Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Politicians Showing Off With National Grid Fine

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on July 30, 2012

By Bill Gouveia

Attorney General Martha Coakley announced last week her office is seeking penalties in excess of $16 million from National Grid for the utility's poor reaction to two storms last year which left hundreds of thousands of people without power for upwards of a week. The Department of Public Utilities will take the recommendation under advisement, and will ultimately decide if the fine is instituted.

The proposed punishment is in response to National Grid's actions in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene last August and a surprise major snowstorm last October. State and local officials complained that National Grid was not prepared, did not communicate with municipal officials properly and promptly, and did not staff their operations well enough to quickly restore power.

Here in this area and across the state, public officials seem to be happy with the action. Attleboro Mayor Kevin Dumas as well as many local managers and selectmen have stated the utility giant needed to be taught a lesson, and they hope the huge fine - which must come from shareholder profits and not charges to customers according to the AG's office - will help prevent future long-term outages. National Grid issued a statement calling the proposed fine "extreme".

There is no doubt the response of National Grid in both instances was simply not acceptable. They made serious errors in both judgment and execution which resulted in some dangerous and uncomfortable situations for citizens. In addition they failed to keep local authorities properly informed, and that forced public safety departments in many municipalities into unsafe and precarious positions. They deserve much blame, criticism, and even punishment.

But quite frankly, the proposed fine is ridiculous on several fronts. It serves much more of a political purpose than a practical or remedial one. It will do little to make things up to those who suffered, and even less to prevent similar situations in the future. What it does accomplish is giving state and local officials the chance to look tough and perhaps protect and improve their image after the beatings they took last August and October. This action is for them, not for the residents and ratepayers.

The money paid in fines would not be returned to the ratepayers - that is not allowed under state law. It would be paid into the state's general fund, and no doubt disappear into the abyss of spending our legislature is famous for creating. And even though National Grid would be legally bound not to pass the expense on to their customers, does anyone really believe that would not eventually be the case? Why should the ratepayers essentially pay once again for what they endured?

That is not to say National Grid should not be held accountable for their actions, or lack of same. But fining them does little to address those problems. Write new regulations, change the rules, impose requirements that will ensure future response will be vastly superior. But don't just pay lip service to the problem and allow local officials to let out some frustration.

As a mayor or a selectman, you can't go wrong criticizing a major utility. They are not very popular, and can't vote for you. So whether your criticism is valid or not (and much if not most of what has been said certainly is), it usually helps you politically at home. That is a fact local leaders understand quite well.

But it has to be remembered that the outages in question were caused by two pretty significant natural disasters. Tropical Storm Irene was as close to a hurricane as we really want to see, and the size and timing of the October storm was certainly a bit surprising. The damage was severe and far beyond what storms normally cause. National Grid called in crews from all over, but the area affected by the storms ranged far and wide. These were not your usual storms.

It is very tempting to cheer the fine assessed National Grid, especially if you are a local leader they let down last year. But punishment is not what citizens really want to see. They want to know that when their power goes out again - and it will - their utility company will fix it faster and more efficiently.

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

The Famous Columnist Brain Dump

This column originally appeared int he Sun Chronicle on July 23, 2012

By Bill Gouveia

It’s the last week of July, the time newspaper columnists traditionally perform the mind-clearing process known as “The Brain Dump”. For those not familiar with this highly technical journalistic term, it refers to the practice of emptying the chamber of our meager minds that collects stray facts and thoughts in order to make room for more useless and disconnected information and opinions.

Well actually, it may only be this columnist who uses this complicated technique. Okay, it may not really be all that complex. And yes, it is usually performed at a time when the local news may be a bit slow and this particular space needs to be filled with fascinating and inspiring prose. But that’s all just coincidental.

So without further ado, please allow me to open the floodgates and begin my own personal “Brain Dump”:

Michelle Bachman is a member of the House Intelligence Committee. No other single piece of information has ever simultaneously amused and frightened me as much as this.

Is there some big secret going on in Seekonk’s town government? Members of the board of selectmen seem to be governing amid tension so thick you can get stuck in it just walking through town hall.

