Monday, April 29, 2013

Attleboro School Committee - No Free Lunch

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on April 29, 2013
By Bill Gouveia

It’s been a rough few years for the Attleboro school system.  Largely due to local politics, human error and lack of proper public attention, the system has failed the people it was designed to serve – the students.  It is now time for this failure to stop.

The most obvious and publicized sign of this has been the infamous “No Free Lunch” incident.  Local students who either could not afford to buy lunch or who had pre-paid accounts that were unfunded found themselves unable to get a meal.  In fact, some who were given lunch were forced to dump it in the trash rather than consume it.  This despite a policy that required they be given a cheese sandwich and milk if they had no money for lunch.

This situation – and some clumsy efforts to minimize its impact early on – resulted in Attleboro becoming a national joke.  The private company that provides the lunch service fired several workers.  The school system suspended and demoted an administrator.  Then the superintendent reported there were threats made against school officials in the aftermath of the debacle.

But this unfortunate predicament was made worse by the less-publicized problems that preceded it.  It was merely the final straw placed into a pile that collapsed under its own weight.  It highlights the need for a new beginning, a renewal of sorts for a school system that has at times been its own worst enemy, starting with the school committee that oversees it.

The ongoing battles between school committee members and Superintendent Pia Durkin have been harmful to the system as a whole.  Durkin has been a lame duck for some time now, and will become the leader of the New Bedford school system starting this next school year.  Her professionalism has been magnificent when compared to that of her bosses on the school committee.

One committee member hasn’t even been to meetings for the most part.  Member Teri Enegren, who travels extensively due to her profession, was not physically present at any meetings for many months.  She did not attend a single meeting involving the search for a new superintendent.  She never interviewed a candidate publicly.  Yet she did show up to cast her vote when it was time to make the decision.  It was noted she kept abreast of committee business through emails and phone calls during her absence.

Her fellow members made a shambles of the Open Meeting Law during the drawn-out interview process.  The infighting between members has drawn more attention than any accomplishment the committee may have achieved.

The lunch fiasco has done worse than shake up the school system.  It has also brought political philosophical arguments to the local level, with many now debating the relative roles of parents and school officials in providing for children.

“Where are the parents?” many have asked, wondering why the kids weren’t given lunch money or why their accounts were not funded.  Some wonder why the responsibility to feed them falls to the schools. 

In the meantime, the many truly important educational challenges facing city students and parents have been pushed to the background.  The newspapers and television stations talk about Attleboro’s school lunches rather than their school curriculum.  What is being served for meals is discussed more than what is being taught to students to prepare them for their futures.

This is what happens when political concerns take precedence over educational ones.  It is what happens when a superintendent and her bosses are on different pages – regardless of where the fault for those differences belongs.  It is what happens when adults concentrate too much on other adults, and not enough on children.

It is also what happens when parents simply don’t pay enough attention.  It is their responsibility to use the power of their ballots to elect people and then hold them accountable.  Going to an occasional meeting or writing an occasional note is not enough.  There is no substitute for involvement.

School committee members, administrators, teachers and parents must all come together if Attleboro’s image and problems are going to improve.  Attleboro should not be the butt of a national joke, and there is a way for the school committee to prevent it.

Stop acting like one.

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

Friday, April 26, 2013

Filibuster Used Locally Would be Just a Bust

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, April 26, 2013

By Bill Gouveia

            Overshadowed by the tragic events in Boston last week was the US Senate making an important decision on the immediate future of new gun control laws in America.  The bill seeking to establish background checks on all gun purchases was defeated by a vote of 54-46.

            What’s that you say?  No, that’s not a mistake.  There were 54 senators voting in favor, and 46 senators opposed.  And yes, the bill required only a simple majority to pass.  But under the convoluted and somehow time-honored rules of the US Senate, it was declared defeated.

            The reason is that peculiar institution and political tactic known as the filibuster.  It is the rule allowing senators to hold the floor indefinitely and block votes on bills that would probably otherwise pass.  It can only be ended by a vote of at least 60 senators to invoke cloture, thus ending the process and proceeding to a decision.  Forever glorified by Jimmy Stewart in the classic movie “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington”, it had long been considered a noble weapon to be used sparingly.

