Monday, June 30, 2014

Don't Blame Guns - Because No One Actually Is

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday June 30, 2014

By Bill Gouveia


In the wake of yet another recent senseless and violent school shooting, one thing has become abundantly clear to me.  Those who keep saying guns are not to blame are absolutely right.


Not a one of those guns used in the school shootings went off by themselves.  Every single weapon was fired by an individual who intended to kill those in their sights.  The blame for the deaths of innocent children and adults in these situations lies with those people, and not in the inanimate objects they fired with such effectiveness.


My friends on the pro-gun side of the debate have totally convinced me of this undeniable fact.  They say it all the time.  Gun Rights advocates tell us it is the people firing the weapons who are defective, not the guns themselves. 


They point out how no one suggests we ban or restrict the use of automobiles after some crazed killer runs down a crowd with a vehicle.  It is senseless to blame guns for these national tragedies that just keep occurring, they say over and over.


And while they are correct, there is one glaring problem with their logical and quite effective argument: 


They are pretty much the only people making the ridiculous suggestion that guns themselves are being unfairly attacked.


Sure, there are some extreme left-wing liberals who want all guns banned so the world will be a peaceful place where everything is decided by calm discussion and the sharing of crunchy granola.  But they are in the vast minority.


Most Americans who favor stronger gun control laws do not want guns taken away or banned.  They dont want an America that is weak and defenseless.  They believe people should be able to responsibly own firearms for their own protection, and for various other reasons.


Instead, they want strong laws that make it harder even if only a little bit for these mentally unstable and irresponsible individuals to get their hands on guns.  They want preventive measures that try to restrict guns to those who responsibly handle them, and away from those who would use them to kill in our schools.


So I have decided to back the more conservative voices in this great discussion.  It is time to concentrate our attention on those who might perform these heinous crimes, and less on the tools they use during them.


Now how do we keep these potential killers from using innocent guns to kill our friends and neighbors?  Hmm, lets think about that.


Hey how about we require stringent background checks on a national basis whenever someone buys a gun?  I know, it wont prevent all the nut-jobs from getting their hands on firearms.  But if it only prevents one dead schoolchild a year, wouldnt that be worth it?


Maybe we should protect the poor guns by making sure they cant be blindly acquired at gun shows by people trying to find loopholes through which they can gain access?  If we keep them out of the hands and homes of people unworthy to own them, these killing machines cant be unfairly maligned.


Perhaps we require mandatory gun training for those who receive licenses and make sure they properly register their weapons.  This should be no big deal for the millions of people who keep and carry guns for all the right reasons.  They are merely trying to protect their families and homes, or perhaps do some hunting or sport shooting.  They should welcome the chance to keep guns away from those who dont follow their excellent example.


It is not the fault of guns that they can now be virtual weapons of mass destruction in the hands of the crazed or irresponsible.  Guns do not choose to be empowered with the ability to fire hundreds of rounds of ammunition in mere seconds.  It is the people who purchase weapons designed for warfare rather than personal use who put the pressure on law-abiding American gun owners.


This problem has never been about guns themselves.  The real issue has always been who should have access to them, and how regulated that access should be. 


It is time to listen to those gun advocates.  Theyve been right all along - sort of.


Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime area town official.  He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Apology Due in Foxboro OML Situation

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, June 20, 2014

By Bill Gouveia

When the Opening Meeting Law works, it is usually because citizens decide their right to have public business done out in the open is worth the difficult process required to make that happen.

So thank you, Heather Harding.

For those who may not know, Harding is the person who filed a series of OML complaints with the Town of Foxboro and eventually the state attorney general’s office over the actions of Foxboro selectmen.  So far, two of her complaints have been determined by the AG’s office to have been actual violations.

As a result, the Foxboro board has been subjected to what passes for harsh punishment under the rather toothless terms of the OML.  They must review the AG’s training video on deliberations, and certify they have done so in writing within 30 days.

Oh, the horror.  That should teach them, right?

But at this point, the punishment is not the most important thing to come out of this debacle.  What truly matters is there seems to be at least some willingness on the part of state officials to uphold this weak law.  That will hopefully inspire more people like Heather Harding to stand up for all our rights, even when it may not be popular to do so.

Harding correctly pointed out that selectmen engaged in what the AG’s office called “serial deliberation outside of a properly posted meeting”.  That began when Selectman Lorraine Brue sent a carefully-worded email to some officials questioning the legality and wisdom of something she had voted to support just the night before.

