Monday, February 25, 2013

North Attleboro's Government Getting Worse

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, February 25, 2013

By Bill Gouveia

On April 2 North Attleboro will hold a municipal election and once again present voters with some non-binding ballot questions regarding the structure of town government. This is yet another sad commentary on what has arguably become the worst and least representative town government in this area.

North has an elected 135-member Representative Town Meeting legislative form of government, with a five-member Board of Selectmen and a weak town administrator position. This past year a dedicated and concerned group of citizens formed a committee that conducted what was termed a “successful effort” to increase interest and turn out candidates for the town meeting seats. These posts usually feature few if any contested races and no candidates at all for a large number of positions.

These good folks worked hard, and the results were significant. But their “successful efforts” must be viewed through the prism of reality. Success in this case means there are fewer town meeting member positions with no one at all running for them. In terms of actual contests and true choices, there are few if any. The bottom line is North Attleboro voters have consistently shown little to no interest in their current form of government over the last decade or so.

And why should they? North Attleboro’s town government is largely made up of longtime local residents and special interests more intent on preserving the present than forming the future. That is hardly unusual, but in this case is extreme. Town government has a long and well-documented history of ignoring the expressed will of the people and manipulating their votes to mean what town officials want it to mean.

Over the years selectmen have put multiple non-binding questions before the voters. The questions asked are usually vague and eventually meaningless. The results have proven not to matter, since local politicians and citizens just put their own spin on them and do what they want anyway. So why do they do it?

Simple – it’s a great political maneuver. It allows them to appear they are listening and empowering the voters, while in actuality preserving and protecting their own positions and power bases. And since it is all non-binding – what’s the harm?

Selectmen John Rhyno typified that attitude in his recent remarks. When explaining his vote to place more non-specific and non-binding questions on the ballot, the veteran selectman said, “It never, ever hurts to ask voters what they think. I don’t have a problem asking the voters 20 times because the last time I knew, we answer to them and they’re in charge.”

Selectman Rhyno’s comments are just wrong on so many levels. First, if you have to ask the voters something 20 times, you are doing a really bad job of posing the question. Secondly, if the voters are actually “in charge” then why do you need to make their vote non-binding? And finally, it does indeed hurt when you keep asking pretty much the same questions over and over while ignoring the answers you don’t like.

One of the questions to be on the upcoming ballot is” “Do you want a mayor form of government for the town of North Attleboro?” How in the world are voters supposed to make an informed decision on that vague question without being told at the very least the following details:

What will the powers of the mayor be? Will there be a town council or a town manager also? Will the mayor’s position be a full-time paid spot? What other town positions will be changed or eliminated? How long will the mayor’s term be? How would the transition take place? What is the financial impact of such a change?

This process is dumb. There simply is no other better word for it. It is insulting to the citizens of North Attleboro, and an embarrassment to town government.

It seems the people of North Attleboro are constantly being blamed for not participating enough in their government. The truth is, their government spends a great deal of time and effort making sure their participation is limited. Their leaders are more than happy to let them make decisions – as long as they don’t really count.

North Attleboro doesn’t need more non-binding ballot questions. But it sure could use more real leadership.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Riding Out The Blizzard Wasn't All That Easy

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, February 22, 2013

By Bill Gouveia

When we were preparing for the recent blizzard at the Gouveia household (population now down to two) we were readying ourselves for the worst.  What we got was far from that, but still enough for me to complain about.

With as much as three feet of snow expected, we grudgingly engaged in the "storm preparation" process.  My wife was much more loath to do so, not believing we needed very much.  I was far more concerned about having sufficient food in the house, and kept insisting we needed to make a visit to the grocery store. 

I may have expressed this concern verbally once or twice to my Beloved (or it could possibly have been 10-15 times, I'm not really sure).  We were driving home together when she finally saw the wisdom of my words and pulled the car into the supermarket parking lot.  When I then told her I was missing the Bruins game, she expressed a few things to me - and did so pretty directly.

