Friday, September 28, 2012

Dear NFL: WTF Were You Doing?

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

By Bill Gouveia

            This is an open letter to National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell and all the NFL owners:

            As a lifelong football fan and NFL season ticket-holder for the last four decades, I am urging you, cajoling you, begging you if that's what it takes - do the right thing.  Put aside your differences, your egos, and your pride.  Bring back the real NFL officials, and do it today - right now - before you ruin a great game and an exciting season.

            I know you folks are smart businesspeople.  You have built the most successful sports league in the world.  You take in billions of dollars in revenue, build stadiums that cost more than the national budget of many small countries, and charge obscene amounts of money for everything from hot dogs to shirts with your best players name on them.  You've built a veritable empire, with a game as the foundation.

            Are you really going to continue to risk doing severe and permanent damage to your product because you can't come to agreement with the people you pay to officiate it?  That just makes no sense.  I don't pretend to know all the issues between you and the real NFL officials, or how many dollars they translate into.  But I do know this - you are hurting the quality of your brand by using inferior officiating talent unnecessarily.

            I am not saying this as a Patriots fan disgruntled with a 1-2 start (though I am indeed both those things).  I don't believe my team has lost any games as a direct result of poor officiating (sorry all you Green Bay fans), though it certainly hasn't helped.  I'm just tired of watching first-class football ruined by third-class officiating.  As a season ticket-holder, I'm tired of paying for it.  You cheapened the product but not the price to watch it.  You owe me and my fellow fans better.

            I was in Baltimore Sunday night for the nationally-televised game there.  I'm pretty sure I recognized one of the officials from a flag football league.    No doubt he's a nice guy, but I don't think he was prepared for his current role.

            What is wrong with you?  Can't you see the absurdity of the system you are currently using?  I mean, I live in New England.  If we ran our local towns the way you are running your league, how awful would that be?

            What if we hired well-paid professionals to run our local governments, then let a small group of people with little experience or expertise have the final say as to what they have done?  Imagine allowing them to build a game plan based on months of planning and study, then letting all their work be judged and critiqued by folks basically unfamiliar with the system itself.  How can you allow this to happen?

            What's that?  You say that sounds a lot like the Open Town Meeting system of government most towns around me use?  Town officials present complex budgets they spent months constructing and 150 or so people (most seeing it for the first time) approve or disapprove it?   Um, I guess I see your point.

            But that doesn't change the fact what you are doing is colossally stupid.  You are destroying the integrity of the very game that has made you all millionaires.  And for what?  Because the people you dress up in stripes every week want more money and some long-term stability? 

            You are the only major professional sports league that doesn't employ full-time officials.  I understand you play fewer contests, but it has been pretty clearly demonstrated that your game requires trained professionals to make sure it is run properly. I speak for football fans everywhere when I say we have new-found respect for the Zebras, as they are not-so-affectionately called.  They are a little bit like cops you dont always appreciate what they do until you need them.

            So clean up your act and get professional officials back in your professional league.  Either that or reduce ticket prices and TV rights fees to reflect the product you are actually producing.  Yeah, I thought so.

            And forget what I said about Town Meeting.  I think I need to use a different example.           
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

When our Politicians Speak Honestly...

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on September 21, 2012

By Bill Gouveia

​Four years ago Barak Obama had an embarrassing moment at a private fundraiser when he was caught on tape making controversial comments. The future president remarked that some voters “cling to their guns and religion”, a line Republicans (including vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan) continue to use against him to this day.

​But open microphones are completely bipartisan. They do not discriminate between Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, rich and poor. If you are seeking public office and have something revealing or stupid to say, you can rest assured there is someone out there ready to share it with everyone.

​Just ask Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor was shown in a relatively rare moment of candor recently. He too was recorded at a private fundraising effort, but the impact and scope of his words may affect this presidential race far more than Obama’s influenced the 2004 campaign.
​Romney is heard on tape making the following statements: "There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent on government, who believe that, that they are victims, who believe that government has the responsibility to care for them. Who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing”

​The former Massachusetts governor goes on to say his job is not to worry about those people. “I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives. What I have to do is convince the 5% to 10% in the center that are independents, that are thoughtful."

​Speaking from a strictly political standpoint, Romney is correct in part of his analysis. This election will be determined by the small percentage of people who are as yet undecided on how they will vote. And Mitt would indeed be wasting his time by trying to convince the 47 percent (his number, not mine) he claims will support the president no matter what.

​But it is not because they are “dependent” on government as Romney claims. There are many people who support President Obama, yet still manage to earn their livings and feed their families independent of their local, state or federal government. There are also many voters with limited means across this country who staunchly back the Republican ticket. Both sides tend to base their support on the fact their candidate’s vision for America most closely matches their own.

