Monday, October 28, 2013

Going to World Series a Family Affair

Thios column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, October 28, 2013.

By Bill Gouveia

            On Thursday, October 24, 2013 I realized one of my lifelong dreams.  I went to a World Series game at Fenway Park with my two sons.  And even though the Red Sox lost, it is an evening I will never forget.

This completes my personal professional sports championship experience.  I have now attended at least one Super Bowl, one NBA Finals game, one NHL Stanley Cup Finals, and now one World Series Game.  Not bad for a guy who has spent his whole life in Norton.

            I was in New Orleans when the Patriots won their first Super Bowl.  I was in the balcony when the Celtics beat the Lakers for the title in 2008.  But last Thursday night – well, that falls into a category all its own.

            The Red Sox occupy a special spot in the hearts and minds of sports fans of my generation.  While the Patriots have pulled neck-and-neck in the race for New England’s most popular team, the Red Sox continue to be part of our birthright.  They are history, interwoven into our culture.  While many may not understand the relationship between this team and their fans, it is something tangible and quite real.

            So when they unexpectedly wound up in the World Series this year, I decided this was an opportunity I just couldn’t pass up.  At 57, I have no idea when or if this chance might present itself again.  After all, this is only the sixth time in my lifetime it has happened.

            So with the support and encouragement of my amazing wife (who has been to a Super Bowl with me), I decided to get tickets for a game in Boston.  And we decided it would not be a complete experience unless my two boys came with me.

            Sports has always played a central role in our family, some might say to an extreme.  Family events are often planned around the playoff schedule.  We travel together to stadiums in other states to follow our teams.  Our conversations (when not about our grandchildren) tend to center around the local franchises.

            So we searched for tickets to Game 2 of the World Series, knowing that was when both my kids would be able to attend.  We ultimately found three seats together in the centerfield bleachers, for a price much higher than I would have liked.  But we went ahead and did it, figuring this was a Christmas present our children would never forget.

            Our sons were shocked when we told them, and initially said it was too much.  But I told them the honest truth – this was probably much more for me than them.  While the idea of actually attending a World Series game was thrilling, the prospect of going with both my sons would be well beyond that.  So they agreed, and Thursday afternoon it was off to Fenway Park.

            I saw my first Red Sox game in 1965 at the age of nine when my grandfather brought me to magical Fenway.  Ten years later I took him to our first playoff game, sitting out in the bleachers and watching the Sox advance to the World Series.

            On Thursday, some 48 years after going with my grandfather, I walked into the same baseball cathedral for a World Series game with my boys.  I was somewhat overwhelmed just entering the ballpark, but completely lost it when we went inside and approached the field.

            As we walked the concourse, my eyes welled up.  My kids looked at me, and I told them, “I know it’s stupid, but I never thought I’d live long enough to see a World Series game, especially with you two.”

            And they understood.

            We sat out in the bleachers and watched the game together.  The Sox wound up losing late on some silly errors, but we did experience the thrill of a clutch homer by David Ortiz.  We soaked up the atmosphere only a World Series shared by a father and his sons could provide.

            It was a dream come true, the thrill of a lifetime, and a parenting and family moment that can’t be duplicated.  And I never thought I’d say this – but the outcome didn’t really matter. 

I must be getting old.

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

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Norton Needs to Keep Band Going

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on October 21, 2013.


By Bill Gouveia


            Though it may have seemed trivial and relatively unimportant to many, the announcement last week that the Norton High School Band has dissolved to the point where it pretty much does not currently exist and cannot march in the annual Veteran’s Day parade has many people incredibly sad. 


            While the impact on the parade and the honoring of our deserving veterans is of prime importance, the current state of the band is disturbing on many levels.  It says something about our priorities today regarding both our educational systems and society in general.


            I am former president of the Norton High band.  It was back in 1974, and I might have been the worst president the band has ever had.  But I played the trumpet (not overly well) and enjoyed marching during football games and parades.