When the hurricane struck last year, my wife went out and brought a generator.  It served us well for the four days we went without power that summer, and we were determined to be ready with it during the blizzard.  We filled it with gas and made sure we had extra containers in case of any lengthy outage.

Of course, we then forgot to move it from under our deck to a place where it could be operational before the snow came.  We were very fortunate to not lose power during this storm, because moving a heavy generator after two feet of snow has fallen is not as easy as you might think.  It was not one of our finest moments in planning.

While we did not lose power, we did lose internet and cable.  This was a catastrophe for me, as it prevented me from doing two of my favorite things:  Browsing the net and watching television. 

I read most newspapers online, along with many different webpages.  It helps me stay up with current events, as well as providing me with information for my twice-weekly conversations with you good readers.  My computer was still working, but I could not use it as my portal beyond the snow and ice.

Fortunately my iPhone was still operational, and through my wife’s phone we were able to set up an internet “hotspot” which gave us access.  So I was able to get my column to the newspaper office despite not having my usual internet connection – which may have pleased some of you and disappointed others.

As far as keeping ourselves entertained, we did have some shows taped on our DVR.  However, we went through those quickly the very first night.  Then we turned to our seldom-used collection of DVDs in an effort to pass the time, but discovered our DVD player was not working properly and kept freezing up every ten minutes.  Frustration levels were high in the Gouveia household.

This left us few options, and in fact forced us into the unthinkable:  We had to actually talk to each other at length with very little going on in the background.  We were almost forced to look at each other while we spoke, and provide our undivided attention.  While my wife claims this was not a new experience for her, I have to admit that for me it was venturing into waters uncharted for quite some time.

I will cop to doing a bit of reckless law-breaking over that weekend.  Against the expressed directive of our honorable governor, my Beloved and I ventured out for a ride on Saturday morning to see what it looked like around town.  We were in awe at what Mother Nature had done to our small community, and it was an adventure getting back up our 300-foot driveway upon our return.  It’s a good thing we have a reliable plow person who eventually showed up and cleared the way.

Did I learn anything from this experience?  You’re darned right I did.  As soon as the driving ban was lifted, I went out and bought a new DVD player.  After all, I can’t be letting this happen again anytime soon.

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

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Republican Winslow Following Brown's Path

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, February 11, 2013.


By Bill Gouveia

When it comes to races for the US Senate, the Wrentham/Norfolk area has played a major role in producing republican candidates. Now there’s a sentence you would not have used ten years ago.

Former Wrentham selectman Scott Brown moved on to succeed Ted Kennedy in the Senate, before ultimately being defeated this past year by Elizabeth Warren. Now current state representative and former Norfolk town moderator Dan Winslow has jumped into the short but critical race for the senate seat left vacant when John Kerry became Secretary of State. The parallels are both obvious and fascinating.

Winslow was elected to the state legislature to fill the spot vacanted by Richard Ross when he moved to the state senate to replace (you guessed it) Scott Brown. Both are republicans who stress their “independent” streak. Both are entering statewide races after potential candidates with far greater name recognition and political experience declined to run. Both will experience their first attempt at higher office in a special election with a drastically reduced campaign period.

But while they share similar political stories, they are different in their political styles.

Both are lawyers, but have followed different career paths. Brown was not active in the political arena in a legal sense, while Winslow has served in some high-powered public legal positions. He was the former chief legal counsel to former governor Mitt Romney from 2002-2005 and also served as presiding justice of the Wrentham District Court.

Where Brown was relatively low-key during his brief local and state political career, Winslow has gone out of his way to garner publicity and be noticed. Brown filed little in the way of legislation during his time on Beacon Hill. Winslow has sponsored a slew of bills, though few of them have made it very far in the legislative process. Brown was primarily known for his personality and blue-collar image, while Winslow is known for his ability to navigate the political scene and promote both himself and his positions.

Winslow revels in being known as “an idea guy”, and promises to bring that ingenuity and pluck to the senate. He has shown a willingness to get involved in many political issues, often through unusual means and methods. Last year he said he was personally hiring a former state police detective to investigate the man slotted to be the executive director of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, though he would accept public donations for the same purpose.

