Monday, March 31, 2014

It's Opening Day and Optimism Rules - For Now

This column originally appeared on the front page of the Sun Chronicle on Monday, March 31, 2014.

By Bill Gouveia

            I am a fan of all sports, but always come back to baseball as my favorite.  I’m not exactly sure why, but the Grand Old Game and our local franchise has a hold on me that simply can’t be broken.

            Today is Opening Day for the Red Sox.  That’s the World Series Champion Boston Red Sox, thank you very much.  The team I have followed since I was old enough to turn on a radio.  The institution I have loved through times both happy and sad (mostly sad) for over a half a century now.  You would think I’d be an old hand at this.

            But Opening Day still makes me a little bit giddy, even if it isn’t being played at home in Fenway Park.  I still hopped out of bed (well, perhaps “hopped” is a slight exaggeration these days) with a little extra spring in my step this morning.  The sun seems a little brighter, the air a little crisper, and everyone’s mood just a little happier.

            All because baseball is back.

            I love football and the Patriots, having been a season ticket-holder for more than four decades.  I have always been a huge Celtic fan, this year notwithstanding.  And I grew up watching the Bruins, renewing that loyalty over the last decade or so.

            But the Red Sox are an experience in and of themselves.  The world in these parts revolves around when the truck leaves for spring training and when the playoffs start in October.  Wedding are planned around off-days and road trips.  Yankee games are practically holidays.

            In my mind baseball is still the national pastime, despite the best efforts of the NFL.  But baseball in New England is unlike baseball almost anywhere else.  Few fans live and die with their team the way Red Sox fans do, and whether you consider that good or bad – it is an interesting phenomenon. 

            If the Red Sox win against the Orioles in Baltimore today, life will be wonderful.  Optimism will rule, and the sky will be the limit.  World Series plans will be made, talk of a dynasty will fill the sports radio airwaves, and the recent contract given David Ortiz will be called a steal for the team.

            Of course, should they happen to lose the opener today, things will be slightly different.  The season will be in ruins, the playoffs nearly out of reach, and talk radio will be dominated by chatter concerning the mistake they made signing Ortiz and exactly when John Farrell should be fired as manager.

            But this morning, it’s Opening Day.  The season is starting and life is beginning anew.  This is one of those times when the Red Sox have a virtual pass from fans, considering their unexpected World Series win last October.  They earned enough good will to get them through the entire year.

            Unless they start losing, of course.  Then it might only last three months.  Or maybe three weeks.  If they get swept in Baltimore, the honeymoon could be over before they even get home. 

            But for now, hope spring eternal.  The Sox enter the game today undefeated.  And it is springtime, when in the words of a long-retired Boston sportswriter, “A young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of glove…”

            So I will have my iPad next to my computer monitor at work today, watching the game while trying to look like I’m not.  I will be looking to establish the relationship every true fan has to seek out with the new roster of players each season.  I will be watching to see how the pitching staff looks, and whether the team has improved defensively.

            I’ll study Grady Sizemore, the great story of this year’s spring training.  After not playing baseball for almost two years, Sizemore won the starting centerfield position and is an inspiring story.  But mostly, I’ll be celebrating the true sign of the changing of the seasons.

            Today is Opening Day, and there is nothing better to rejuvenate the spirit and head us towards summer.  Baseball is a great game, and this will be another terrific season for the Red Sox.

            Unless they lose today, of course.  Then it’s time to move on to football season.  It’s not easy being a Boston fan.

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

Friday, March 28, 2014

Open Meeting Law Violators Don't Worry

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, March 28, 2014

By Bill Gouveia


When I read Sun Chronicle Editor Mike Kirby’s column on Sunday (as I always do) I was amazed, dismayed, angry and upset.  Not by his column, but by what I learned from reading it.


I knew the Open Meeting Law in Massachusetts contained little in the way of penalties for those who violate it.  But I had assumed enforcement of this important statute had gotten tougher since responsibility for it was transferred from the local district attorney to the state Attorney General’s office.


That clearly is not the case.


The column noted of the 512 complaints filed with the AG’s office in the last four years, 221 were found to be actual violations.  Of those, only three – count ‘em, three – resulted in fines of $1000 each.  Those fines were assessed against the municipality, not against any of the offending officials personally.