            I covered high school sports for this fine newspaper back then, and would walk the sideline in my band uniform taking notes until halftime.  Then I would make a mad dash for my trumpet, jump into line, and perform in the halftime activities.  My wife-to-be (yes, high school sweethearts) “played” the symbols.  Her big moment at each home game was the crash at the height of the Star Spangled Banner.


            Our children find our band experience embarrassing.  But as we tell them all the time – it was very cool to be in the band back then.  And it should be now too.


            Our marching band was 99 members strong, which was amazing considering our graduating class had only 99 members.  We won awards in statewide band competitions, and even recorded an album.  I was going to explain those are oversized CDs, but then realized even CDs are now obsolete.


            We were proud to be band members, as I’m sure recent band members were also.  We loved the parades, where we got decked out in our uniforms and represented our community.  We looked forward to the ceremonies at the town common, and the hot dogs the veteran’s organizations so generously served us at the finish.


            Today that pride in the band and the music program is considerably less visible despite the tremendous efforts of those great kids trying so hard to maintain that wonderful tradition.  There are just simply not enough of them. 


            It is not a completely sudden shift.  Both interest and funding (not a completely coincidental relationship) have been falling off for bands across the area for many years.  With the range of activities available to youth today greatly expanded and in some views diluted, it has been difficult to get students to commit the time and effort necessary to have a good band. 


            But there is a difference between having a “good” program and having a program at all.


            If not enough kids turned out for the football or baseball team, there would be a huge outcry throughout the town.  We should be just as concerned about this problem, and make every effort we can to find out why it is happening and address it.


            Educating our children is not just about books and math and computer skills.  It is also about creating well-rounded students who appreciate the arts and can contribute to them.  While not every kid is a musician, their high school years should expose and involve them to these things as much as possible.


            When I was in the school system, there was a program in place at the elementary level to get kids interested in playing music.  It was a great “feeder system”, and that has been somewhat revitalized in Norton in recent years.  But if the community thinks the music program is important, it has to start showing it more.


            This is not all about funding, nor is it unique to Norton.  And perhaps there is little we can do about it.  Our own kids never marched in the band, though my oldest still claims we forced him to join in his freshman year.  We understand how difficult it is to maintain this very important tradition.


            When there is no Norton High Band in the Veteran’s Day parade next month, it will be a sad day for my hometown.  Let’s hope it serves as a wake-up call all around the area.


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

Friday, October 18, 2013

Have to Let the Lens into Local Meetings

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, October 18, 2013

By Bill Gouveia

When local communities hold their public municipal meetings, they could never get away with excluding print reporters.  The resulting backlash and legal consequences would be swift and severe.

But that same "respect" (perhaps tolerance is a more accurate word) is often not extended to the television media - particularly local cable access.  As powerful as the written word is, we have become a visual society. That means actually being recorded during municipal business is a double-edged sword, giving the public unfettered access but also focusing the spotlight on local officials.

News articles or columns are always presented through the prism of those doing the writing, even in the most objective of circumstances.  Claims of being misquoted or having statements taken out of context can create reasonable doubt in the minds of many.  But actually being seen making the statement is yet another thing entirely.

This manifests itself in many ways on a local basis.  First and foremost, it makes control of local cable access a very important thing.  While many citizens watch and enjoy their community television stations, relatively few understand how they are run or who controls them.  This varies from town to town.

In many communities the local cable operation is controlled by a semi-public non-profit organization appointed in part by selectmen.  These groups come under mostly state regulations, and receive funding from a portion of the cable bills paid to the local cable company.  This usually amounts to several hundred thousands of dollars each year.

The best (or worst) example of the fight for control is Rehoboth. The messy, protracted, legal and highly political battle over control of local cable access there highlights just how powerful and profitable - politically and financially - controlling public access can be.

In Rehoboth the independent operation began acting in what local officials rightfully considered a suspicious and questionable manner.  They wrested control from the group, and in an ongoing legal battle are trying to recover missing equipment and account for questionable spending.