            But in today’s political environment, the filibuster threat looms over every battle.  It is one of the many reasons why Washington can’t accomplish much.  The filibuster has been adopted and abused by both political parties to the point where if it were a child, it would have been removed from the home by now.

            The filibuster puts the minority party in control of what passes the Senate.  They can accomplish little on their own, but can steadfastly make sure the majority shares in their frustration and is unable to govern effectively.  After all, isn’t that what it’s all about these days?

            Just try and imagine for a moment how your local government meetings would work if they contained a filibuster provision.  In particular, consider how your local Open Town Meeting – the legislative branch of town government - would be effected by this rule which some consider a true symbol of the American form of democracy..

            You are about to take a simple majority vote on the local budget after (hopefully) a good discussion.  But the head of a local neighborhood group, angry because the playground near his home is not receiving new equipment, begins to speak.

            He announces he is going to filibuster, and starts to talk incessantly about absolutely nothing.  Confused residents initially think they are at a selectmen’s meeting, then realize this is just a tactic to stop a vote from being taken and the majority from ruling.

            Another participant manages to make a motion to end debate.  When the vote is taken, 89 citizens want to move on and 61 back the playground advocate.  Although a clear majority wishes to proceed, this is less than 60 percent so the minority prevails and the meeting continues to go nowhere.  Eventually, the budget is put off to another day, and perhaps a one-month contingency budget is approved.

            Of course, this doesn’t happen locally.  That’s because despite our own unique institutions and rules, we recognize the need to actually make decisions.  And since our town meeting members are volunteers and have other things to do, they place a value on their time as well as on the citizens they serve.

            So if such a scenario were to happen, the Town Moderator (such noble creatures) would immediately take control and ask the filibusterer to please find a seat.  Then he or she would refocus the discussion and help the meeting proceed to a vote.

            At the end of that process, the majority position prevails.  The citizens then all peaceably depart, perhaps after casting a spirited word or two in each other’s direction.  Democracy has worked, the people have spoken, and everyone goes home and complains about how long it all took.

            Town Meetings do have articles that require a two-thirds vote, but very few.   We would not put up with allowing the minority to constantly and consistently prevent local government from operating, and we should not put up with it on the national level either.  Maybe what the US Senate needs is a moderator?

            But I doubt that would work.  All the ones I know are far too smart to ever take the job.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and the Norton Town Moderator.  He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Political Marriage in Foxboro May be Ending

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, April 22, 2013

By Bill Gouveia

            The marriage between Town Manager Kevin Paicos and the Foxboro Board of Selectmen has always been a tenuous and difficult one.  It would seem they have stayed together for the sake of the kids, who in this instance are the citizens and taxpayers of Foxboro.

            Now the time is fast approaching when selectmen must make the difficult decision of whether or not to continue said relationship.  Under the terms of their agreement with Paicos, they must decide by the end of this June whether or not to renew his contract beyond June 30, 2014.  Their most recent review of the town manager’s performance has folks wondering if the inevitable split will happen sooner rather than later.

            Selectmen as a group graded Paicos a “3” on a scale of 1-5, translating into a rating of “satisfactory”.  That did not sit particularly well with the veteran administrator, who said he was “disappointed” with the result.  He said his board “continues to hold me to five different standards of what needs to be done.”  He also added “Frankly, I don’t know what some of this means so I don’t know how to do things better.”

            Kevin Paicos is a strong and experienced municipal manager.  There can be no disputing that statement.  He has many strengths and a record of accomplishment to prove them.  Selectmen rated him highly with regard to balancing the budget and reducing healthcare costs, among other things.

            But they criticized Paicos for his ability to work with the board and allowing them to do their job.  Selectmen Mark Sullivan said, “Sometimes you need to step back and let us debate it, instead of becoming fuel on the fire.”

            If Paicos were to offer a public evaluation of the selectmen, it is probable he would come up with some very valid criticisms that would support his own performance.  Given his oft-displayed willingness to be frank and direct, it would also no doubt be an entertaining and interesting process. 

            But Paicos is the employee, and the selectmen are the employer.  Despite what many may believe, a town manager works for the Board of Selectmen.  He or she owes allegiance to the citizens and the community as a whole, but answers directly to the selectmen.  A good manager knows that relationship is the key to their ability to do the job.