The story of the Attleboro Redevelopment Authority is really nothing more than a tale of politics as old as the hills. Mayor Dumas knew what the cost would be to seize control of the board and fire the director when he did it. He knew he would lose in court. He just decided it was worth it.

I am totally hooked on the new HBO series “Newsroom”. The writing is the best on television since “West Wing” finished its run.

Until Sally Ride died this past week, I never knew she had a same-sex partner for the last 27 years. Neither did most of America. Isn’t that the way things are supposed to be? Imagine – the first American woman in space, who dedicated her later life to bringing science to kids – could not have been a Boy Scout leader. What a country.

If Norton residents can’t come together to support an adventure camp on an uninhabited island in the middle of the Reservoir, how will they feel if someone builds a house or other business there?

The shooting this past week in Colorado has absolutely nothing to do with gun control laws, and anyone who tries to make it about that controversial issue – on either side – should be ashamed of themselves.

I have an iPhone. My wife has a Droid. I think she’s doing this just to spite me.

The new building going up near the Route 106 railroad underpass in Mansfield very much changes the view when you approach coming from Route 140.

It is difficult to believe the parking bylaw passed by Foxboro’s Town Meeting for the neighborhood around the stadium is actually constitutional. It will be interesting to see if the state attorney general’s office allows it to stand.

The Plainridge Race Track in Plainville just seems like the perfect place to put one of the state’s slot parlors. The location, the infrastructure, it all makes sense – which is probably why here in Massachusetts it won’t happen.

Why is it I just can’t watch a whole Red Sox game this season? This is the most unlikeable local team I can remember.

If you insist on continuing to refuse to raise taxes on wealthy Americans because you want them to create jobs, you need to understand they are looking to employ fewer people, not more. That doesn’t make them bad – just savvy. Any tax breaks you give them will go into their pockets, not into the economy. Can you blame them?

My wife has gotten me to watch a few of those “fixing up the house” shows on HGTV. Someone please help me.

They told me I could lose weight if I joined a gym. Now they tell me I actually have to go to the gym. This doesn’t seem fair.

I was out of town for a week – did North Attleboro have another vote on an old charter proposal while I was gone? Just checking…

Who has the best tasting chocolate ice cream locally? I’m on a mission to find out.

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

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Comcast Center and Selectman Need to Stop

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on July 23, 2012

By Bill Gouveia

This is just a suggestion, but one Mansfield selectman George Dentino and Comcast Center General Manager Bruce Montgomery might be wise to actually entertain:

Stop taking cheap political shots at each other. It doesn’t serve any constructive purpose, doesn’t help the people and/or organizations you seek to serve, and makes each of you look like bullies on the playground more concerned with marking your territory than solving your problems.

While each of these fine gentlemen may agree with at least half of that strong statement (the half pertaining to the other guy), they no doubt don’t agree with all of it. Each has serious responsibilities as well as a difficult and important job to perform.

But frankly, most of Mansfield as well as the surrounding area has started tuning both parties out. They are tired of listening to Dentino attack the concert venue on pretty much every possible front, and equally bored with Montgomery’s efforts to portray the selectman as a puppet of local businessman/political activist and Comcast Center abutter Karl Clemmey.

For his part, Dentino has been nothing if not consistent in his constant criticism of the venue over the years. He lives close to it, and thus knows better than most the impact it has on the surrounding neighborhood. He has been a proponent of reducing noise levels, fining management for running even a few minutes over show curfews, and even went on a media campaign to get all vehicles entering the establishment searched for illegal substances.

Montgomery has been around pretty much as long as the venue itself, through all its various names and identities. He has spent decades as the public face of the organization, interfacing with town officials and local residents as issues have arisen. He has long been active in trying to develop the area surrounding Comcast Center in a manner which will benefit them as well as the town. This has often put him at odds with Clemmey and his family, who own large plots of land and have been feuding with the entertainment giant almost constantly.

Dentino has been long linked politically with the Clemmeys – fairly or unfairly. He has done work for various Clemmey family members or organizations, which hardly puts him in any type of exclusive group in Mansfield. But despite protests by Montgomery and the Comcast Center, there has been no evidence Dentino has been unduly influenced through his “connections” with the Clemmey family.