But placing control under selectmen has created different issues.  They have supported the chairman of the Finance Committee when he decided which of his committee's meetings should be televised and which should not.  This form of censorship is both politically expedient and frighteningly effective.

In Wrentham, the local cable access director has claimed the town administrator blocked the televising of a meeting of the Building Commissioner Search Committee. By the time an Open Meeting Law complaint could be filed, the interviews had been conducted and it was pretty much a dead issue.  Those with a cynical view might say -mission accomplished.

In Foxboro, the Advisory Committee is the group responsible for advising the citizens on all matters relative to Town Meeting.  While open to the public and welcoming visitors, they have resisted making it possible for their gatherings to be televised locally.

The philosophy here seems - at least in part - to be that televising the meetings discourages people from serving the community.  Good folks willing to step up and volunteer for this important job might not do so if they know they have to appear on television on a semi-regular basis.  They also might act differently if they know they are on TV.  It is claimed in the end, this hurts the town.

Being on television might be intimidating to many, and may discourage citizens who would otherwise serve from offering their talents.  But that is still not a good enough excuse to prevent people from watching their government in action.

Those who say people can come to the meetings if they really want to be informed are in serious denial.  That is just not a practical answer for most in these busy days. You must make local government as transparent and easy to follow as possible.

The idea the camera brings out the "political" side of officials may also be true - but not relevant. It is a lousy excuse. This type of public service must be actually performed in public.

When newspaper writers first were allowed into all public meetings, there were no doubt those opposed to that also.  But as it was then, sunshine remains the best disinfectant for government - even if it shines through a camera lens.

 Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be reached at or followed at @billinsidelook

Monday, October 14, 2013

Republicans Doing Shutdown All Wrong


By Bill Gouveia


There is a lot of talk around the country about the government shutdown.  Who is responsible for it?  Who is preventing it from ending?  Are the reasons for forcing it reasonable and acceptable?  Is it fair and proper to link it to repeal or alteration of the Affordable Care Act(ObamaCare)?


Allow me to offer my own succinct answers to those questions.  They are, in order:  Republicans – Republicans – No – and No.


All that may be no big surprise coming from me, a lifelong Democrat from Massachusetts.  But frankly, it’s hard to see or even comprehend how any reasonable person could honestly give any other answer.  The factsare clear, the motives quite visible, and the methods nakedly obvious.  This is a power play gone bad, carried out beyond the previously respected rules of acceptable behavior for national politicians – such as they were.


Here’s the bottom line, which I am far from the first to point out.  


Republicans are a deeply divided party, with the most conservative members firmly in control of many of the primary election processes.  In most places where republican incumbents exist, they must at least appear to be moving to the right of the political spectrum if they wish to survive a primary battle and retain their party’s nomination.


The clearest and most popular way to demonstrate that these days is to be in favor of repealing the ACA, an existing law despised by conservatives in particular.  In fact, Republicans in the House have succeeded in passing over 40 different repeals of the health care law, only to have them defeated in the Senate.


Now Tea Party members and others have forced Republicans into a tight political box.  They want the ACA repealed, or changed so much it results in a de facto repeal.  They don’t have the votes to do it in the usual, traditional and American manner.  So they are attempting to achieve their goal by shutting down the government and threatening to fail to fund expenditures they (Congress) have already approved with their own vote.


In other words, they are attempting to extort the President and Democrats by threatening to destroy the economy unless if they don’t get their way.


This is not a new ploy, nor one used by Republicans only.  Political extortion is done regularly utilizing a variety of issues.  It is not unusual for a bill seeking to do one thing to be loaded with totally unrelated amendments in order to win enough support to get it passed.  Democrats are just as guilty of that as Republicans.


But using the credit-worthiness of the United States as a weapon to repeal legislation passed by both houses, signed by the president, and the centerpiece of the last Presidential election?  Well, that’s pretty new territory.