​When Romney said it was not his job to worry about nearly half the country, he probably meant it in the political sense. It would be hard to believe he just doesn’t care about those who see the world through eyes other than his. But his recent political strategy (and that is a charitable description of what he has been doing) is reflective of what our electoral process has become, nationally and locally.

​Elections today are all about dividing us, chopping us up like so many parts on a stolen car. Candidates make us afraid. They instill fear of the opposition rather than confidence in themselves. They ask for your vote not because of what they will do to help you, but because of what the other person will allegedly do to hurt you. And this is not unique to any one party or group.

​That’s why you are told Americans are wrong to think they should be “entitled” to decent health care. It’s why you constantly hear parents are overly obsessed with providing their children with a good education. It’s why your local selectman candidate tells you he or she needs to “save our town” from those who would bring change you fear.

​We demand so little of our leaders these days in terms of what they will do for us. We choose them as the least objectionable alternative. Maybe that’s what elections have always been about, and it is just more obvious in this modern world of high-tech communications. Either way, it stinks.

​It is a sad commentary that the only time our politicians seem to be completely forthright about their views is when they think we aren’t listening. Or in some cases, maybe it’s better that way.

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

Monday, September 17, 2012

Selectmen are Hurting Foxboro's Future

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

By Bill Gouveia

            If you can, try and imagine this admittedly farfetched scenario:

            Your next-door neighbor needs a zoning variance to build an addition to his house.  He asks you to support his efforts, in exchange offering to pay for a fence built along your property line.  The agreement is put in writing with a provision clearly stating if you do not build the fence by a certain date, your neighbor will no longer foot the bill.  The addition is constructed, and it increases property values in the neighborhood.

            But you and your family can’t agree on the fence and choose not to build it.  Instead you decide to sell the house and move across town.  You then go to your original neighbor and tell them they have a moral obligation to pay for a fence on your new property.  

            Sound silly?  Well, it’s pretty much what some Foxboro town officials are doing in their long-running dispute with the Kraft organization over a 2007 agreement.   It involves the development of Patriot Place and a promised $7.5 million payment towards building a new sewage treatment plant. 

Kraft wanted support for additional liquor licenses and other things from the town for Patriot Place, which was provided.  The town wanted the increased revenue from the project and the promised money to build a treatment plant, which had to be approved by Town Meeting.

            But the people at Town Meeting voted down the project in 2007.  Five years later, they have never accepted it.  Most officials agree the Kraft organization has no legal obligation to now pay the $7.5 million, and the amount of revenue promised from the development has been met or exceeded.  But some Foxboro selectmen are crying foul, insisting the town’s largest taxpayer is defaulting on its obligation.

Selectmen Lorraine Brue, Virginia Coppola, Mark Sullivan and James DeVellis have been particularly vocal on the matter.  They insist the Kraft group owes the town based upon the 2007 agreement.  They were supported in that view last week by the recently replaced and now former town attorney Paul DeRensis, who claims the Kraft folks have a “moral obligation” and a “social contract” with the town to pay the $7.5 million. 

When the Kraft organization wanted to merely present the case for a casino to be built in Foxboro this past year, these same community leaders refused to allow him to do so.  Selectmen and the town manager prevented Kraft officials from speaking at a public meeting, forcing a judge to issue an injunction allowing it.  They also sponsored a town meeting warrant article to take Kraft land by eminent domain over a dispute about billboards, before eventually rescinding it under pressure.

Now the same people who refused to listen to Kraft’s plans for his own property are insisting he honor an agreement their own Town Meeting turned down.  They slammed the door of town hall shut in Bob Kraft’s face, but now are lecturing him on his “moral obligation” to that same community.  That smacks of hypocrisy and politics.

The Kraft group and the town have been engaged in new talks over future development.  Kraft wants more from Foxboro in the form of support for additional liquor licenses and zoning relief.  The town has severe sewer problems and needs money to fix them.  There would seem to be a natural alliance here waiting to be forged.

But a majority of Foxboro selectmen are saying they may not negotiate until the Kraft group lives up to their alleged “moral obligation”.  Selectman Coppola recently said, “I’m not interested in looking to the future and making negotiations for the future until the past negotiations have been dealt with. That’s where I stand.” 

This is exactly the kind of shortsighted attitude that got Foxboro into this predicament in the first place.  Coppola and most of her fellow board members are trying to rewrite history. 

Town officials need to get over the past and start working on creating a better future for all involved.  Their alleged “social contract” isn’t worth the paper it’s not written on.  If they want a different result, they should negotiate a different deal.  They can’t do that by cutting off the town’s nose to spite its face.

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

Friday, September 14, 2012

There's No Excuse for Lack of Debates

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

By Bill Gouveia

            A political campaign is all about getting people to vote for you, or at least against the other candidate.  Every politician worth their salt knows most elections are won or lost long before the day the voting actually occurs. 

