Monday, August 26, 2013
This column originally appeared in The Sun Chroncle on August 26, 2013
AN INSIDE LOOKBy Bill Gouveia
For many of us it is difficult to recognize changes in our behavior and habits as we grow older - unless of course you have been blessed with children. They usually have no problem stepping up and telling you when you start to exhibit symptoms of aging, either physically or socially.
When you are a dad with two sons, it’s even easier. If I ever start to wonder if I’m slipping in any particular area of life, all I have to do is go see one of my boys. They seem more than willing to highlight any areas of failure my wife may have skipped out of sympathy.
The fact they are usually correct is no consolation and in my mind no justification for their general honesty and accuracy. In fact, it just gives me more motivation to live long enough to see them reach my current age bracket. I want to be able to make fun of them and point out their inevitable shortcomings - assuming I am still capable at that point, of course.
The examples of this type of thing are easily documented. It starts when they begin groaning when you make the same corny remarks or tell the same old stories over and over again to their friends or relatives. The rolling of eyes comes first, followed by the annoying finishing of your sentences, concluding with the sad shaking of the head as if to indicate a deep sorrow for what has been lost.
I was on the way to a Patriot’s game last year with my best friend and my oldest son when one of the most jarring and memorable examples occurred. My buddy and I were having one of our usual discussions, like we have thousands of times in front of my son (my boys still call him Uncle Rick). Then in the middle we were interrupted by incredulous laughter from the back seat.
You see, our conversation had started about our individual activities of that week and somehow digressed into a comparison of the different medical problems and medication we were each taking. If you are in your mid 50’s or so, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about and understand how it goes.
“Oh yeah, I had that done.” “What medicine did they put you on after that?” “Do you take it two or three times a day?” “They say if that one doesn’t work, I’m going to have to go on the same stuff you take.”
My son was aghast. “When did you guys get this old?” he asked with more than a hint of glee in his voice. We exchanged knowing glances and then joined in his laughter – though not as heartily.
“Wait until you’re our age and have been married for 35 years or so – then you’ll understand”, Rick told him. My son merely shook his head and went back to his smartphone, no doubt a little bit more worried about his future than he had been before the conversation.
As much as I would love to ignore this and other warning signs, the age bell seems to be ringing louder these days. Trying to stay up for Red Sox west coast games is a lost cause. Mowing the lawn seems to take a bit longer than it did in prior years. Any alcoholic beverage I drink now usually comes with an umbrella.
But I can still get down on the floor and play with my grandchildren, even if I am a bit slower in getting up. I manage to keep posting on Facebook and other social media, no doubt embarrassing my offspring. And most importantly, I keep whipping their butts at fantasy football.
Their mother has not been completely spared from this treatment, although they generally tend to be much kinder to her. She still thinks she is picked on, but she has it easy. She no doubt deserves that after being with me for the last 40 years.
The fact my kids care enough to tease me is in truth a great comfort and source of pride for me. But please don’t tell them – then they might actually stop. And that would be the hardest adjustment of all.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at email@example.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.
Monday, August 19, 2013
This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, August 19, 2013
AN INSIDE LOOK
By Bill Gouveia
If Mansfield selectmen expect those who sell alcoholic beverages in town to be serious about not serving minors, the board must start demonstrating their own seriousness by imposing severe penalties on those who fail that responsibility. Their recent actions in that regard have fallen just as short as the efforts of some of their licensees.
Mansfield Police conducted compliance checks (often called “stings”) back in June. Eight of the town’s licensees failed that check by selling liquor to two minors without checking their identification properly. Eight establishments – that is a very high number to have fail this most basic responsibility that comes with this privilege.
Especially when you consider the fact each business was warned the “sting” was coming weeks in advance. The element of surprise was not a factor here. These businesses knew a compliance check was imminent, and they still failed miserably at what is arguably the most important single job of a liquor license holder – making sure no minors are served alcohol.
So what ended up being their punishment for this most serious and preventable violation?