At the same time, Dentino’s relentless attacks on the virtually everything Comcast Center related have become old. That is not to say none of his concerns are valid. But the rest of Mansfield seems to have recognized the fact they host a major concert venue within their borders, and with that comes issues that can at times be controversial. There is no need for the veteran selectman to constantly be making them more so.

As difficult as it may be for Montgomery and Comcast Center officials to hear their integrity and abilities questioned and denigrated at times during open public meetings, they must resist lowering the level of the debate any further. They cannot win and will not benefit by attacking Dentino’s credibility on the topic via his personal relationship with any abutter. It might make them feel better, but in the long run has zero public relations value and makes the contract negotiations with selectmen more awkward.

The simple fact of the matter is Mansfield has a jewel of an asset with the Comcast Center located within its borders at the edge of town. The benefits to the community are many, the problems are relatively few, and most citizens understand this.

It is reasonable to expect selectmen and Montgomery to work together to keep noise levels down, traffic issues under control, and make sure security is always a top priority. While there is always room for improvement, the record shows both Selectman Dentino and the Comcast Center take this obligation very seriously. They share common goals an objectives.

If Dentino and Montgomery agree to work cooperatively on the problems at hand instead of aiming at each other – they, Mansfield and the Comcast Center will all be a lot better off.

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

Friday, July 20, 2012

Boy Scouts Keep Rights - But Are Wrong

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

By Bill Gouveia

The Boy Scouts of America this week reaffirmed their policy of denying membership in their private organization to those who are “open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA”.

Well, good for them. It’s nice to see a group of morally motivated individuals band together for the purpose of teaching young men how to exclude and disregard those not just like them. After all, somebody has to do it. Can we really expect they will learn to judge people before knowing them without being shown how by adults?

For the record, I believe the stated and rededicated policy of the Boy Scouts is one of the worst examples of nurturing and leadership I have ever witnessed. I could not disagree with it more, and the fact it comes from such well-intentioned people with so much influence over impressionable youngsters is one of the scariest things I can imagine for our country.

At the same time, I support their legal right to have and keep that policy. The US Supreme Court said it was okay, and while I disagree with their 5-4 decision, it is currently the settled law of the land. As such, the scouting organization is perfectly entitled to it whether I or anyone else believes it’s a good idea.

Unless you respect the rights of others you have no reasonable expectation of having that respect returned. You can’t just pick and choose who has rights and who doesn’t. Well, that’s not really true. People do it all the time. The Boy Scouts are doing it with their bigoted and self-righteous policy, and then asking not to be discriminated against just because they discriminate against others. It’s kind of like taking Advanced Citizenship 101, and being graded on the curve.

I was a Boy Scout in my traditional and local past, though not for a very long time. As a charter member of Troop 61 in Norton, I was the proud assistant patrol leader of the Swamp Fox Patrol. I was a Den Chief for a group of Cub Scouts, proudly marched in local parades carrying the American and scouting flags, and came under the influence of many fine and upstanding scout leaders.

There was never much talk back then about excluding anyone. The whole idea was to get young men involved so scouting could help make them better. But somewhere along the way, the national organization seems to have lost track of that admirable goal. Now it seems the Boy Scouts can only accept those who fit the mold the organization wants and needs. If you do not reflect the image the institution wants to put forth, you must be avoided like a disease.

But don’t worry, it’s not personal. The Boy Scouts have nothing against gay people, as they are quick to point out. They just have a higher mission that they want protected, views they want clearly expressed. As then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote back in 2000 in the decision that affirmed that right: "Forcing a group to accept certain members may impair the ability of the group to express those views, and only those views, that it intends to express."

Of course, the Boy Scouts are not really your typical “private” organization. They have a long history of enjoying tremendous support from local communities and governments, both in the form of use of facilities as well as monetarily. They really like that part of being a “cherished public institution”. It’s only the part concerning those pesky discrimination laws and other technical stuff that drives them into the private sector.

The BSA reaffirmed their policy after a rather interesting “study process”. They formed an anonymous and secret 11-member committee which they claim reflected “a diversity of perspectives and opinions”. After two years of study, that handpicked group unanimously decided to keep the policy. No great surprise there.