            Paicos sounds rather silly when he starts blaming selectmen for not appreciating his work.  Over the past couple of years a strong case can be made that it has been Paicos who has not observed the proper roles to be played in town government.  It is Paicos who has alienated some board members, community members, and corporate partners of Foxboro. 

            His feud with former selectman Larry Harrington was a political battle Paicos won.  The town manager used a controversial issue to help shape the board in such a way as to allow him to operate more freely and with greater support.  He did so skillfully and deliberately.

            But now he is paying the price.  Now his board members are removed from the immediacy and overwhelming nature of the casino issue and other related concerns with the Kraft Organization.  Lacking a serious villain upon which to play against, Paicos is left looking like the guy who wants everyone to know he is the smartest person in the room (which he very well may be).

            His toughness is one of his best attributes, but may now be working against him.  He has been around long enough to know selectmen rarely if ever speak with just one voice.  When he says he doesn’t know what some of the criticisms of him mean, it is hard to imagine he can’t figure it out. 

            The average run of a town manager across the Commonwealth is about five years.  There is a reason for that.  If you do a good job in this tough position, it is often difficult to remain popular.  Paicos is obviously not concerned about padding his resume for his next position.  His record in all phases of his job is pretty well established.

            But his time in Foxboro may well be coming to a close.  Whether that is best for all involved is something that remains to be seen.

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

Thursday, April 18, 2013

We May Live Here, But We are Boston

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on April 18, 2013
By Bill Gouveia

            “Where do you live?”

If you were born in or have lived in this general vicinity for any great length of time, you answer that question differently depending on who asks and where you are.  For example, if I’m in Mansfield and a local resident asks, I say I live in Norton.

But when visiting family in Baltimore or traveling elsewhere, I change my reply.  Then I say “I’m from Boston”.  I usually get a knowing nod, and there’s no need to say anything else.

We who populate the suburbs here like to think we distance ourselves a little from the City of Boston itself.  After all, that’s where the crime tends to be.  That’s where those damn politicians gather and fleece us every year.  It’s where the only grass is in parks, the pickpockets are on every corner, and the homeless sleep on the sidewalk.  It’s not where we live.  It’s just a big place near us.

But in hearts we know that’s not so.  We are Boston, and Boston is in all of us.  And that would be true even if the tragic events of this past Monday had never occurred.

Boston is the engine that makes most things out here run.  It is so much more than just a city.  It is a world-class port, an opportunity, a center of learning, a gateway to the things we need and want.  We “suburban folks” could not enjoy our lives without Boston.

So many local residents earn their livings in The Hub.  Just look at the train station parking lots on any given weekday.  Or try and drive the expressway during morning rush hour.  Those homes we live in, those cars we drive – the money we use to pay for them often comes from Boston.

With all due respect to our local hospitals and doctors, Boston is where we head when our lives depend on the medical help we receive.  In my generation, the phrase “I’m going into Boston” was always an indication of just how seriously you were taking the medical condition involved.  Some of the best facilities in the world are there, and we often take that for granted until we need them.

When we want to fully appreciate the best in the arts, we travel into Boston.  The ballet, the symphony, the theater and amazing museums await us.  Some of the finest restaurants you can imagine are located there.  The city we sometimes scoff at is home to all these things we treasure.

And of course there are the sports franchises.  Nowhere in the country are professional teams supported like the ones in Boston.  The Red Sox, the Celtics, the Bruins, and the Patriots are all a part of our culture.  You become a fan of these teams through birth rather than by choice.  People from other places find it difficult to understand the role of sports in Boston, but here it isn’t even questioned.  We just accept it and wear it as a badge of honor.

Now, I have made fun of Boston over the years.  I’m a hick from Norton, and the big city makes me nervous.  I tease my friends who moved out here from Southie or Dorchester about their urban roots.

But put me out in the Midwest, or the west coast, or down south, or pretty much anywhere else in the world and ask me where I’m from, and I’ll proudly tell you Boston.  And no one from here ever calls it Beantown.

You see, Boston is more than a location.  It’s an attitude, an outlook on life, a membership in a unique club.  We don’t have an accent – you do.  You’ll never fully appreciate it all unless you’re from here.  It’s part of our charm.