Imagine this scenario for a second, if you will. Suppose Democrats control the House and Republicans control the Senate.  Suppose those House Democrats were determined to enact gun control legislation because those on the far left of their own party were demanding it,making it a major issue in primary elections.  Plus, like current Republicans, they believed in their ultimate goal.


So Democrats in the House engineer a shutdown of the government while pretending to just want negotiations.  They threaten to refuse to raise the debt ceiling, even though it is necessary to fund what they have already voted.  They hold America hostage in an attempt to institute new gun control laws, because they lack the votesto achieve it through the normal legislative process.


The reaction on the Republican side would be even worse than what we are currently witnessing from Democrats.  There would be charges Democrats were cheating the process and the public.  And those charges would be valid.


If Republicans want to change the ACA, they must do it the right way.  They cannot undermine the very basis of American government for their own political purposes.  Their actions are outrageous, indefensible, selfish andjust plain wrong.  They are now politically boxed in by their own arrogance and ambition, and are desperately searching for a way to save face.


You want to change the ACA?  Ok, take your best shot.  But respect the laws of this land and the processes that change them.

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

Friday, October 11, 2013

These Are My Three Favorite Things

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, October 11, 2013

By Bill Gouveia

            My desk at my real job is a pretty cluttered mess, reflecting much of my own personal life I suppose.  But three very special things are always on it, and have been for varying lengths of time.  They are:  A can, a rock, and an acorn.


            That may sound a bit strange, but some parents might quickly pick up on the relative significance of these seemingly random objects and how they are connected.  Each one is a gift I received from my two sons and my oldest grandchild.

            The can is the ranking member of the desktop crowd.  It is actually a pencil-holder, and is supposed to be either a rabbit or a kangaroo – I was never really quite sure which.  It was a Father’s Day gift from my oldest son Aaron almost 30 years ago, when he was in pre-school.  It is one of my most prized possessions.

            Whatever was in that can, now covered with faded paper, would have expired in February 1988 according to the stamp on the bottom.  And that old-school paste or glue had to be great stuff, because the paper is still bonded to that aluminum as if it were welded.  It can accommodate about 13 pencils, a highlighter, two magic markers and a bottle opener.

            Second in seniority is the rock, which prefers to be known as a paperweight.  For approximately 27 years or so now, it has professionally and seamlessly held papers on my desk.  A gift from my youngest son Nate early in his school years, it ranks right up there with the pencil-holder in my own personal pantheon of important and meaningful possessions.

            The rock – excuse me, paperweight – is decorated skillfully to look like a face.  While it was never really what you could call handsome, it has suffered some physical setbacks over the years.  It lost one eye about a decade or so ago (during a drunken brawl with the copy machine, according to office legend), and attempts to glue it back in place were unsuccessful.  The tongue is perpetually hanging out of its mouth, making me wonder if it has actually been mocking me all these years.

Then there is the third musketeer – the acorn.  The acorn is by far the junior member of the group, having only been with me a couple of years.  It originally came from just outside my office, but it is who gave it to me that makes this perhaps the most special present of all.

My oldest grandchild (did I mention his name is William?) gave me the acorn one day when he came with his mom to visit.  He was three years old at the time, and walked in like he owned the place (which I love).   He had a huge smile on his face and was clutching something in his small hand.

“Grandpa, I brought this for you!” he beamed, and held out the acorn.  I had never seen a more beautiful acorn, and immediately told him so.  He was very happy.

“You can keep it on your desk,” he told me excitedly.  I assured him that was my plan, and placed it in a highly visible spot towards the back of my cluttered work surface.  He then started looking around my office for snacks, and it appeared the acorn was forgotten.

But in the more than two years that have followed, young Will looks for that acorn every time he comes to visit Grandpa’s work.  And every time, without fail, that acorn sits where it belongs – and my grandson just smiles and knows I value his gift.

Over the last three decades I have lost approximately 27,459 handwritten notes, 12,226 pens, 7 million paper clips, hundreds of dollars, and probably a few employees -  all in the clutter that is my desk.