In the end, their policy works. It allows the BSA to perfectly reflect the goals and vision of those who control it. It enables them to express those views that Chief Justice Rehnquist and his court sought to protect.

And in the end, that seems to be what the scouting leadership truly cares about most.

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

Monday, July 16, 2012

Tradition is Good - Ineffectiveness is Bad

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

By Bill Gouveia

As is often the case in our society, what makes us great can also be among our biggest weaknesses. In the case of local government in Massachusetts and specifically this area, that strength/weakness is our local independence and determination to keep our municipal governmental structures unique to the towns they serve.

What do I mean by that complicated sentence? Just that our local area governments sometimes place more value on being different than on being representative and efficient. It appears being unique and having our own local customs and traditions is much important than streamlining, standardizing and regionalizing local governments to adapt to the present day fiscal and social realities.

If you have lived all of your life in this region like I have, you may not know how most local governments outside of Massachusetts differ from ours. Heck, judging by the voting records and levels of participation in some towns, you may not know much about the structure in the town where you reside. But suffice to say the New England region in general has a very different idea of local government than most of the rest of the country.

Across most of America, county government is the rule. The counties all vary at least somewhat in structure, but generally consist of collections of communities that share resources and spread out costs. They jointly fund things like school districts, public safety departments, medical care facilities, sewer districts, prisons and other basic services which are pretty much the responsibility of individual communities or the state here. They operate as real counties, not the few phony “faux counties” that exist locally.

Here in Massachusetts we rightfully take great pride in our individual city and town governments, and we cling to keeping them fully independent. Unlike communities across the Midwest, we don’t have “county executive directors” who oversee the combined financial affairs of the communities. Instead we have a wide variety of individual professional positions guiding our local governments, each with somewhat different duties and responsibilities.

For example, Norton and Mansfield have strong town manager positions. While there are differences in their responsibilities, they are somewhat similar. Both are in charge of formulating and presenting the town budget. Both hire and fire key town positions such as police and fire chief. Both play an active and leading role in negotiating contracts with town employees.

But in North Attleboro and Rehoboth there are no town managers. Instead there are town administrators, positions which are weaker by design so as to allow more control for elected selectmen and other part-time officials. They lack the authority of town managers. These positions remain today largely because those controlling the government – and often the people they serve – believe it is better to concentrate power in the hands of “ordinary citizens”.

Throughout most of the country towns are run by some version of a town council, which serves as the legislative body. They represent the citizenry and pass local laws and ordinances.

In New England, there are relatively few town councils. Instead we have Town Meeting, our most cherished and revered form of true democratic government. Town Meeting gives citizens a direct voice, although in this day and age that is sometimes more of a handicap. The fact fewer and fewer people seem to understand it and participate in it over time has not diminished our passion for it.

And each community’s Town Meeting is different, with different rules, customs and traditions. It is part of what makes this area so interesting and unique. It is also directly connected to the fact Massachusetts has some of the highest property taxes in the nation. We pay a price for our municipal individuality, one many consider worth it.

But the time has come to face the fact we may just not be smarter than the rest of the country. Maybe it is we who need to consider some basic changes to our 18th century form of government, rather than stubbornly clinging to the very New England attitude that there is our way, and then the wrong way.

We do not have to sell our souls to improve our town governments. But we do need to open our eyes and our minds to the possibility of logical change.

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

Friday, July 13, 2012

Trying To Get ON the Island!

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on Friday, July 13, 2012.

By Bill Gouveia

“Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale…” – the theme song from Gilligan’s Island.

While the growing legend of Pheeny’s Island in the Norton Reservoir does not involve a shipwreck, Ginger, the Professor, or a millionaire and his wife – it may end up have a longer run than the vintage 1960’s comedy. The major difference thus far is unlike the uncharted desert isle where those reluctant residents were trapped, Pheeny’s Island seems well known. But some seem intent on keeping specific folks – and maybe everyone – off the small and uninhabited patch of land.