Brue’s email questioned whether or not the board had violated the OML 24 hours earlier when they voted unanimously to send two of their members to an informational meeting with representatives of an applicant for a liquor license.  Though she tried to temper her email’s intent with a heading including the phrase “no response please”, it was quite evident she was engaging in discussion that was improper outside of a public meeting.

Her excuse concerning why she had not brought up her issues in front of the public rather than away from them was a poor one and lacked believability.  Her email started a chain-reaction between other selectmen and the town manager as well as town counsel. 

In effect, they undid in private what they had voted to do in public.  You can’t do that without at least being exposed.  But the punishment is a big nothing, and it can be argued Selectman Brue and some of her colleagues achieved their political objective without having to do it in front of the voters who elected them.

So far there has been no real admission of guilt or apology from the board or the individual members.  None is required under the terms of their punishment, but it would seem they owe the townspeople something in this regard.  After weeks of insisting they had done nothing wrong, it was found they in fact had.

There are still complaints pending that have some connection to those already adjudicated.  It could very well be selectmen have been advised by their legal counsel not to comment for fear of incurring liability for both themselves and the town. 

And politically, remaining mum on this subject is probably the smartest thing selectmen can do.  OML violations are seldom taken very seriously for long.  Allowing this whole mess to pass slowly into oblivion would work to their advantage. 

Some have suggested Brue should resign over this matter.  Without making light of her actions, they simply do not call for a move that extreme.

But Selectmen Brue has clearly been found to be in the wrong here.  So has her board as a whole, and some other individual members as well.  They owe their constituents not just an apology, but a sincere one. 

Expecting Foxboro residents to believe selectmen’s attempt to cure one OML violation by committing another was an unintentional action is to insult their intelligence.  Selectmen did something wrong, and they got caught. 

As Heather Harding said some many months ago, “"It seems to me purely cut-and-dried. You say, 'Yeah, I made a mistake' and you move on."

Let’s hope Foxboro selectmen take that good advice to heart. 

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime area town official.  He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Ignoring Voters Normal In North Attleboro

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, June 16, 2014.

By Bill Gouveia

There is a general rule that should apply to all local governments when dealing with the voters who elect them: 

If you have no intention of listening to what the people you govern have to say – then stop asking them questions.

If North Attleboro citizens needed any further proof their local government doesn’t care what they think, they got it recently.  For the umpteenth time in the last two decades, the town’s Representative Town Meeting sent a clear message to voters.  That message said, “Stop trying to tell us what to do.  We are smarter than you.”

Last year selectmen put a nonbinding question on the ballot seeking to require voter approval to abolish town boards.  The townspeople then voted 1478-229 in favor, a majority of close to 84 percent.

Now, the concept was not a good idea.  The selectmen should have either sponsored the article when it was presented to them, or told the sponsors to advance it on their own.  The board members failed to do what they were elected to do – provide leadership.  Instead, they asked yet another meaningless and toothless non-binding question on the ballot.

But they did ask.  And they got an answer.  They were very careful to make sure that answer could be ignored.  They simply allowed frustrated citizens to vent their feelings, get it off their chests, and then go back to complaining and lamenting the fact they can’t seem to change anything.

The RTM was under no legal obligation to support the ballot initiative.  They had a legitimate argument that it undercut the foundation of the current form of government – shaky as that foundation may be.  Their vote to defeat it was actually quite understandable.

But the attitude they took in doing it was demeaning and insulting to the citizens of North Attleboro.  And don’t think for a second that was accidental.

People in North, your RTM government just doesn’t seem to like you.  It considers you an obstacle.  You are something to be manipulated, managed, and ignored when it suits their purpose. 

They are the parent, you are the children.  They know best.  Now go back outside and play, and let the adults make the decisions.

When debating the approved referendum question, RTM members seemed more concerned with their authority being questioned than if the proposal was good for the town.  Quotes from RTM members included “If you vote for this, our fellow RTM members, you give your authority away”, “Don’t be pushed around, vote no”, and the interesting “This was a nitwit question on the ballot and this is a nitwit article”.

The vast majority of RTM members were elected with far, far fewer than the 1478 votes the ballot question they ridiculed received.  It makes you wonder – if 84 percent of those voting passed a “nitwit” article, would that label then also apply to the RTM members they chose at the same election?

To be fair, there were RTM members who defended the public’s right to have their votes taken seriously.  One member warned that continuing to ignore clear requests from the voters would be going “down a slippery slope”.

RTM members are secure in their positions.  The majority of them run without opposition.  They believe they should tell the voters what to do, and not the other way around.