Everybody is claiming Boston this week, and that’s nice.  But the folks who live within its borders and around it are all profoundly sad today.  We have lost friends, neighbors, loved ones and strangers with whom we shared an unspoken yet unshakeable bond.  We are in pain.

But make no mistake, Boston will bounce back.  We’ll grieve, we’ll remember, we’ll make those who hurt us pay.   Then we’ll go back to being who we are.

It’s what we do.  We’re from Boston.


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

Monday, April 15, 2013

Rehoboth Censorship is Cheating Citizens

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on April 15, 2013.
By Bill Gouveia
In most communities, boards and committees do their best to involve citizens and give them as much insight into the workings of town government as possible.  The idea is local government works best when it encourages participation.

But not so in Rehoboth, where some officials continue to treat local government as their own private club.  They seem to view dealing with the public as a necessary evil, and go out of their way to make it difficult for citizens to stay informed and active.  Case in point is the recent controversy involving the town’s finance committee and the refusal of officials to allow their meeting to be broadcast on local cable access.

A recent gathering of the Fin Com was scheduled to be covered by the local cable operation.  They had an employee at the meeting ready to broadcast, but were requested not to record or broadcast the meeting by Chairman Michael Deignan.  Rehoboth TV employee Derek Rousseau later confirmed this request was also “approved by two members of the BOS (Board of Selectmen)”, and thus viewers tuning in to see their government in action were instead treated to a black screen.

The meeting was expected to be controversial because of the presence of resident Christopher Morra, who was expected to dispute his recent ouster from that committee.  Deignan acknowledged he requested the meeting not be televised, stating “I see no reason to waste the town’s money to record meetings which are going to be short.” 

Robert Mckim of the cable committee told selectmen his group had been ready and able to broadcast that night before being told not to.  Selectman Chairman Susan Pimental said she and her board did not want to be accused of censorship, but suggested new rules be put in place.  “Going forward I think we should have a policy on what gets recorded and televised”, she said.

Sorry Chairman Pimental, but this policy thing looks like just a dodge.   Censorship is exactly what you and Chairman Deignan engaged in, and it appears you did so willingly, knowingly and deliberately.  You should be ashamed of your actions.  They were disrespectful to your community and a slap in the face to the citizens you represent.

If the cable people were ready, the event should have been televised.  Ordering it to be kept from the viewing public is nothing short of disgraceful.  It is a stretch to maintain there was any reason other than politics to stop the broadcast.  The “wasting the town’s money” argument is so weak as to be laughable.  You should not be showing residents only the parts of the government you want them to see.

Officials did not want to give Christopher Morra a wider audience.  The controversial figure has long been at odds with various boards and officers, and televising the meeting was not going to be a pretty affair.  Deignan and selectmen did not want any more dirty laundry aired.  But that is not a valid reason for censorship.

This is part of the problem in having a cable operation directly under control of town government.  When they start deciding what people should not see, the citizens suffer.  But why should Rehoboth officials worry about any backlash?  Local voters have not shown very much interest in what their government does.

The last election had no contested races for anything except constable.  An embarrassingly small turnout of just 5 percent bothered to cast ballots.  Rehoboth is the only area town that runs partisan local elections, where Republicans and Democrats nominate candidates for selectmen and school committee, making the process that much more closed.  And there is no town manager, only a weak administrator position, thus allowing selectmen to pretty much run the day-to-day operations.

Any town official who refuses to allow local meetings to be broadcast is not worthy of holding office.  They should resign, because they obviously do not understand the importance of transparency in government.
Chairman Deignan pointed out the Open Meeting Law does not require all meetings to be televised.  That is true.  But those who hide behind that as a reason to restrict public viewing do a disservice to their community.

 Wake up, Rehoboth citizens.  Your officials are trying to keep you in the dark.

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

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Red Sox Suck Me in One More Time

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on April 12, 2013

By Bill Gouveia

They’re doing it to me again.  Or more accurately, I’m letting it happen.  You’d think I would eventually learn.

The Red Sox are sucking me in.  And I just can’t stop the madness.

When the Sox started 0-76 last season (I know, but it sure seemed like 0-76) it was a blessing in disguise.  They were an awful team.  And worse – or better, depending on how you look at it – they were boring with boring and unlikeable players.  It was easy to give up watching intently early on in the summer.