For those unfamiliar, developer Kenneth Leavitt has proposed an adventure camp for the six square mile island. To be known as Norton Adventure and Teambuilding Camp, the business would feature rope and zip lines where attendees would be guided by trained instructors through the various activities. They would access the island by boat or canoe-type watercraft from a parking lot off Route 140 over or near the Mansfield line. The business would allegedly employ about 30 people.

In order for the concept to ever come to fruition, it will require approval from a string of town boards and committees. The toughest of those may be the planning board and possibly the zoning board of appeals, since the zoning would apparently need to be changed to allow for a use such. But before that could begin, the proposal had to gain the approval of the local conservation commission.

That approval was received in late June with a list of no less than 62 conditions attached. That all came after several public sessions including the first, where over 100 residents turned out to be heard, most of them in opposition. The conservation committee appeared to give the matter considerable thought and study, and made clear it was not taking a position on the advisability of the project but rather just the conditions that would have to be met if it were opened .

That does not appear to be enough for at least three neighbors living near the island. They have filed an appeal with the state Department of Environmental Protection claiming their fellow citizens on the conservation committee did not properly weigh the impact the project would have on the environment. That seems a bit strange, since that would appear to be the local committee’s one and only job.

However, the residents are well within their rights to appeal on any basis they wish. From their letter it would appear their major objections are possible pollution of the reservoir by boat motors, possible wetland and flooding issues, and that the project might disturb a bald eagle allegedly seen in the area. Thus far there has been no official comment from the eagle.

All kidding aside, this project highlights the reasons why any new and different type of business faces serious problems these days in this part of the state. The Sun Chronicle area was formerly a rather under-developed section of Massachusetts commercially, with the ratio of residential areas far outweighing the commercial/industrial ones. We became a great place to live, and many of those residents worked at places located outside of their home area.

As that has changed, we have become even more protective of our homes. We react immediately and radically to any threat – real or perceived - to our rural or suburban homestead. This is understandable, but too often the strategy is to bog the prospective business down in legalese so it never even gets to the actual final permitting stage. And the objections are often more personal than for the good of the community.

That doesn’t necessarily mean this particular proposal is a winner for Norton, though many believe it is well-suited to the community. It does mean that the project – which has been the target of vandals already – deserves the chance to have it plans scrutinized by the proper local authorities just as much as those who live around it deserve the chance to have their legitimate concerns addressed.

The Town of Norton purchased the Norton Reservoir in part with the idea of restoring it to the recreational use it provided in years past. That goal may prove to be a lot more difficult than just cleaning up the water.

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

Monday, July 9, 2012

Trust A Big Issue In Foxboro

This column originally appeared in the Su Chronicle on July 9, 2012.

A now-retired town manager once told me, “I never forget that I work for the selectmen. It’s my job to carry out the policies they establish and maintain a respectful relationship built on trust. If that’s lost, then none of us can do our jobs well.”

Nowhere is the wisdom of that statement clearer than in Foxboro, where Town Manager Kevin Paicos and selectmen appear to be locked in a power struggle. But the majority of selectmen are making it known they – not the veteran manager – will be shaping the town’s policies and goals in the future.

Over the last two years selectmen have found themselves reacting to Paicos far more than guiding him. With an aggressive leadership style sometimes bordering on insubordinate, Paicos has been a strong presence in Foxboro. He has been unafraid to make important decisions on his own, and has displayed what some interpret as a bemused indifference to those responsible for his employment.

The most recent example of problems between the board and Paicos surfaced last week after it was announced selectmen gave the town manager a raise retroactive to last year. In October they had evaluated Paicos’s performance and publicly announced he would receive no increase in salary. So it was a bit of a shock when it became known – nearly eight months later - they had in fact handed him a lump-sum three percent increase retroactively.

Newly released minutes from a closed executive session in January show the raise was first discussed then. According to selectman chairman Jim Devellis, Paicos was allegedly considering suing them for not giving him a raise even though his contract contained no language requiring one. Devellis said Paicos believed he was entitled to a cost of living increase because the previous town manager had received them even though they were not called for in his contract.