In four years not one individual was held personally accountable for any violation of the law that prevents public business from being conducted away from the prying eyes of those pesky citizens.  At first glance, you would think that has to be some type of mistake.


But when you stop and remember that the Massachusetts legislature is specifically exempted from the provisions of the OML, you begin to understand.  How can the state’s highest law enforcement officers significantly penalize local officials for something House members and Senators are allowed to do on a regular basis?


I also learned there is a bill pending right now that would hold individual officials responsible and create a special commission to study the possibility of extending the law to cover the state legislature.  Of course, on Beacon Hill the word “study” is often merely a euphemism for the word “kill”, so no one should get their hopes up.


Yet even the remote possibility of creating transparency in our private club of a legislature is something worth pursuing.  Which is why area residents and voters should make it a point to contact their local state representatives and senators to find out how they plan to vote on this important legislation.


Of course, our local legislators acting on their own can do relatively little to advance a bill most of their colleagues will no doubt oppose – though probably not publicly.  It is not good politics for any legislator to come out against a bill that increases transparency and gives the taxpayers more control. 


So most will intimate they have fought the good fight, secure in the knowledge those high up in their party’s leadership (who truly control things) will take the heat for them.  The bill is likely to be slowly swallowed up by the legislative quicksand upon which the State House seems to be built, and with it will most likely go all hopes for any true reform in the immediate future.


But we can’t stop trying or asking, because this is far too important.  So what can we as ordinary citizens do, you ask?


It makes little to no sense that we have a law that seeks to solve 351 separate problems by enforcing the OML in every city and town, but does nothing to address the one gigantic problem in Boston – the legislature.  If we have the right to expect our local government to operate openly, we certainly should demand no less when it comes to our state government.  There is no valid excuse.


So we can start by contacting our legislators and asking for their help in passing this law.  Ask not only for their vote, but for them to passionately campaign and work for its passage.  Request they reach out to fellow lawmakers, to the House and Senate leaders, and anyone else who might aid in this battle.


Talk is cheap.  Demand action.  Ask to know what they are doing to try and help this bill pass.  Don’t be diverted or distracted with political misdirection.  If they oppose the bill, get their reasons for doing so and if you disagree, explain why. 


If you don’t know who your state representative or senator is, look it up.  Or email me and I will look it up for you.  This is that critical. 


And remember – if you don’t think transparency is important, your elected officials won’t think so either.


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

Monday, March 17, 2014

Haskins Pharmacy - An Era Ends in Norton

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, March 17, 2014

By Bill Gouveia

            To a kid growing up in Norton in the 1960’s, Haskins Pharmacy was a magical place.  I couldn’t wait to go there with my mom on Saturday afternoons because so many good things came from that little building in the center of town.

            We would go grocery shopping at Fernandes Super Market, then cross the street to Haskins to pick up our prescriptions.  I would happily accompany my mother in the hopes of being rewarded with something from this wonderful family business.

            Sometimes I would get to sit at the counter and enjoy a chocolate ice cream.  Or order a coke and watch them pump syrup into the glass, then fill it with soda water.  While waiting I would happily spin on the revolving stool until my mother made me stop.

            Some days my parents sent me inside for the newspaper or a prescription and I would use the change to buy a pack of baseball cards or a Hershey bar.  I would look longingly at the small toys on the shelf, but those were only for special occasions. 

            I loved those trips.  The people there knew who you were, called you by name, and made you feel important.  That’s why when my wife and I got married the only place we even considered for our family medical needs was Haskins Pharmacy.  Even after the soda counter was gone, how could a couple of Norton townies go anywhere else?

            But starting tomorrow, we will have no choice.  Haskins is closing its doors, having sold the business to a nearby competitor.  While that means a well-deserved retirement for owners Mal and June Haskins after nearly 60 years in business, it also means the end of an era in the Town of Norton.

            Now the last real vestige of the Norton Center of my youth is gone.  While I am happy for the Haskins family, I am sad for my community.

            Haskins was not just a business, it was a local institution.  It was one of those places you didn’t even have to call by name for people to know what you were talking about.  In Norton, if you said you were “going to the drug store”, everyone just understood you were heading to Haskins.