 Oh, I know what you are thinking.  But I am not a fair-weather fan.  I’ve been rooting for the Red Sox since I was old enough to change the radio station.  I’ve lived through Dick Stuart playing first base, Luis Aparicio falling down rounding third, Bucky Bleeping Dent’s weak little homer, and of course Bill Buckner playing the role of one of the harbor tunnels.  I’ve seen bad, and endured.  I’ve believed.

Naturally 2004 and 2007 healed a lot of wounds and earned what I thought was a lifetime of goodwill.  I told myself, no matter how awful things get they can never go back to being as bad as I remember.  The Red Sox of my youth (meaning prior to 1967) were a thing of the past.

Then came the “chicken and beer” Red Sox of two summers ago, blowing a sure playoff spot, acting like they just didn’t care and getting the best manager in franchise history fired.  That was followed by last year’s squad that quit early in the season on a bad leader.  They traded away a lot of talent to free up a lot of salary, and struggled while putting an inferior product on the field and still charging outrageous prices to watch it.

They were not exciting.  They were not fun.  They did not inspire loyalty.  They made watching “Dancing With The Stars” seem like a fulfilling evening and a viable alternative.  I actually left the house on Sunday afternoons in July and August.  Life was turned upside down.

But I adjusted.  I found new interests.  Sure, I still watched some games.  It was like driving by a horrible traffic accident.  I didn’t want to look, but I just had to see how bad it truly was.  The images I saw haunted me for a long time.

So when Spring Training rolled around this winter, I scoffed at the excitement.  I did not watch the equipment truck leave Fenway.  I refused to view so much as an inning of any exhibition games.  I paid no attention to the Jackie Bradley controversy.  Heck, I didn’t even realize Stephen Drew was on the team.

When they opened the season in New York against “that team”, I barely listened on the radio.  The victory made me happy, but I knew “that team” was pretty bad this year.  I refused to get even slightly excited.

But they won the next day, then took two of three from a strong Toronto team.  I felt the irresistible tug on my emotions.  I started to pay a little attention.  I noticed Shane Victorino was crushing the ball.  Will Middlebrooks hit three homeruns in one game, John Lester and Clay Buchholz each won their first two starts, and there was a crazy relief pitcher jumping up and down in the dugout after ending an inning.

No, I thought.  This can’t be happening.  I can’t let them do this to me so easily.

Then at the home opener, Daniel Nava hit a three-run homer late to beat the Orioles and keep the Sox in first place.  They were suddenly leading the American League in runs scored.  And Big Papi is still trying to remember how to run down in Florida.

Suddenly I was checking the schedule again.  I was looking at the availability of tickets.  I checked the TV listings to see when the game started.  And all this after just seven or so contests.
I don’t know if this will last, but I am helpless to stop it.  I have once again surrendered to the promise of spring and summer.

My name is Bill, and I’m a Red Sox fan.  There’s nothing else to say.

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

Monday, April 8, 2013

It Town Meeting an a la carte type Deal?


By Bill Gouveia

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, April 8, 2013. 

The Town of Westborough is not a neighboring community, but is experiencing an interesting governmental issue local communities have no doubt come across before.  It involves Open Town Meeting and those who show up for certain articles, vote, and leave.


A few weeks ago a quorum of Westborough voters began their Town Meeting.  But as the budget article approached, a steady influx of people began to stream in.  It turns out most were citizens interested in passing the school budget.  Many had received a series of text messages from people at the meeting letting them know the budget article was approaching.


That meant many of the busy folks who could not or did not want to devote many hours of their day to this civic duty could show up when their favorite topic was at hand, vote, and then leave.  After conclusion of the budget action, “at least 100 people” left the meeting, according to Advisory Finance Committee Chairman Edward Behn.


Behn worried that people coming for one issue and then leaving damages the integrity of Town Meeting.  He said, “I think whenever the integrity of the meeting is undermined, it hurts us all.” 


Selectman George Barrette also found the practice objectionable, although he noted it is certainly legal.  “We have a problem.  It’s a big one, and it’s not going to get better,” he added.


While the texting aspect is relatively new, the problem of voters leaving after voting on something of specific interest is not.  It is pretty common, and something local voters have complained about for decades.  And for many Open Town Meeting communities, it promises to keep occurring regularly.