Well, they were forced to accept an official police reprimand. They got a serious scolding from selectmen. They were required to provide additional training for all employees. And they must pass up to two follow-up compliance checks.
Wow – that should teach them, huh? No messing around with Mansfield authorities is obviously the clear message here. These businesses must be reeling under the terrible punishment handed out by the local licensing authority. And in case there is any confusion – that’s sarcasm being expressed here.
The reprimand is fine, and should go without saying. The additional training for all employees is something that should be expected and required from all businesses serving alcohol even if they have no violations. And having to pass at least two follow-up compliance checks? That’s not a punishment. It is what they were supposed to do in the first place, and what most of their competitors obviously have already done.
The bottom line is these license holders got off easy - so easy it raises the question of whether selectmen are providing enough of a deterrent to prevent future offenses.
In fairness to selectmen, they accepted plea agreements negotiated by police officials and recommended by town counsel. Negotiating the plea does spare the town any possible appeals, including the expense of a possible hearing before the ABCC in Boston as well as legal fees.
But Selectman Doug Annino had a good point before the vote when he said, “We’re cognizant of the alcohol problems we have in this town, but these violations were an easy thing to prevent. Considering the seriousness of the offenses, I don’t think the recommendations go far enough.”
He was right – they did not. Annino and member George Dentino initially backed a proposal to issue a one-day suspension, but in the end the milder negotiated settlement was accepted with only Annino voting against it.
Chairman Jess Apowitz told the businesses during their hearings, “If you’re here again, it’s not going to be a pretty sight.” While all parties appeared to take that warning seriously, you have to wonder about its long-term effectiveness. It rings hollow given the selectmen’s weak action.
Aside from the message it sends liquor license holders, the selectmen’s decision also might have an effect on young people throughout the community. Underage drinking – at places like the Comcast Center as well as neighborhood stores and restaurants – has been a major problem in town. There have been deaths associated with minors abusing alcohol, and no one takes that problem lightly – especially each selectman.
But actions speak louder than words. It is possible a one-day suspension might have been harder to enforce. It also might have hurt some of these businesses that are struggling right now in a difficult economy. Everyone makes mistakes, and most of us deserve second chances.
But when you accept a liquor license, you also accept the awesome responsibility that comes with it.
Selectmen Annino had the right idea. These situations cried out for suspensions. The punishments did not fit the crimes. The message sent was the wrong one for everyone in the community.
The license holders were wrong, and the selectmen compounded their error.
Friday, August 16, 2013
This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday. August 16, 2013
AN INSIDE LOOKBy Bill Gouveia
Seekonk Town Administrator Pam Nolan is looking for a new job. She may need it sooner than originally planned.
Nolan has been in Seekonk just over two years now, and apparently has had enough of the raucous and personal politics prevalent there. She is currently a finalist for the position of town manager in Dracut, and was previously a finalist in both Topsfield and Maynard before those jobs were filled.
While interviewing with Dracut selectmen, Nolan described Seekonk’s political climate as “miserable”. She told them she was looking for a community with more political stability to allow her to focus on being a professional.
Frankly, the best way to focus on being a professional is to actually act professionally. That generally includes being careful about criticizing your current employer, also known as “biting the hand that feeds you”. But sometimes it is difficult to be truthful and careful at the same time.
At least some Seekonk selectmen were not happy with Nolan’s candor with her potential new bosses. Both Chairman Nelson Almeida and member Dave Parker expressed disappointment over her remarks.
Parker said Nolan did to the board “what she wouldn’t want anyone to do to her.” Almeida called her remarks “disrespectful to our elected officials here in Seekonk”. He added her statements “may make it difficult to find a new administrator for our town. A potential candidate reading a response like that may not want to work for our town.”
Nolan’s remarks did not seem to be disrespectful to any individual elected official in particular. If Selectman Almeida or any other official is taking the reported remarks personally, they perhaps need to thicken their political skins.