RTM does not work in North Attleboro.  It is too big, too powerful, and too isolated.  It is more of a private club than a public institution.

There is nothing new here.  North’s RTM has many good people working within it, but they are trapped in a bad system.  This has been going on for a long time, and no doubt will continue unchanged for the foreseeable future.

Because that’s the way the political establishment in North Attleboro wants it.  They don’t let anyone – particularly the voters – get in their way.  And while you all may be sick and tired of hearing this, that doesn’t make it one bit less true. 

North Attleboro’s government won’t change because the system and the people running it won’t allow it.  And if you really believe that doesn’t discourage people from voting, then I have this swampland I’d like to discuss selling you…

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime area town official.  He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Father's Day A Happy Holiday Once Again

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, June 13, 2014
By Bill Gouveia

            I hated Father’s Day when I was growing up.  It was an awkward time, and I always wished we could just skip it.


            Not that my home life was horrible, mind you.  My parents split when I was 12, and the few years before that weren’t exactly cheerful and homey.  But my first decade was spent in what I consider a great childhood.  I was the oldest of three, lived in a nice residential neighborhood with lots of friends, and had tons of family nearby.


            But even before the split, my dad was not exactly the type that celebrated Father’s Day.  He was a hard-working Portuguese-American who was putting himself through college, working three or more jobs to support us, and who considered excessive emotion to be a weakness.  He would make time to celebrate his family members, but celebrating himself just seemed silly.


            It was good Father’s Day was on a Sunday, because that was one of the few times we would see Dad.  Between attending night school, working days in a Boston financial firm, and butchering meat on nights and weekends, his free time was at a premium.  As kids, we knew that and understood.


            His generation of fathers seemed to concentrate on “providing” as the overriding principle upon which they built their lives.  He wanted us to live in a nice house.  He took pride in putting steak on the table several nights a week.  He mowed the grass regularly, took pride in his home and family, and minded his own business.


            We never doubted that he loved us.  But the way he showed it was hard to fully comprehend.  He came from a different country and a different life with more responsibilities.  He probably had as tough a time understanding our needs as we did his.  I shouldn’t speak for my brother or my late sister though.  Maybe it was just me.


            I remember my dad being at exactly one of my Little League games.  It was a big deal, and I was extremely excited.  He wasn’t a huge sports fan, so that wasn’t something we bonded over.  But half a century later, I still recall him standing along the third base line smiling at me as I batted. 


            My dad never had “the talk” with me.  He never taught me how to shave.  We never discussed girls, talked sparingly of school, and had very few truly emotional moments between us.  As I grew into my later teenage years, that became a good thing because the emotional moments were seldom about sentiment and often about resentment.


            Despite our differences, I saw my dad as the strongest man in the world.  I respected how hard he worked and what he accomplished.  And though I was more outgoing, I proudly became a lot like him in other ways.


            Then I got married and became a father.  My perspective – and my world – slowly changed.


            I wanted to be a good provider, like my dad.  I worked 80 hours per week.  When I had the opportunity to start a business with a friend, that number went even higher.  I was building a future for my family, and I was proud of what I was doing.


            But I should have done some things differently.  I know that now.


            I wish I had provided less financially and more emotionally for my kids.  They could have done with a few less toys and a lot more Dad.  I was there for lots of special moments in their lives, but I wish I had been there for more.


I believe I’ve been a reasonably good father, but understand now I could have been so much better.  Being a grandfather has given me the opportunity to try and make up for past failures, even if only in my own mind.


I loved my dad, but I’m glad I didn’t grow up to be just like him.  And I’m truly grateful my own two sons didn’t grow up to be just like me.  Because of them, and the kind of dads they have become, Father’s Day is now one of my favorite holidays.


A good father never stops learning how to be a better dad.  Happy Father’s Day to all you dads.


Bill Gouveia is a local columnist, father of two and grandfather of three.  He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Bill's Top 5 Reasons NOT to Run for Local Office


By Bill Gouveia


            Last week this space discussed a list of reasons why you should consider serving as an elected or appointed town official. Now it’s time to turn to the dark side.


            While I am personally a huge advocate of getting involved in your local government, there are solid reasons why people generally don’t.  Some are a reflection of our times and society today.  Others are simply the price you pay for taking the initiative and having the grit to be a direct participant.


