definitely is not an attack on any church.

Despite claims to the contrary, no one is forcing the Catholic Church or any other religious organization to abandon its beliefs or compromise its principles. In fact, the law extends to them protections and privileges not available to their competitors who employ people. But that apparently is not enough, and that stance smacks of arrogance, greed, and a lack of respect for others.

We are not talking about forcing religious hospitals or facilities to fund abortions here. The topic is allowing Americans the right – if they choose – to access basic contraceptives with insurance coverage. This means birth control pills and other things that have been common practice and are preventive in nature, which reduces health risks and costs. That this is even up for debate in this day and age is sad.
It is also sexist. As has been said before, if men could get pregnant we would be handing out birth control pills like candy on every street corner. But in part because our government and religious organizations are primarily run by men, we get positions such as this.

The term “serious moral concerns” lacks some sincerity when used by the same organization that shifted pedophile priests from parish to parish in order to avoid public and financial ruin. This is a matter of conscience to them, but that was not? Yes, that is in the past. But then, like now, the real issue was not morality but money.

Imagine for a moment there was an organized religion that devoutly believed antibiotics to be immoral, that they altered God’s plan for our bodies (and for all I know, such a religion exists). Would we allow them to run a hospital where workers were not covered by insurance for antibiotics simply because it offends their employer’s religion? It sounds ridiculous, but is it any more absurd than the current situation?

The compromise solution should be accepted and reproductive care provided for those who work in good faith for these religious institutions or hospitals, Catholic or otherwise. Workers should not have their reproductive needs dictated by the religious or social beliefs of their employer.

I am a defender of the right of the Catholic Church to proudly embrace any moral standard it wishes, even if that standard is regularly ignored by most Catholics. But I draw the line at allowing the Church to impose that same religious standard on those it employs in the secular world. The health and safety of people is worth far more to me than the “conscience” of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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