Their resentment of Nolan’s actions and statements is easily understandable. But with all that has gone on politically in Seekonk over the last few years, it is pretty clear any potential replacements won’t have to even know of Nolan’s remarks in order to have concerns about taking this job. All they have to do is read a few newspapers and talk to anyone in town to discover they would be walking into a hornet’s nest.
First, the job itself is structurally weaker than a town manager position. The selectmen exert a lot of control over the day-to-day operations. One of Nolan’s main complaints is the “micromanaging” that goes on with the board. While that claim is not unusual for town administrators in general, it is particularly valid in Seekonk.
From failing to publicize vacancies on town boards and then appointing themselves to fill the spots, to publicly berating town employees beyond what is necessary, to botching even the simple job of setting a town meeting date – the Seekonk BOS has a well-documented recent history that does not put the town in a favorable light.
If a potential candidate doesn’t want to work for Seekonk, it will most likely be more because of what selectmen have done than what Nolan has said. However, there will probably be no shortage of candidates when the job does open up. But qualified, experienced candidates? Well, that might be an issue. Time will tell.
Nolan probably should have chosen her words a little more judiciously when describing her current work environment, but it is difficult to argue with the validity of those statements. And to be sure, she has contributed somewhat to her own problems. She is not a blameless victim here.
But this should be yet another wake-up call to a board that seriously needs to come to grips with its own issues. Seekonk’s town governmental structure is disjointed and easily manipulated. There needs to be some studying done on how to change it for the better, and how to centralize authority in a true professional manager.
If selectmen believe they and not the paid professional they are entrusted to hire should truly be in charge, then the bevy of problems being experienced will continue. If they decide to come together and forge a new attitude of consolidating authority and re-instilling confidence in the integrity of town government, Seekonk should have no difficulty attracting excellent candidates for the soon-to-be-open position.
But if they don’t, selectmen need look no further than the nearest mirror to locate the real reason why.
Monday, August 12, 2013
This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, August 12, 2013
AN INSIDE LOOK
By Bill Gouveia
Given recent events dominating Foxboro’s town government, a serious and important question has surfaced: Do government officials have any responsibility to tell citizens the truth these days?
In Foxboro, truth seems to be a rare commodity when it comes to the relationship between now former town manager Kevin Paicos and the Board of Selectmen. While no one is accusing either party of actually lying, they are both most definitely keeping the truth from the citizens they were sworn to serve. Remaining to be seen is if they get away with it.
For those unfamiliar, Paicos and selectmen reached an agreement where the former manager will get full pay and many benefits over the next 11 months for doing pretty much nothing. This follows many weeks of an unexplained “paid administrative leave” after selectmen declined to renew his employment contract beyond June 30, 2014. The current agreement contained that year-early clause.
The board voted not to renew the town manager’s contract just weeks after granting him a raise, and have not explained that. They refused to give their reasons, other than to say it was their choice. Both those actions smack of expediency and a lack of courage – political and/or otherwise.
Why did selectmen deny the option shortly after granting a raise? Why couldn’t Paicos finish out his final year, like the school superintendent in Attleboro just did? What had gotten so bad that they agreed to pay him for not working? Many Foxboro folks would like to know.
It is easy to understand why Paicos isn’t talking. Why would he do anything to possibly damage such a sweet deal? But the refusal of selectmen to detail reasons for their actions in this matter is simply inexcusable.
One selectman told me this was just a business deal buy-out, and has happened before in Foxboro and elsewhere. But in a business buyout, doesn’t someone eventually explain the reasons for it to the stockholders? And aren’t the voters of Foxboro in essence town stockholders?
It is true selectmen have to deal with sensitive contract issues. Often they cannot discuss those matters publicly because of the privacy of employees and the very nature of negotiations, even though they might well like to do so.
But when Chairman Mark Sullivan was asked why selectmen wanted Paicos to leave, he (like the other selectmen) avoided the issue. “There’s five members of the board, and we voted unanimously that it was time to move in a different direction,” he said.