Devellis said the town incurred over $4000 in legal costs on the matter, and selectmen ultimately decided to “compromise” and give Paicos the increase. In return both sides signed a new agreement where it allegedly became clear such future increases were not guaranteed. In summary, selectmen “compromised” by caving in to the threat of a lawsuit and gave Paicos the increase they had previously publicly refused him.

Selectmen last week voted – again – to give Paicos no increase for the coming year following yet another evaluation. They want people to believe they really mean it this time, though their credibility on the issue is pretty weak. Paicos took a conciliatory position after the vote, saying he now trusts the board will do the right thing by him with regard to compensation.

“I didn’t sign that (the new agreement) because I intended to complain after you made your decision,” he told members. “I signed it because I decided to trust you.” He claims his negotiations with selectmen were conducted “amicably and without any acrimony whatsoever.”

That sounds all warm and fuzzy, but the fact this “trust” was apparently achieved via the possibility of litigation lends a sense of irony to the entire situation. Paicos has toned down his public persona since the end of the casino issue in no small part because some of his selectmen made it clear they were tiring of his act. Even selectman Mark Sullivan, generally a Paicos supporter, wrote in his evaluation, “The town’s people have not embraced him (Paicos) and feel slighted.”

Paicos acknowledged the criticism and said "What this community wants in the coming year is a bit less of me and a lot more of you speaking.” That is a wise revelation for the veteran administrator, who has had many successes during his two-year stay thus far in Foxboro. But it is hard to believe Paicos will undergo a metamorphosis of style at this stage of his career.

For all the new talk of trust, it appears little of that precious commodity truly exists between the town manager and his bosses. Paicos has been politically playing his selectmen quite well for the last two years. The damage done during that time will be difficult to repair.

Both the town manager and the selectmen need to regain the confidence of Foxboro citizens. There needs to be less talk of trust, and more evidence of it.

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

Friday, July 6, 2012

No Excuse For Rehoboth Officials Behavior

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on Friday, July 6, 2012


By Bill Gouveia

It is way past time for some serious political housecleaning in Rehoboth, where selectmen and others have turned the weekly board meetings into what more closely resembles a really awful reality television show. The behavior of some at these gatherings has gone past rude and ignorant, now bordering on just plain stupid.

But more than that, it is hurting Rehoboth. Forget about how it is making this rural community and its government the laughingstock of the area. Now the pettiness and personal political attacks are affecting the town’s ability to do business and serve the best interests of the taxpayers.

Things came to a head recently when an anonymous flier was mailed to residents ahead of a vote on a Proposition 2-1/2 debt exclusion for a new town hall. The flier made many claims about the project and town officials, few if any of them documented. It warned voters “Your taxes will be raised without limitation”, which no doubt frightened more than a few citizens. The problem was – it simply wasn’t true.

Not knowing who sent it, voters had to decide for themselves if the flier was credible. It is impossible to tell how much impact the mailing had, but the project which had passed at town meeting was handily defeated at the polls.

At the last selectmen’s meeting, finance committee member and former selectman Christopher Morra revealed he and current selectman Don Leffort were in fact co-authors of the political mailing. That precipitated some intense criticism which quickly degenerated into the immature, unprofessional behavior that has come to be a symbol of Rehoboth politics.

Selectman Mike Costello accused Leffort and Morra of lying to the public, and told Leffort “You do not do anything for this board”. Leffort responded with personal attacks against Costello, which were returned in kind. Leffort went on to use profanity several times, Costello threatened to have Morra removed from the room, and one resident told selectmen they looked like a bunch of clowns.

The clown statement may have been the most accurate one of the night.

Let’s get a few things straight. There is no excuse for town officials sending out anonymous political fliers. If you believe what you are saying, you should have the courage to put your name on it. You have to wonder if Morra and Leffort would have taken credit for the mailing had the vote had gone the other way. This was an example of trying to make the end justify the means. It brings the credibility of both gentlemen into question.

Morra continues to appear to be more interested in political advantage than solving problems. Some people benefit when Rehoboth politics are at their tumultuous worst, and thus it is to their advantage to create turmoil. The former selectman has a colorful and controversial history. Whether he is a master of politics or a victim of them depends on just who and what you believe.