Technology has not been friendly to the Open Town Meeting format.  Many citizens today prefer to watch meetings and gather information on their televisions or computers or smart phones.  Then they want to vote on the matter at hand quickly..  They would be happy to do it from home.  Many are willing to leave the more mundane and boring business for those able and wishing to actually spend hours in a school auditorium or gymnasium during their free time.


They see nothing wrong with going to only a certain part of the meeting, voting on the issue, and leaving.  When criticized for this, they often seem surprised. 


“Would you rather we stay at home and not be involved at all?” asked one local resident I questioned about this phenomenon.  When told some would prefer that over seeing folks just come, vote and leave, that same person responded:  “It’s the 21st century.  Times have changed.  Deal with it.”


And that person has a point.


In this day and age, it is difficult to get people to devote hours of their time to a governmental system that has changed little over the last few centuries.  Town Meeting is often tedious, plodding, and monotonous.  It is these things by its very nature, through no real fault of its own.


For a local political junkie like me, it is interesting and worthwhile.  For most normal folks, it is not.  This is clearly evidenced by the fact that an extremely small percentage of voters attend.


When they come and vote on something but refuse to stick around for complicated zoning articles or authorizing the revolving account for the annual white goods recycling day, we act surprised.  And we blame them – not the system that makes their lives difficult..


  OTM was never meant to be fast.  It was designed to be both democratic and thorough.  Most importantly, it was intended to be a voice for the people where every citizen has the opportunity to be heard and be counted. It is the purest form of democracy.


But it was never intended to be a vehicle for voting only on what you want, then going home.  Yet that is what it has become in many towns.  And because we can’t stop that, we pass rules to make it even easier.


I love and respect Open Town Meeting.  I continue to attend my own, and urge others to do the same.  But when they can’t devote hours to the process, I have trouble blaming them. 


Have they left their system of government – or has it left them? 


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

Friday, April 5, 2013

North Attleboro Turnout Reflects on Government

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, April 5, 2013

By Bill Gouveia
            North Attleboro held an election this past Tuesday, but hardly anyone noticed.

            Town officials are bemoaning the fact only 9.6% of the more than 18,000 registered voters bothered to cast ballots this week.  They are talking about what they have to do to get people to vote.  On Tuesday night, Election Commission Chairman Kevin Poirier said “This is downright disgusting.  It’s the lowest we’ve had in quite a while.”

            He is right, it is disgusting.  But it is also largely the fault of the election commission, the selectmen, and other town officials who have continuously and consistently given voters more than enough reason to stay home during local elections. 

            North officials had the opportunity to do what several other area communities have done and move their local election to April 30th to coincide with the statewide senatorial contest.  They could have saved money, made it more convenient, and almost guaranteed a larger turnout – which is what they keep insisting they really want.

            But the commissioners recommended against it, citing aging voting machines, confusing ballots and the strain on election workers.  The selectmen agreed, and thus North’s voters will be called to the polls twice this month instead of just once.

            Selectmen placed a non-binding question on the ballot asking voters yet another variation of the same question they have been answering for over a decade – should the town change the form of government?  Of course, they asked it while providing absolutely no details, how much it would cost, how it would take place – minor things like that.

            If your town officials would rather make things easier for themselves than you, why should you bother to vote?  And if your government isn’t going to listen to what you say, why should you keep saying it? 

            The answer to both questions is – because it’s the right thing to do.  Regardless of how dysfunctional or self-serving their local government may be, North Attleboro voters have a responsibility to participate in selecting those who run it.  Giving up and staying home helps no one.  There simply is no valid excuse for the horrible turnout this past week.
            But when 85% or more of your voters stay away consistently over the course of a decade or so, you can’t just lay the blame on them.  The turnout problem reflects poorly on the town as a whole, and the town government in particular. 

            North Attleboro voters certainly turned out for the presidential election last year.  They have a history of making their votes count in state elections as well.  The problem is not that they are disinterested in politics and government, or don’t care about their taxes or services.

            The problem may well ben they just don’t think their votes on the local level really make any difference.