Sorry Mr. Chairman, but that’s not an answer for why you set up the taxpayers to take a hit of more than $250,000. It’s a dodge. If you can’t or won’t answer that basic a question beyond those words, you have no business claiming to properly represent the local citizenry.
It has been said and written that hiring Kevin Paicos was a mistake, and the cost of getting rid of him is just something that had to be paid. That is no doubt at least partially accurate.
But it has also been stated the current Board of Selectmen is just making the best of a bad situation they inherited. That is the poorest of excuses. Two members were serving when Paicos was hired, and four of the current board has given him respectable evaluations in the recent past.
What has also been implied (and in some cases stated) is that the situation would have been worse and more costly had they not settled with Paicos and ended up in litigation. Litigation over what? Shouldn’t someone at least publicly explain why the town was leveraged into such a high cost settlement?
While Paicos is now a convenient and deserving scapegoat for virtually all the town’s problems, the truth is this current group of selectmen has performed poorly. They have mismanaged their own town manager, mismanaged situations with the Kraft Group, and even had problems following the Open Meeting Law.
If Foxboro voters and citizens decide to accept the non-answers they have been given and simply move on, that is their choice. But they are being treated shabbily.
Getting rid of Paicos is a good thing, but it does not justify the selectmen’s actions. The situation in Foxboro is outrageous, and the Board of Selectmen needs to be held accountable.
Friday, August 9, 2013
This column appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday. August 9, 2013
AN INSIDE LOOK
By Bill Gouveia
Some things never get old. You can experience them again and again while still enjoying the same thrill and happiness you did the first time. Now for those of you who might be worried where I’m going with this – I’m talking about the unmatchable joy and pride involved with being a grandparent.
Last week I became a grandfather for the third time (amazing since I’m still claiming to be 39). My oldest son and his wonderful wife are now the proud parents of Samuel Christopher Gouveia, who joined his older brother (did I mention his name is William?) and his beautiful cousin Avery in the pantheon of my own Grandchildren Hall of Fame.
Sam checked in at 9 pounds, 3 ounces. I immediately notified the Kraft Organization to hold a spot open in the offensive line on the 2035 Patriot roster. By that time he will have graduated from whichever Ivy League school wins the bidding war. Sam is just as good-looking and brilliant as his fellow grandchildren, something I have easily been able to determine during the first week of his young life. And each of them is unique and special in their own way.
Sam had a tougher road to get here than my other two treasures did. I won’t get into the whole story because it belongs to my son and his family, but let’s just say it took a lot of work, sacrifice, love and tears to make it possible for young Samuel to join us. I am so proud of what my son, my daughter-in-law and oldest grandson did and accepted in order to complete their beautiful family.
For me, little changes in terms of my grandfatherly duties. In essence, I have one more perfect child to spoil rotten. That is hardly a difficult task, and only gets easier as they grow older. Having our granddaughter in Delaware makes things a little tougher, but with the proper dedication my wife and I are already accomplishing that worthy ultimate goal. Distance can’t stop the grandparent-grandchild bond.
We are fortunate to have our two grandsons living in Norton, and even luckier their parents are so understanding of our obsession with them. Well, understanding may be a bit strong – tolerance might be a better word. They have been great at allowing us to be a big part of our oldest grandchild’s life, and we look forward to bothering them just as much over the newest addition.
In turn, we are thankful for the computer age that allows us to communicate so often with our granddaughter despite the distance. I am a little worried she will grow up thinking I’m that strange man inside the computer screen, but plan to see her often enough to ensure that doesn’t happen. And thankfully her parents are fantastic about keeping us all in touch and visiting on a more than regular basis. It’s not quite like they are around the corner, but it closes that distance considerably.
You can’t have wonderful grandchildren without first having wonderful kids. We consider our daughters-in-law to be our children too, and our boys are lucky to have them. Being blessed with two amazing sons, I guess it only follows that our grandchildren would just as amazing.