            The key to Haskins success during its nearly six decade run was its people.  You start with owners Mal and June, who always took care of those who walked through their door.  The stories of Mal making late-night deliveries to sick families are legendary.  They supported virtually every local organization and charity over the years, and many a youth sports team wore the Haskins name on their shirts.

            Daughters Melanie and Lynne were very much a part of the Haskins we all loved.  Melanie became a skilled pharmacist like her dad, and Lynne worked the counter in her friendly and professional manner.  Son Mark worked there years ago and was “the computer guy”.  My wife and I grew up with them all.

            The people they hired were very special too.  When you worked at Haskins, you stayed a long time.  I don’t want to start naming folks because I will inevitably leave out someone important.  But all of them – the great ladies of Haskins in particular – will forever occupy a place in the hearts of Norton residents.

            Haskins survived a lot during its time in town.  They lost their original home when the building was sold, so Mal and June built the current structure next door.  In recent years CVS opened across the street, and Walgreens built a store immediately next door.  But still Haskins prospered, largely because of their loyal customers.

            And that loyalty was earned.  Haskins specialized in the personal touch, the caring service that today seems to be a lost art.  They knew their customers, cared about their problems, and responded to their needs. 

You will be missed, Haskins Pharmacy.  You were a trusted friend to generations of Norton residents.  You helped thousands upon thousands of people when they were sick and needed you.  You were not simply located within the boundaries of our community, you were an integral part of it.

Thank you from a grateful town.  Thank you for all the memories, and for all the good things.

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

Monday, March 10, 2014

Foxboro Fiasco Ended Only Way It Could

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on Monday, March 10, 2014.

By Bill Gouveia

            The foolishness in Foxboro has ended – for now.

            Selectmen made their inevitable decision last week, agreeing to transfer a liquor license to the Splitsville Bowling/Howl At The Moon entertainment venue that will now be built at Patriot Place.  The decision will help increase business at the site of the town’s largest commercial area and result in a pretty substantial increase in revenue.

            In other words, it is a good thing for Foxboro taxpayers and citizens.  The question is – why was the process so difficult and stretched out so long?

            The town’s public safety officials never had a real objection to the operation, telling selectmen from the beginning it could be handled safely.  It is located in a section of town obviously dedicated to commercial development and designed to handle the traffic and other challenges.

            Yet like Trader Joe’s before them, the operators of Splitsville/Howl became victims of the chess game being played between the Kraft Group and town officials.  While this particular match has ended in what could be termed a victory for both sides, it is merely setting up the next round in this ongoing and ever-changing contest between these two partners of necessity.

.If you’re looking to assess blame in the Splitsville fiasco, you can find it on both sides.  The Kraft Group seems to be constantly underestimating local politics in Foxboro and coming in unprepared.  If they can take on the other 31 NFL behemoths and be generally successful, they should be skilled enough to learn to deal with local politicians.  By now they know who and what they are dealing with, and should be better prepared.

On the flip side, the current board of selectmen in Foxboro has to (put politely) cut the crap.  With a new town manager ready to begin, it is an excellent time to try and put the past behind everyone and work towards a cooperative and mutually beneficial future.

Despite what some selectmen insist, this was never about public safety.  Sorry, those claims simply don’t ring true in light of the actions of the board and its individual members.  Few people are truly buying that excuse.

When a reputable place like Trader Joe’s is treated as though it was a threat to the sobriety of the public, something is wrong with the licensing authority.  The negotiations between the Kraft Group over the vast array of issues in town hovers in the background and affects nearly everything.  And unfortunately, some selectmen have not yet learned how to deal with that.

At least two current board members are clearly anti-Kraft and seem to relish their roles.  Selectmen Lorraine Brue and Virginia Coppola appear negatively affected every time a Kraft representative is in the room.  Their confrontational attitudes and constant stalling tactics do little to resolve the problems existing between the town and the KG.

The time it took for selectmen to deal with this matter was ridiculous.  Peace treaties have been negotiated, signed and implemented in less time than it took to license a bowling alley and piano bar in what clearly is an entertainment district.  The phony debates about slightly reducing capacity were little more than window dressing.

