Friday, September 27, 2013

NRA Has No Answer to Real Problem

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, September 28, 2013.


By Bill Gouveia


According to the executive director of the National Rifle Association (NRA), the answer to reducing gun violence in America is always the same:  We need more guns.


When there's a shooting in a school, they propose arming teachers.  When a disturbed individual shoots up a US Navy yard, the answer is to arm more individuals.  Their reply is always the same, always consistent - and usually wrong.


There should be a clear distinction drawn between the dues-paying membership of the NRA and their political leadership.  People generally join the NRA because they believe in the 2nd amendment, they believe in their right to responsibly bear arms.  They believe they need someone in Washington lobbying for their constitutional position and protecting their rights. No problem there.


But the leadership has become detached from those it represents.  Oh, it still does the basic job those members pay them to do.  There may be no more effective or feared lobbying force in our nation's capital than the NRA.


But those who run it no longer seek to carry out the will of their members.  Instead, they tell those members what it is they really want.  The tail is wagging the dog here, and the result is an organization with tremendous power and influence that no longer feels the need to even pretend to act responsibly.


The NRA today is little more than a broker of fear.  They are powerful because they tap into the innate distrust most Americans have of their government and their fellow man.  That fear is the source of their power, and without it they are nothing more than yet another group of professional influencers trying to make a buck.


Their philosophy is to give absolutely no ground in restricting or regulating gun ownership, regardless of how reasonable any proposal may be.  Even the simple and common-sense concept of background checks - which the NRA supported when they thought they could not stop it - is nothing more than an obstacle to their self-serving goals.


Just days after the deadly shooting in Washington, the NRA took to the airwaves to tell us guns were not in any way responsible.  They told us the blame lies with our system of mental health care.  Or more accurately, they blame our concentration on treatment over confinement.  


The NRA director clearly stated we need to lock up more mentally disturbed people, while at the same time opposing even the most rudimentary attempts to screen them and locate them when they try to buy guns.


Yet most of the NRA's political supporters are the same people trying to limit healthcare availability.  They want the system to find these people, but don't want to spend any money to make that happen.  They want to repeal the law giving access to such care and prevention, while simultaneously complaining about the inevitable result of such an action.


The NRA is hardly alone in practicing this type of fear-based political extortion.  There are many organizations and causes on both the left and the right guilty of the same type of reprehensible conduct and strategy.  The NRA is just better at it than most.  They have turned it into something of an art form.


What kind of world is it we live in when providing healthcare for everyone is something to be repealed and denied, but performing background checks on potential gun owners is seen as outrageous?  We seek to increase the possibility of shooting someone, but decrease the possibility of sick people seeing doctors?


The NRA director is right when he says the mental health system is broken.  He is right when he says we need to better enforce laws already on the books.  He is right when he defends the basic concept of responsible gun ownership.


But he is wrong when he simply espouses more of the product that makes him a rich man as the answer to our societal woes.  


He and his organizational team remain a formidable collection of organized thugs intimidating politicians into doing their bidding.  They don't care about being "right", nor do they make any attempt at it.  They are all about winning.


But if the NRA keeps winning, Americans will keep dying.  It is well past time for reasonable compromise.


Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be reached at and followed on Twitter at @billinsidelook.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Foxboro Official Needs to Stop Showing Off

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, September 23, 2013

By Bill Gouveia

            Foxboro may be “The Gem of Norfolk County” as it proudly proclaims, but the actions of some of their residents and officials concerning the proposed Plainville slot facility are making that good community look more like “The Hub of Hypocrisy”. 

            As the Plainridge Racecourse’s candidacy for the single Massachusetts slot license has risen from the ashes, so have attempts by Foxboro to either derail that effort or cash in on it.  And frankly, some of those efforts have become almost embarrassing.

            Gambling laws in Massachusetts allow for mitigation payments to communities surrounding those who host such facilities, in recognition of the impact they may experience.  This impact includes traffic, strain on infrastructure, and the “social impact” including increased compulsive gambling and various other concerns.

            This is a good idea.  Far too often we worry about such impacts after the fact, rather than planning for them.  Foxboro and other neighbors may well be entitled to some funding for problems created in this somewhat unique situation. 