            Part of the campaign process is to try and match your strength against your opponent’s perceived weakness.  Winning a debate on the issues is not nearly as important as dictating which issues are actually debated.  If you can shape the campaign the way you want, you are much more likely to win it.

            That principle is clearly on display in the race for state representative in Attleboro, where incumbent republican Rep. George Ross is being opposed by democrat Paul Heroux.  As is the norm when a political newcomer runs against an established official, the newcomer has challenged the incumbent to debate.  And therein begins the political games and doubletalk.

            Generally speaking, challengers want debates and incumbents do not.  Those already in office have a documented track record which can be both a boon and a burden.  They usually have higher visibility and voter recognition than their opponents.  So when it comes to appearing in public with the other candidate, they have little to gain and a lot to lose.

            The new office-seeker faces just the opposite situation.  They need credibility, and anytime they can share the stage with the person they are seeking to unseat, they have to make the most of it.  And if the incumbent refuses or limits the debates – which they usually do – the challenger can point to that as disrespecting the voters and being afraid to defend their record.

            That scenario is playing out in the Ross-Heroux race.  Heroux has challenged Ross to four debates before the November election.  He wants to debate both general topics and specific issues such as the economy and crime.  Ross has tentatively agreed to a single debate, although he has indicated he may not even do that if he decides Heroux has not kept the race “clean”.

            But Ross keeps using silly and unnecessary excuses to explain his decision to have only one debate.  He stated he would only meet his opponent once publicly because he is hard at work in his legislative capacity.  “I am a full-time legislator”, Ross said in explaining his rejection of multiple debates.  He noted he is doing the job people elected him to do, and is busy working on improving the economy. 

            Of course, the legislative session ended in July and the House will not reconvene for months.  That might leave many to conclude Ross would have at least a little bit of time on his hands.  But the freshman legislator insists he still has meetings at the Statehouse and elsewhere, and is concentrating on addressing many important issues.

            Ross is no doubt a hard-working legislator, but this borders on the ridiculous.  Anyone with any political common sense knows the main reason the legislature adjourns at this time of year is so the members can go home to their districts and work on being reelected.  There may be a lot of valid reasons for Ross to not want to debate Heroux four times, but being “too busy” is not one of them.

            Political debates should be viewed as job interviews by both the public and the candidates.  Voters need to see their political representatives and would-be representatives engaged in explaining and defending their positions under the glare and focus of the public spotlight.  How candidates react and function under that pressure can tell you a lot about how they might be when facing down a budget deadline or considering critical funding issues.  No decision should be made strictly based upon debate performance, but it can be important.

            Heroux is reaching by requesting four debates.  That just isn’t really necessary for this kind of race and in this situation.  But one is equally insufficient.  The citizens they seek to represent deserve better from both sides. 

            So Ross and Heroux need to stop angling for political advantage and sit down for a couple of real, issue-oriented debates.  If they can manage to fit that into their busy schedules, the real winners will be the voters and citizens of Attleboro.

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

Monday, September 10, 2012

Can't Do Your Job With Your Eyes Closed

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

By Bill Gouveia

            Local government is all about getting people involved and active in their community.  Or at least, it ought to be.  But in Seekonk, there seems to be a different philosophy at work.

            In a joint meeting last week, selectmen and Housing Authority members appointed Selectman Francis Cavaco to a recently vacated post on the elected Housing Authority.  Cavaco will now serve until the unexpired term is filled at the April town election.

            The vacancy was not advertised to the general public.  It was not posted on the town web site.  It was not advertised in the local newspapers.  Unless you are a local political insider or activist, you probably didn’t know there was an opportunity available to serve your town.

            This is not the first time selectmen have chosen one or more of their own to be appointed to another town board.  Last year Carvaco and fellow selectman Robert McLintock effectively took control of the local Board of Health when helped appoint themselves to fill vacancies there.  That resulted in a new bylaw being overwhelmingly approved at Town Meeting which prevents sitting selectmen from serving on other town boards.

            Selectmen reacted to that mandate by joining their lawyer in claiming it to be illegal.  The law is currently under review by the state attorney general’s office.  But while the legality of the statute itself may be in question, there is no doubt Town Meeting was sending a clear message to their leaders.  But those leaders have deliberately chosen to ignore it.

            Selectman McLintock said he is opposed to the way selectmen fill vacancies via public interviews, claiming it makes the board “look like a bunch of buffoons”.  While he may well be correct about the result, he is absolutely wrong about what is causing it.

            The mistake selectmen have made here is not just appointing their own to fill important government roles.  Their gravest error is showing disrespect to the citizens they represent.  They continue to keep talking when they should be listening.  They are spending considerable time and effort to deny ordinary citizens an active role in government, rather than aggressively recruiting them for public service. 