No one thinks the board of selectmen should be a rubber stamp for whatever the Kraft Group wants.  Every proposal needs to be carefully considered on its merits.  The best interests of Foxboro residents and taxpayers should always be the board’s top priority.

But like it or not, Foxboro has a major entertainment venue within its borders.  It should not be a surprise, the town approved this development every step of the way.  Selectmen should stop acting like they just discovered the scope of the stadium and Patriot Place.

Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, the main reason Splitsville will soon be opening is that the selectmen did not have a strong case for denying the license.  They most likely would have lost in court, and thus made the best deal they could.

Now Foxboro residents wait to see if both sides have learned from this painful experience, or will continue to repeat the mistakes of the past. 

If I was going to bet – oh, scratch that.  I’m pretty sure that has a lot to do with this whole mess.

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

Friday, March 7, 2014

Pulling Hard for Norton Native and her Daughter

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, March 7, 2014.

GOUVEIA: Town pulling for Norton native

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Posted: Friday, March 7, 2014 2:45 am
I've never met Shea Thompson, but it feels as though I have. And I'm really hoping I get the pleasure of giving her a hug some day soon.
Shea is a beautiful young lady who lives in Maine, but her mother is a Norton native near and dear to my heart. Janice Lambrecht - or Janice Adams as she was known growing up in our hometown - is a friend my wife and I haven't seen in years.
But, today we feel so deeply for her as she fights to help save her daughter's life from an unexpected and insidious illness.
Having just suffered a scare with our youngest grandchild spending two nights at Children's Hospital, I'm especially sensitive these days to what Janice and others with seriously ill children must endure.
I want her to know all her friends in Norton and the surrounding area are pulling for her to be able to bring Shea home very soon.
Those of you with Norton roots or connections may recognize the Adams name. It is a well known and deeply respected one in that community, which brings this situation so close to so many of us.
If you have ever attended a football game in Norton, you have probably been to Adams Field. That facility is named after Janice's brother Bobby, one of the best athletes ever to attend Norton High.
Whether it was quarterbacking the football team or sinking that long one-handed jump shot from the corner, Bobby Adams was grace and skill personified on the field and on the court.
He was one of my early heroes. I remember going to watch him and his teammates play in the old gym located in what is now the Yelle School. He was a funny, smart, intelligent young man - which made his death from cancer in early adulthood all that much more tragic.
If you have been inside the current Norton High School, you may have noticed the Adams name prominently featured on the lobby wall. Janice's father was chairman of the building committee that constructed the school. My wife's father was the vice chairman, and the two were neighbors living along the shore of the Norton reservoir. John Adams was a respected businessman, a community leader and a true gentleman.
Janice's sister Donna was a special lady who overcame what many would consider obstacles in her life only to have them make her even more special. And her mother is still the reigning matriarch of the family.
Janice was the popular redheaded cheerleader with the great personality and easy laugh. She clearly passed that beauty and charm on to her children, with her beautiful daughter Shea one of the chief beneficiaries.
For the past several weeks, Janice has spent her days in a hospital room literally willing her daughter to fight for life. Her Facebook descriptions of the daily battles and physical torment Shea has endured are simultaneously inspiring and terrifying.
The raw emotion in her accounts reveals the great character both have within them. It also speaks to the power of love and devotion, the bond that forever holds us to our children.
And, in Janice's case, it reaffirms the power of positive thinking and unconditional love.
This week I saw my son and daughter-in-law go through the awful experience of watching their child suffer and not having the power to stop it. I saw them refuse to give in to their fears, and rejoiced with them when my beautiful 7 month-old grandson Sammy came home with a clean bill of health.
I know what went through my mind in the short time I had to obsess over the health of this child we love so much. I can only begin to imagine what Janice and the thousands upon thousands of other parents and grandparents caring for severely ill children of all ages must go though.
Janice is not the only person going through the pain of trying to help a sick child. Not the only person from Norton, not the only person I know in this awful situation. But, I'd appreciate it if you sent a good thought in Shea's direction for them both.
Maybe Sammy can meet Shea someday. I think Janice would like that.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.