            That is why Foxboro has a racino committee charged with making recommendations in this area.  Chaired by resident Michael Davison, this group seems to be taking a reasonable approach towards determining the impact and proposing fair and equitable remedies for it. 

However, the same cannot be said for at least some members of the town’s Board of Selectmen. 

Chairman Mark Sullivan was part of the majority of selectmen who refused to even give his fellow townspeople the option to vote on having a full-blown resort casino in town a while back (though he was initially in favor of negotiating, before changing his mind in the face of extreme political pressure).  Now he has become a vocal and arguably rude critic of the proposed Plainville project.

“It’s not what I signed up for as a father in Foxboro, raising children” the selectman said recently of the Plainville bid.  Then he added defiantly, “If we have to start kicking, we’ll start kicking.”

Really, Selectman Sullivan?  Do you think making this an adversarial situation is what is good for your community?  Do you believe implying Plainville citizens are welcoming something to town that is bad for children is the right approach here?  Do you think it might be a bit smarter to do more negotiating and less showing off if your true goal is to better serve your residents?

But let’s put aside the style with which the “mitigation” argument is being advanced here, and concentrate on the merits.  Frankly, it’s difficult to find much beyond the simple and obvious.  When gambling is closer to home, more people are likely to gamble.  It doesn’t take a study to figure that out.

And gambling – like drinking alcohol – can be addictive and dangerous.  Both can lead to financial woes, family problems, medical issues, and social disorders.  No one is disputing that.

But Selectman Sullivan and some others don’t seem overly concerned with the fact Foxboro has more liquor licenses within its borders than most if not all of its neighbors.  There are some 14 or so licenses in Patriot Place alone, not including the license to sell alcohol at Gillette Stadium.  Every day a whole lot of people go to those establishments to drink, and many probably live in or travel through neighboring Plainville.

Does Selectman Sullivan believe Foxboro should pay “mitigation” to Plainville for this?  Is he concerned about the impact of these businesses and the possible social ills they might cause neighbors?  Or is his concern offset by the fact his town receives the revenue they produce, while the racino will mainly benefit Plainville?

Selectmen Sullivan and his fellow town officials were all elected or appointed to represent Foxboro, not Plainville or any other community.  They owe it to Foxboro residents to protect their interests as best they can.

But in doing so they should apply the same standards to themselves and their community as they do to Plainville and the potential racino operators.  And they should quit the hypocritical drama and concentrate on the practical realities of the situation.

Selectmen Jim DeVellis suggested Foxboro “reserve our comments until we hear what they (Plainville) are going to do and hear what their proposal is.”  That’s the type of leadership worthy of “The Gem of Norfolk County”.

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

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Congress Needs to Come To Town Meeting

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on September 16, 2013

By Bill Gouveia

            Congress is the legislative branch of our federal government.  It is where our laws are created, our budget is passed, and decisions affecting each and every one of us are made.  It is comprised of citizens who represent other citizens and exercise awesome responsibilities on their behalf.

            And they have done an awful job of it lately.  In fact, this current Congress may well be the worst and least effective national legislative body in our illustrious history as a nation.  Our congressmen and women have engaged in little serious debate, accomplished virtually nothing legislatively speaking, and managed to alienate a large percentage of the voting public.

            They don’t seem to understand the art of compromise.  They apparently have no ability to work cooperatively in an environment that is often hostile and difficult.  They obviously are in need of serious help and advice.  I think I have an idea that might just aid them.

            Let’s invite the entire United States Congress to one of our local Town Meetings.  It might remind them what the point of being a legislative body is supposed to be – making decisions even when it’s difficult.

            It really doesn’t matter which one.  They can come to Plainville, or Norton, or Mansfield, or Foxboro.  They can stop by Wrentham, Seekonk, and Rehoboth.  They can visit the RTM in North Attleboro.  Each and every one of those deliberate bodies does a better job than our current Congress – which is hardly overwhelming praise.

            I don’t suggest this because our local Town Meetings are models of efficiency.  The truth is many of them are unwieldy, obsolete dinosaurs given the size of the communities they serve.

            But one thing they all share is – they know how to make decisions. 

They generally don’t postpone things, ignore things, or refuse to debate difficult issues.  They tackle all propositions brought before them, even the ones that frankly don’t make a lot of sense.  They understand the need to stay as long as it takes to get the job done.