My grandson was born last week, and just days later my Aunt Mary passed away. She came to this country as a child and lived the rest of her life on my grandparent’s farm in Norton. She was a symbol of my early childhood, my Portuguese heritage, and my extended family.
Her passing made clearer than ever to me the circle of life. One soul moves on, and another arrives as family ever changes. It reminds me time is so valuable and fleeting, and wasting it is something none of us can ever truly afford.
This September my oldest grandson will enter kindergarten, becoming the fourth consecutive generation of the Gouveia family to attend Norton schools. I hope to be around long enough to watch him, his brother, his cousin and any future little ones grow up and start their own families wherever life may take them.
Could I possibly ever become a great-grandparent? Maybe in another 20 years. You know, when I’m 50.
Bill Gouveia is an aging grandfather and local columnist. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.
Friday, August 2, 2013
This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, August 2, 2013
AN INSIDE LOOK
By Bill Gouveia
The world today is very different from the one that produced my generation. And yes, I did walk to school every day in all kinds of weather, uphill both ways. Except for the days I rode my bike (without a helmet, which might explain a lot to frequent readers).
I’m grateful for the progress we have made in this country over my lifetime with regard to safety and health concerns. That’s why I accept the need for bicycle helmets, car seats, and background checks on adults who work with children. The newer rules might be a little more restrictive than those of 40 years ago, but they make a lot of sense.
Well, many do. But someone is going to have to explain to me just what in the name of Sara Lee the Foxboro Board of Health thinks it’s doing.
In case you missed it, the BOH in that community recently released an email announcing that if you want to have a bake sale in town, you must get a permit from their board. In fairness, they did note the permit is free. All they require is that you fill out a simple form and comply with some simple rules, all for “trace back purposes” only.
That form asks for the name of your organization, your name, your address, telephone number and mailing address. You must give them the date, time and location of the sale, as well as the hours of operation. You must tell them what items you intend to sell or give away, and you must sign and date the application to attest to the accuracy of the information provided.
The application informs you that “potentially hazardous foods” such as eclairs are not allowed. They require you to label all products with the ingredients and the initials of the person who baked them. On a separate index card you must list what the item is, the ingredients in decreasing amounts, and the baker’s full name and address. If a brownie, cake or cookie mix was used, you must attach the ingredient panel from the box (including any added ingredients like eggs, oil, nuts, etc.).
Boy, that really makes you want to whip up a chocolate cake to raise money for the local church bake sale, doesn’t it? Well, maybe after you’ve updated your personal liability policy, gotten the minister to sign an insurance waiver, and submitted your medical records for the last five years - but only for “trace back purposes”, of course.
No one should underestimate the seriousness of food allergies or the spreading of dangerous bacteria or disease. I do not have any food allergies, but have seen the serious conditions they cause. And in tracing a dangerous outbreak of any kind of poisoning, there is no such thing as having too much information.
But this is nuts. Oh, sorry – I probably can’t say nuts without listing them on the warning label that obviously should accompany any newspaper column. With no malice intended towards anyone who is just trying to create and maintain the public health, I say with all due respect: This is crazy.
If you are really worried about allergies and the spreading of dangerous bacteria, you probably shouldn’t buy that apple pie from the local band parents association. You also should probably not buy that hot dog at the ballpark or the ice cream from the small stand down the street. In fact if you made vendors list the ingredients of a hot dog on a label attached to the bun, it’s likely no one would eat them at all.
I admit to ignorance when it comes to problems associated with bake sales. Perhaps I missed the news coverage of the deadly string of poisonings associated with the miniscule amounts of baked goods sold in small towns like Foxboro. In fact, in my own personal experience most of those goods end up being bought by the families of those who baked them in the first place.
I’m sure the Foxboro BOH took the bake sale action with the best of intentions and after careful consideration. But if there is a label on my next sausage at Gillette Stadium, they’re getting a nasty letter from me.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and has been known to cause irritation. He can be emailed at email@example.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.