Known for his unquestioned intelligence, quick wit, and political shrewdness, Winslow is a good candidate for state republicans after their high-profile candidates have declined to run. Winslow understands the importance of public relations in politics, and does not shy away from that aspect.

With the election to be held in the spring, the senate campaign promises to be long on politics and short on issues. There will be the usual stuff, with the eventual candidate from both parties decrying the “gridlock in Washington” and promising to pursue change. Winslow will enjoy an advantage in that regard if he is the nominee, since whoever wins the democratic nod will be an incumbent congressman with a political record to attack. Winslow’s political career thus far is long on ideas and philosophy, but short on actual achievements and legislative accomplishments. It is one thing to make suggestions, but yet another to make them happen.

Winslow is a former town moderator, and I had the pleasure of meeting him at a gathering of the Massachusetts Moderator’s Association. During his time at the helm, Norfolk’s Town Meeting underwent changes designed to reach out to voters and get them involved. This is a skill candidate Winslow will have to again utilize as he tries to convince voters across the Commonwealth he is the right person to represent their interests in Washington.

After being involved in Scott Brown’s campaign, Winslow knows well the enormity of the task before him. But he has the right attitude to take it on, and anyone who underestimates him will do so at their own peril.

There won’t be much time for Dan Winslow to work his PR expertise on voters, but he apparently comes from the right area of the state. You think it’s something in the water?

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

Friday, February 8, 2013

Norton to Dediciate Park to Local Hero

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, February 8, 2013


By Bill Gouveia

We use the words “thank you” so much that we sometimes need to be reminded of their real meaning.

We thank people for things they do, things they express, and even for extending us the simple common courtesies everyone expects. It’s a nice thing to say, and even nicer to hear when said sincerely.

But sometimes saying “thank you” just isn’t enough. Sometimes we need to go further, to demonstrate our heartfelt and overwhelming appreciation for someone. Sometimes actions speak much more loudly than words, and when what someone has done requires a real and tangible symbol of our gratitude.

That is the position the Town of Norton and its citizens find themselves in, trying to say “thank you” to departed hero Master Sergeant Gregory Trent. Master Sergeant Trent was a 1992 graduate of Norton High School who lost his life in service to his country in Afghanistan in August 2012. According to town officials, he is the first son or daughter of Norton to lose their life in battle since perhaps the Korean War or before.

Master Sergeant Trent was no ordinary soldier, if indeed there is such a thing. His list of accomplishments and awards are far too lengthy to list here, but included: The Bronze Star, The Purple Heart, The Defense Meritorious Service Medal, four Good Conduct medals and a host of others. He was a true American hero in the very best sense of the term.

Now his town struggles to find an appropriate way to thank him and recognize his brave contributions. So Norton formed a Gold Star Committee charged with honoring not only Master Sergeant Trent, but others who may make the ultimate sacrifice for us at home. They have decided to dedicate a piece of town property to be named “Master SGT Gregory Trent Memorial Park”.

Located along the main road in the center of town, it will feature a monument dedicated to Master Sergeant Trent and any future Norton soldiers who may tragically perish in defense of America. The plan is to inscribe on the monument “A place of solemn reflection dedicated by a grateful community”.

The park and the monument will be built with private funds raised by committee members and local citizens and businesses. It will truly be a community project, a grassroots effort undertaken by people with no motive other than honoring those who stood in our place and defended us all.

There will be a raffle to raise money for the worthy cause held at Clark Center on the campus of Wheaton College Saturday, March 16th at 6:30 pm. Those wishing simply to make donations to the memorial park effort can do so by writing a check to Town of Norton/MSG Trent Account and mailing it to Norton Town Hall, 70 East Main Street, Norton, MA 02766.

In a special fundraising effort, bottles of wine bearing the name and picture of Master Sergeant Trent are available for sale with a portion of the proceeds going to fund the memorial project. They can currently be purchased at The Swirling Wine store on Route 123 across from the proposed park as well as ordered by the bottle or the case. A 5K road race is also in the planning stages, to be held in May.