Each Town Meeting also knows how to pass a budget.  They do it every year without fail.  They do it in times both good and bad, when there are budget deficits and when there are surpluses.  They never sidestep responsibility, never pass the buck to another branch of the government, never make excuses why they can’t do the job entrusted to them.

Perhaps our congressional representatives could watch the imperfect yet democratic way our Town Meetings debate the issues of the day.  Maybe they would learn debate can be controlled and yet still be productive, without all the partisanship and stuffiness Congress seems to treasure above actual production.

Town Meeting has to approve a balanced budget every year without fail.  Congress hasn’t approved a balanced budget since Lincoln was President, or so it seems.  Maybe Congress would be impressed by the fact a few hundred citizens with limited political experience manage to perform this important function annually, while our highly-paid professional legislators can’t seem to do the same.

We could manage to find room in the visitor sections for all 535 members of the House and Senate.  Heck, bring the President and Vice President while you’re at it.  They all might all be well served by a first-hand civics lesson and reminder that the people’s business can be done without the level of political animosity they can’t seem to avoid.

I’m sure Moderator Saquet in Mansfield would allow Speaker Boehner to have a seat up front so he could observe.  Moderator Billian would most certainly welcome congressional members in Wrentham, as would Moderator Martin in Plainville.  Each one of those elected officials or any of their counterparts in the area could provide an excellent example of moving government forward, not sideways.

Our expectations of Congress are not unreasonably high.  What they should be doing is achieved on a local level regularly, though admittedly on a much smaller scale.  It is not the difficulty of their task that is preventing them from success, but rather their unwillingness to do what it takes to make it happen.

So come on down, ladies and gentlemen of Congress.  Let us show you how it’s done.  After all, you really can’t do any worse.

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

Monday, September 16, 2013

Plainville Voters Got A Chance to Vote

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, September 16, 2013

By Bill Gouveia

Regardless of what happens now in the long and difficult saga of the Plainridge Racecourse and slot machine gambling in the Town of Plainville, one thing cannot be denied.

The people of Plainville, given a chance to study both sides of the issue, spoke loudly and clearly in favor of expanding gambling at the horseracing track located within its borders.  It probably won’t happen, given the politics of the situation and the way they were unfairly cheated by bad management at the track.

But although the potential financial implications are very important for the town and its taxpayers, even more important is that their leaders allowed them the opportunity to make an informed decision.  Regardless of whether a coin ever actually drops into a slot machine at Plainridge, the people have spoken.  There can be no honest debate about whether or not the business in question would be welcomed into the community.

About 37 percent of Plainville voters took the time to go to the polls, even though the likelihood of their decision actually mattering was small at best.  Over 75 percent of those casting ballots voted in favor of allowing the slot machine parlor.  That was about as close to Plainville speaking with one voice as you can get in a situation like this.

A lot of credit has to go to Plainville selectmen and their town administrator for allowing this to occur.  It would have been easy for them to fold their political tents, say they gave it the old college try, and take the easy way out of a no-win situation.  Given all the obstacles thrown in their path along the way, it would have been hard to blame them.

But they did what was necessary to give their citizens the chance to make an informed decision.  They allowed the initial application to go forward and negotiated in good faith to obtain a fair and reasonable contract.  When Plainville voters went to the ballot box, they knew the deal.  They had a reasonable estimate of the revenues, a written document outlining the rules and regulations, and they knew in general what the impact (financially and socially) would be on their town.

When you compare this to the situation in Foxboro, the difference in approach is stark.  Foxboro citizens never got the opportunity to vote on a casino deal because their selectmen never bothered to get the facts and present them.

While they will tell you the election of two years ago was a de facto referendum on the casino issue – it was not.  It could not be because there had been no negotiated deal, no outlining of payments, no written commitment to specific conditions.  Foxboro citizens were prevented from ever knowing what their deal could have been, because their town officials refused to allow it.

Selectmen in that community chose not to give citizens the opportunity afforded Plainville voters, no doubt in large part because of their personal beliefs as to what was best for Foxboro.  But the political aspect was obviously a huge factor also.  Given organized local opposition, Foxboro selectmen reversed their initial position and folded faster than the proverbial “cheap suit”.