But I still have a can, a rock, and an acorn.  I will never lose them, because they are my treasure, my gold, things that remind me what is important in my life.  I look at them when I am working, and they always make it easier to get through the day.

They were given in love by my children and my grandson – and things like that you just never lose.

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

Monday, October 7, 2013

Foxboro After Termination, Not Mitigation

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, October 7, 2013

By Bill Gouveia

            Let’s be clear about something.  Officials and some others in Foxboro aren’t really worried about obtaining “mitigation” from the proposed operators of a slot gambling house in neighboring Plainville.  They are primarily interested in trying to stop the operation from ever opening.  If mitigation can help achieve that, they will use it.

            That is becoming increasingly obvious as town leaders go through the motions of trying to appear a part of the process when all they really want is to end it.  In fact, they seem to have almost completely given up all pretenses to the contrary.

            Now that Plainville citizens have voted by an overwhelming margin to agree to the proposal assumed by Penn National Gaming, Foxboro’s only role should be to make sure they get everything they are entitled to under the state’s new gaming law.  Who actually runs the slot house is almost irrelevant from a legal standpoint, as Foxboro should now be evaluating the impact of the operation as dictated by the actual agreement.

            But that’s not what is happening.  Instead, selectmen seem intent on questioning the right – if not the capability – of Penn National to even apply for the license. 

            The terms today are almost exactly the same as they were when Plainridge owners were the corporate entity seeking the state’s one slot license.  Only the names have changed.  While Foxboro certainly has both good reason and the right to be concerned about who is running the establishment, the framework from which mitigation must be considered has not really changed.

            That’s why it is both surprising and sadly amusing to watch the approach of selectmen to the mitigation debate.  This past week both Chairman Mark Sullivan and selectman Jim DeVellis complained the town’s ability to comment on the plan was restricted or voided by the Gaming Commission’s decision to allow Penn National as an applicant.

            DeVellis noted selectmen were hard-pressed to comment after the late decision.  He said the board’s respect for the Open Meeting Law in part prevented them from meeting in time to offer comments.

            Yeah, Foxboro’s respect for the Open Meeting Law has really caused them some hardships.  I mean, give me a break.  Foxboro has had many months to consider and comment on the current agreement.  The actual operational plan for the proposed parlor has changed little if it all.  Respect for the OML is the weakest of excuses.

            Foxboro officials this past week announced they were petitioning the Gaming Commission to order Penn National to consider Foxboro a “surrounding community”.  This would make the town eligible for mitigation funding.  Officials said they had been told by Penn National there were no plans to do this on their own.

            The next day Penn National announced they had submitted a letter designating Foxboro, Wrentham, North Attleboro and Mansfield as surrounding communities.  A spokesman for the gambling operator said, “We were surprised by their (Foxboro’s) reaction today.”

            Following a tension-filled public meeting with selectmen, the chairman of Foxboro’s Town Racino Committee resigned.  He had been attempting to objectively navigate the political quagmire created by the entire situation, but the committee’s actual charge still appears to be unclear to some.  Selectman Virginia Coppola said the committee had not reported in depth to selectmen in a timely fashion.

            Even a cursory look at Penn National reveals they are a much more qualified, financially stable, and experienced operator than Ourway Realty LLC, the original Plainridge applicant.  Foxboro selectmen can criticize the Gaming Commission all they want for allowing Penn to step in late, but it was within the existing regulations.

            And the Gaming Commission did a good job in investigating the Plainridge folks and discovering they were unqualified to be a license-holder.  They were thorough, they were fair, and they were timely.  That should inspire confidence in their abilities.

            Foxboro officials don’t want the slot house in Plainville.  Everyone gets that, and they are entitled and welcome to that opinion and position.  And Foxboro is eligible under state law to be considered for mitigation.  That is now undisputed.

            So perhaps that’s where local efforts could now be concentrated?  Maybe a more civil, less adversarial tone could be assumed by Foxboro officials? 

Plainville would probably welcome the respect that would show.

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