Leffort has been more of an obstructionist than a leader during his time on the board. He and Costello have gone head-to-head numerous times, with each exchange seemingly more personal and nasty in nature. Costello has had his own share of controversial issues, including a state report claiming he used false information to obtain an affordable home.

The saddest part of all this is it really no longer matters who is right and who is wrong. Rehoboth’s entire town government is now damaged goods. That may well be the plan of those who keep perpetuating this foolishness. When they keep the focus on all the drama and stupidity, it diverts attention from the way the system is really operating.

Dead goats on a selectman’s lawn, a police chief crying in a bar parking lot, a cable TV organization that runs away with equipment, abuse of state housing laws, bringing the wives and mothers of selectmen into meeting conversations – this is what government has become in Rehoboth. It is a disgrace, and unfair to the town officials who do act responsibly and maturely.

Rehoboth voters need to clean house, and do it soon. Fair or not, town officials like Leffort, Morra and Costello must go and be replaced by people who will act like adults. Please – stop the madness.

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

Monday, July 2, 2012

"Constructive Possesion" Policy Not Good for Schools

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

By Bill Gouveia

“Constructive possession” is a term that should be used in reference to courtrooms and criminals rather than classrooms and students. But in Mansfield, the school committee has made these stern-sounding words part of the town’s educational policy with regard to student athletes. That is unfortunate, unwise, and unfair.

For those unfamiliar with the term, constructive possession refers to the general idea that those present in a place where there are illegal substances can be held responsible whether they used those substances or not. In Mansfield’s situation it means student athletes who are said in a police report to have been at parties where drugs or alcohol were being used are subject to punishment, even if there is no evidence they actually knew about or used the illegal substances themselves.

The policy applies only to those students participating in athletics. If found in violation student athletes may have their eligibility to play interscholastic sports limited or eliminated. “What we’re looking to do is to stop our students from going to illegal underage drinking parties, period,” MHS assistant principal Dawn Stockwell said recently. “We feel as though it is a dangerous situation and we do not want our students partaking in these events.”

That is certainly an admirable goal, and one no doubt shared by everyone. Underage drinking and illegal drug use are major problems in our society. But they are not limited to those youngsters participating in organized athletics. In fact, that group may not exhibit any more of that behavior than the rest of the student body. The very idea of increasing the opportunity to punish one particular class of student in this manner goes against what should be the very core of the educational philosophy of the Mansfield school system.

This new policy is allegedly designed to be a deterrent and help keep student athletes out of trouble. But it appears to be more about looking tough, punishing the athletes, and making the job of adjudication in these matters easier on administrators and other personnel. It sounds nice in theory, but the practical application of this misguided measure undermines the principle of personal responsibility schools should be reinforcing.

Everyone agrees kids should avoid parties where they know drugs and alcohol are present and being used. But taking the opportunity to specifically increase the chance of punishment for those who choose to play sports just doesn’t make any sense. Most parents try and get their children involved in high school sports to help keep them busy and occupy their spare time. This helps eliminate the idleness that can often lead to experimentation with illegal substances.

So why would you specifically target these student athletes? Punishing them in this manner for nothing more than being in the vicinity seems a bit counter-productive. And taking away an activity which may well be helping discourage them from participating in the illegal parties that worry us all – when there is no proof they actually did anything illegal – also seems to run counter to the concept of protecting them.

No one is saying kids should not be punished for being at a party where illegal activity is taking place. But that punishment should come from their parents/ guardians or the police, not the school administration. Athletes should not be held to a different standard of this type. Sure, you agree to a code of conduct when you sign on to a team. But why athletes, and not students who participate in other activities such as band or the math club?

Punishing student athletes for merely being near other kids drinking illegally may initially sound like a good idea, but it truly is not. One school official noted that fully processing the names of who participated in these parties can put a strain on administrative and staff resources. That is understandable, but deciding to punish any athlete who may have been present is not the way to relieve staff of that burden.

Mansfield school committee members would better serve their students and their community by repealing this unfair policy. Tougher punishments for athletes won’t solve the problem of teenage parties. That can only be done by educating students on the dangers, and involving their parents in the process.

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