There were three other major differences in the Foxboro/Plainville comparison.  First, Foxboro was facing a resort casino – much different on all levels than a slot complex.  Second, Foxboro’s project was to be proposed by an established firm with a strong reputation and financial position.  And third – Foxboro’s town manager manipulated the issue for his own political and professional advantage, while Plainville’s town administrator handled the situation professionally at all levels.

Everyone can argue the advantages or disadvantages of having a gambling facility in your town.  You can weigh the impact of the money, the effect on the community, the traffic, and the moral implications.  It is a difficult decision to make.

Plainville voters made that decision, and they did it without much of the bitterness and divisiveness that has torn apart other communities.  They gathered the facts, discussed it publicly, and decided collectively.

Whether or not the facility ever comes to town, Plainville has set an example for other communities to follow.  When allowed to consider all the facts, people will generally make the choice best for all.

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

Monday, September 9, 2013

Look Everywhere When Hiring Town Managers

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, September 9. 2013

By Bill Gouveia

            It’s not easy being a town manager or town administrator anywhere, but it is particularly difficult to hold one of those lofty titles here in Massachusetts.  As with many things in our beloved Bay State, we tend to be parochial when it comes to handing over authority and tax dollars.

            The very structure of our state and local governments here in Massachusetts is pretty much designed to prevent “outsiders” from coming in and messing up the system we have loved and lived with for the last 200-300 years.  When it comes to everything from bidding for lucrative contracts to hiring professional personnel, we tend to stick to the familiar and those nearby us.

            Of course, there is nothing bad or unusual about that – at least when it is done in moderation.  Almost everywhere in the country, local candidates and companies get preference over “outsiders”.  But here we have brought that to new levels when it comes to municipal decisions, particularly on the hiring of chief executive officers.

            It is unusual for someone to come from the Midwest or the south or really any other part of the country and become a town manager in Massachusetts.  It is not totally unheard of (see Mansfield Town Manager William Ross) but is far from the norm.  The reasons usually given are that experience with complex Massachusetts laws and regulations are crucial to being able to properly manage a local community.

            The truth is while that is helpful, it is hardly critical.  While we like to fancy ourselves as more “complex” than the rest of the country, much of that is a myth created to give local candidates and concerns an edge.  A good manager is a good manager, no matter where they come from or where they gained their experience.

            So it might make you chuckle a bit when you see manager after manager recycled through various cities and towns.  Turnover is inevitable and simply comes with this highly political job.  If a manager does his/her job well, they have to burn some political bridges along the way that may ultimately cost them their job.  If it’s stability you want, this is definitely the wrong profession.

            When Kevin Paicos left Easton after 15 years, his exit was hardly graceful.  But it was a love-fest compared to his recent departure from Foxboro after less than three years there.  He had a couple of unremarkable short stays in-between.  Still, he seemed a good choice to many - including yours truly - when Foxboro (just one town away from Easton) hired him as manager.

            Pam Nolan came to Seekonk from Truro, and now is headed to Rhode Island.  The public relations disaster that has been her tenure in Seekonk did not seem to discourage nearby Narraganset from making her their top choice.  Granted that is not a Massachusetts community, but the principle remains the same. 

            When former town manager John D’Agostino left Mansfield, the situation there could not have been any more ugly or disturbing.  Yet he wound up in Abington before once again leaving in a less-than-professional manner after some high profile performance issues.  It makes you wonder how wide the search for candidates truly was.

            The philosophy of “local is everything” goes a long way here in New England.  Our particular brand of Civil Service (though slowly dying a well-deserved death) is a prime example.  Geography rather than qualifications often decide who becomes a police officer or firefighter, or even chief of the department.

            With both Seekonk and Foxboro preparing to search for new managers/administrators, it will be interesting to see what approach each community takes.  Foxboro has discussed hiring a professional company to help with the search, and Seekonk’s post is not even technically vacant yet. 

            If it turns out the best candidate is a Massachusetts resident, each town should hire them.  But these jobs are important enough (and pay enough) to warrant a wide and complete search.  Spending money to fly a potential manager in from some distance for an interview is preferable to eventually paying a six-figure severance package to a local individual.

Almost every candidate brings with them both experience and baggage.  The trick in hiring one is being able to tell the difference.

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