            Housing Authority chairman James Tusino defended the action of selectmen, noting the difficulty of attracting good candidates.  “We have somebody on the hook that’s actually interested in giving another night to the community,” he said.  “I’m afraid if we let the person get off the hook, we’ll be left with no candidates in another month.”

            The chairman is right about how difficult it is to attract strong candidates to fill boards and committees these days.  But it is worth noting you cannot hook anything unless you first cast your line.  If the Housing Authority or the Board of Health openings had been better advertised or more sincerely pursued, the odds of landing a good new member may still have been slim.  But by not even advertising, they become non-existent. 

            When questioned as to whether or not their action flew in the face of the recent Town Meeting decision, Selectman McLintock responded by declaring “Town Meeting on this particular item has no bearing until the attorney general rules.”  This disturbing statement clearly shows McLintock and some of his colleagues just don’t get the real issue here.

            Whether the law passed by Town Meeting is legal or not really isn’t relevant here.  By approving it, Seekonk citizens clearly spoke - with the voice provided them by their town charter - and said they did not want their selectmen double-dipping in regard to political office.  If their elected leaders ignore that unambiguous statement based upon some legal technicality, they clearly do not understand their role in the relationship.

            The excuse that the Housing Authority is actually a state board is a frivolous argument.  The elected position in question can only be filled by a Seekonk registered voter.  That makes it a town position in virtually every sense of the word.

            Local leaders should be all about extending opportunities to serve, not denying them.  You cannot conduct a search for qualified candidates with your eyes firmly shut.  Seekonk voters deserve more respect from their selectmen.  It is well past time that town’s government stopped being a private club and returned to being a public collaboration.

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

Monday, September 3, 2012

Voter ID Laws Just Another Political Ploy

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on September 3, 2012.

By Bill Gouveia

As Americans prepare to cast their ballots this November, there has been a lot of talk about voter identification laws.  Some states have adopted regulations requiring every voter to show a picture ID before being allowed to participate in this most democratic and important process.

Here in Massachusetts, an effort to establish a similar law was ruled unconstitutional by the state attorney general’s office.  Spearheaded by Mansfield selectman Olivier Kozlowski, the proposed law would have required all citizens to show a government-issued photo identification before being allowed to vote.

Kozlwoski said he was concerned the system here in Massachusetts is vulnerable to fraud.  The local republican admitted in an interview last year that he was unaware of any actual and specific voter fraud problems in the state, but added “Every election you hear stories”. 

This is a difficult issue.  No one (well, almost no one) is in favor of voter fraud.  It is pretty much a given that most people firmly believe only those actually eligible to vote should do so.  It is a cherished right, a valued privilege, and a sacred duty.  It should not be abused.

And statistics show it is not.  Cases of actual voter fraud – we are talking proven cases here, not “stories” – are few and far between.  The prosecution rate is extremely low, and some point to that as proof that current laws are insufficient to address the alleged issue.  Others claim the voter ID law sponsors are seeking to solve a problem that does not exist in order to gain political advantage.  Of course, the sponsors claim those folks are actually realizing a political advantage by gaining fraudulent votes.

And therein lays the real problem.  This is about politics much more than anything else.  It is about Democrats worrying they will lose votes among the more urban voters, and Republicans hoping that will be the case.  It is about wanting to make sure our individual vote really counts, even at the expense of costing someone else their rightful opportunity.

At first glance, requiring a picture ID in order to vote seems very reasonable – especially here in our largely suburban setting.  After all, we provide an ID for so many other things.  When we buy alcohol, use our credit cards, open bank accounts, even when picking up certain cold medications in the supermarket or pharmacy.  Asking for photographic identification in exchange for a ballot does not initially seem like much of a burden.

But out here, most people have driver’s licenses.  They can’t rely on the subway or buses to get them everywhere.  In many of our cities, that is not the case.  While a good argument can be made that forcing folks to spend $25 or more to obtain a government-issued card which then allows them to vote is no big deal, the truth is it can be.  It actually and actively gives people yet another reason to not vote – and that should be the last thing we do in this country.

Imagine the poor elderly woman or man in a nursing home who is denied a vote because their relatives failed to get them an ID.  Or the young man or woman on their own at a tender age, who can’t cast a ballot because they don’t have the means to pay for an ID.  Poll taxes and tests were used in the south generations ago to keep certain people from voting.  This is nothing more than an attempt at the same thing.

We have so many real and pressing problems to address in this country, this state, and our local communities.  We need to solve the tough ones, not the politically advantageous ones.

My personal belief is that depriving someone of their right to vote – accidentally or on purpose – is among the worst things you can do to them.  There is no doubt fraud involved in many of our elections.  However, the vast majority of it is committed by the candidates and their campaigns.  We should be making things harder on them, not on voters.

When our legislatures and local officials correct the obvious campaign finance problems in this country, then we can focus on the small percentage of people who vote when they should not.

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