            Just a couple of months ago, I wrote the following regarding local elections:  “You might think town officials would be happy when the turnout is much higher.  My experience is that is not necessarily so, though most won’t admit it.  The feeling is often that the “regular voters” are being overrun by the folks who usually stay home during the local contest.  In a weird kind of reverse logic, that is often seen as undermining the local election.”

            I believe that is the case in North Attleboro, perhaps to an extreme.

            North Attleboro officials got the turnout they deserved, and probably wanted.  They continue to offer voters meaningless non-binding questions which produce meaningless non-binding answers and solve nothing.  They continue to refuse to centralize authority in a government that obviously needs just that.  They continue to appear more concerned about maintaining the status quo than giving the majority of voters what they want and need.

            When having a total of three contested races for over 100 RTM seats is considered an improvement, your governmental system has real problems.  North’s RTM attracts neither candidates nor voters in any great volume.

            Better advertising of the election is not the answer.  Voters are not stupid or oblivious, they just think participating in their local government is a waste of time.  And sadly – on many fronts – they keep being proven right.

            Hey North Attleboro officials – you want bigger turnouts?  Try giving your citizens a better government.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Gay Marriage Now All About Politics

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, April 1, 2013


By Bill Gouveia

A decade ago you could barely find a politician who would publicly favor gay marriage. Today, elected officials are jumping on that bandwagon faster than Pink Hat Red Sox fans hop on board in the middle of a pennant race.

The former President who signed the Defense of Marriage Act now says it should be repealed. The current President has come out in favor of gay marriage and has refused to enforce federal rules designed to prevent it. And recently the conservative Republican senator who was almost the party’s vice presidential candidate came out in favor after his son came out about his homosexuality.

The United States Supreme Court is deciding a case that could make gay unions legal across the country. Yet judging from the tone and content of their public questions (not always a good barometer) it seems they are merely trying to delay the inevitable until they believe more of the country is willing and able to accept it.

In other words, the battle over gay marriage is – at this point – pretty much all about politics.

That is hardly a new or shocking revelation, but the obviousness of it now is so much clearer than it was just five years ago. That is sad, because for the people directly affected by it this has never been about politics. For them it is about love, life, commitment, and equality.

Gay people want the right to marry their same-sex partners and have it recognized by the government. They want the right to inherit, the right to medical visitation and decisions for spouses, and for their families to have rights equal to those given to heterosexual families.

Quite honestly, it doesn’t seem like a lot to expect. And it is rather amazing they even have to be asked for anymore.

This is not a religious issue. America has no national religion. Allowing gay civil marriages does not damage any specific faith, other than perhaps some religion’s sensibilities. No one is being forced into any kind of marriage, homosexual or otherwise.

Yet our leaders have approached this basic civil rights issue as though it was a newfangled nuclear weapon. Justice Anthony Kennedy said during the recent proceedings, “We have five years of information to weigh against 2,000 years of history or more.” And Justice Samuel Alito asked of pro-gay marriage lawyers, “You want us to step in and render a decision based on an assessment of the effects of this institution, which is newer than cellphones or the Internet?”

These justices are selectively utilizing history. Gay marriage may be relatively new, but gay people and gay couples have been around almost as long as the human race. To somehow claim the effects of officially recognizing something that has always existed is going to harm those who believe it is immoral or too expensive is just wrong and repulsive.

How long does it take to properly assess whether denying rights to people based upon nothing but their sexuality is something this country should continue to do?

To answer Justice Alito’s question – no, you should not render a decision based upon those things. Instead you should render a decision based upon the law and the principles of equality upon which this country was founded. Stop worrying about what the people might be ready for, and instead concentrate on what they need.

It is hard to fathom what the big deal is here at home in Massachusetts, where gay marriage has been legal since 2004. Yet legally married Bay Staters are refused the rights granted to heterosexuals on a federal basis and in other states.

Public opinion is evolving on this issue. A majority polled now believe same sex marriage should be legal across the country. But frankly, that is not a good reason to make it so.

The reason it should be legal and recognized is because civil marriage should be a right afforded all Americans.

Gay marriage does no harm to the so-called “traditional” part of the institution. In the late 1960’s the Supreme Court ended discriminatory laws against interracial marriage, helping a split nation move forward.

It is time for a highly divided and terribly politicized court to once again step up and do the same.

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