The Gold Star committee hopes to raise enough money to create a perpetual care fund to keep the park maintained. It is the equivalent of lighting an eternal flame honoring Master Sergeant Trent. And while we all fervently hope no one else has to die in battle, we know they inevitably will – and this park will stand in tribute to their sacrifice as well.

This effort will be made up of Norton citizens, former citizens, businesses, and those from other places who wish to honor Master Sergeant Trent. But it will largely be a uniquely Norton tribute to one of our own. It will be a reminder to those who knew him, an inspiration to those who look to his example, and a lesson to the young children who will grow up learning his legacy in the Norton of the future.

It will be a proper expression of the phrase “thank you”.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and a proud lifelong resident of Norton. He can be reached at aninsidelook@aol.comand followed on Twitter at @BillInsideLook.

Monday, February 4, 2013

In Foxboro, there ain't no free lunch

By Bill Gouveia

It’s not easy being a selectman in Foxboro these days.  Having an NFL stadium in your small community is certainly prestigious and economically advantageous, but as the old saying goes:  “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”

Town officials find themselves constantly forced to adapt to a quickly changing world, one private business is much better equipped to handle swiftly and efficiently.  That is most recently demonstrated in the pending lawsuit filed against both the Kraft Group and the town by a collection of folks who claim they were improperly held in custody within Gillette Stadium by Foxboro police.

The suit charges the town and Police Chief O’Leary with negligently detaining concertgoers without valid cause.  While neither police nor selectmen can comment on the lawsuit itself, officials have in the past defended the practice of taking patrons into protective custody when they appear to be a possible danger to themselves or others.  In the past the town and the stadium owners have been accused of not providing enough security or safety for those who attend events.

Kraft officials will not comment on whether or not they support the actions of Foxboro police inside the stadium.  The organization has an agreement with Foxboro that indemnifies the town against lawsuits arising from the granting of licenses for stadium events, with the exception of “negligence, gross negligence or willful misconduct of the town parties.”

Stadium owners are refusing the town’s request to be indemnified in this case, citing the charges of negligence or worse being alleged.  However, they are offering to provide the town with an attorney and pay that expense.  They are not agreeing to cover damages if the town or the chief loses the case.

Kraft Group spokesman Jeff Cournoyer said, “Our agreement with the town does not require us to indemnify the town in that scenario, but because we value our relationship with the town, we offered to defend them in the case.”

Selectman Chairman Jim DeVellis has a different view, arguing there has been no finding of negligence and thus the Kraft Group should be indemnifying the town against possible damages.  He added that Foxboro’s legal representatives are currently in discussion with Kraft Group lawyers over the matter.

Given the circumstances, it certainly appears the stance taken by the stadium ownership is reasonable.  The suit does allege willful negligence and misconduct by town personnel, albeit on stadium grounds during a licensed event.  The offer to pay for attorney fees relieves the town of any financial burden – unless the suit is found to have merit and negligence did occur.

Of course, the offer to defend is not totally unselfish by the Kraft Group.  They have a large stake in the outcome of the suit, and in many ways their interests and those of the town coincide.  If Foxboro prevails in the suit, that helps the Kraft organization.

But at some point, the interests of the two parties could possibly diverge.  That is why Foxboro officials must make certain that regardless of who is paying the bills, their eventual counsel will be 100 percent on their side.  Even if the Kraft Group writes the checks, there must be no question that counsel for the town and the chief must be prepared to possibly take actions not to the liking of the party actually paying them.

That is not unusual.  Town officials are often represented by counsel separate from the municipality in lawsuits, but paid through the city or town.  Sometimes their interests go in different directions.  I know – I have been a party to such a situation.

But to expect the Kraft Group to say they will pay any damages awarded as the result of any negligent conduct by town employees committed willfully while in their official capacity is just silly.  If that were the actual agreement, police officers and others would have complete immunity from any bad acts.  They could do anything they want, and stadium owners would have to bear the ultimate responsibility.

There has been no finding of any willfully negligent actions or behavior by any town entity charged in this suit.  As long as that remains true, Foxboro has nothing to worry about in their indemnification deal.

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