            So in the interest of fairness and presenting both sides, I now offer you “Bill’s Top Five Reasons Not To Serve As A Local Elected or Appointed Official”.  Please note, the reasons stated do not necessarily reflect the personal opinions of this particular opinion columnist.  Having said that, here goes:


1.    It takes a lot of your valuable time.  No matter what elected or appointed post you might choose to seek, you have to understand it requires serious effort.  Obviously, the depth of commitment varies with the position.  As an elected town moderator today, the demand on my attention is far less than when I served as a selectman or finance committee member.  But not everyone does it the same way.  Some manage their efforts more efficiently than others, and the existing political climate at the time you serve is a crucial factor.  These are far from full-time positions, but if you aren’t prepared to devote at least some serious time to them – stay away.


2.    You will be severely criticized no matter what you do.  If your skin is on the thin side, local government probably isn’t for you.  People will openly question your honesty and integrity without even knowing you personally.  You can easily become judged by your last vote rather than your consistent efforts at governing.  Those who support you are likely to do so quietly, while those opposing you and your opinions and actions tend to be louder.  It is easier to be against things others do than to actually do them yourself, so real leaders are usually the easiest targets.



3.    It is frustrating.  If you are a logical person, town government can be a very frustrating thing.  The rules governing local governments are often conflicting, nonsensical, and just plain dumb.  They often are in direct contradiction of standard business practices, because despite what some may say – you can’t run a town like a business.  There are methods and practices used with great success every day in most private firms that are simply not allowed in the public sector.  It is often enough to make good and capable people throw up their hands in disgust and walk away.


4.    It doesn’t always project the best personal image.  There was a time when being a local official was something the public at large greatly respected and appreciated.  While that should still be true today, far too often we fail to give our local officials the benefit of the doubt.   We often seem to assume the worst.  Whenever a tough decision is made by a board or committee, many believe it a given the individual members were improperly swayed by political (or other) considerations granted by those on the “winning” side.  Your claims of simply trying to serve your community and do the right thing are often met with snickering.  Being even a local politician has somehow become a bad thing in this cynical world.



5.    If you do your job well, you stand a good chance of losing it.  There is no more self-defeating part-time position in the world than being a good local leader.  Often there is no true success or failure, only survival or extinction.  Sure, there are those who defy the odds and serve long periods of time while maintaining their independence against the ever-changing tides of public opinion.  But in general, local government is all about compromise.  When you make the tough decisions, you take the tough hits.  Some of us are just better at that than others.


So now we’ve discussed both the pros and cons of holding local office.  In the end, it’s all about trying to make a difference.  How do you do it?  That’s up to you.

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

Bill's Top 5 Reasons To Run For Local Office


By Bill Gouveia


            Lists seem to be a big deal these days.


            Everywhere I look, there are lists.  Blogs, newspapers, magazines – they all seem to feature the top (pick the number) things you should or shouldn’t do or say to someone in a specific position or condition.  You know, Seven Things You Shouldn’t Say to a Pregnant Lady, or Nine Reasons Why a Tropical Vacation Beats a Ski Vacation, and things like that.


            So I decided to try engaging in this phenomenon and doing a few lists of my own.  And since I primarily write about local politics and public service, I figured I would start there.


            Below please find “Bill’s Top Five Reasons to Serve As Local Elected or Appointed Officials”.


1.    It’s a true form of public service.  I am not one who does well volunteering in a soup kitchen.  I can’t hammer a nail straight, so helping to build affordable homes is out.  But I don’t mind giving of my time in an effort to make my local government and my community better.  I actually like studying a complex municipal budget, considering ways to be more efficient, or working with others to get a better value out of our tax dollars.  So that’s my form of public, charitable giving.  Of course, some would like me to stop being so generous.


2.    It makes you a better, more well-rounded person.  Serving as an appointed and elected official has taught me a lot of life lessons.  It has helped me understand people, and served me well in my own business experience.  You get to listen and talk to a wide variety of folks, and you learn something from almost every one of them.  If you can be an effective local official, it builds a foundation for you to do other good things with your life.



3.    You can make a direct and immediate difference.  If you volunteer to work on the campaign of someone running for governor, congress, senate or even president, you feel good about your efforts to make a difference.  But the truth is you directly affect a lot more lives by being involved in the campaigns of local officials.  A selectman, a school committee member, or planning board volunteer official can have a huge influence in what happens in your neighborhood.  The issues they deal with may not be as “sexy” or glamorous as those facing the national politicians, but the impact on matters directly connected to you and your family is probably greater.


4.    You really don’t need to be a skilled politician.  Local officials have many roles in town government.  Some are highly visible leaders who need to influence voters to be effective.  Others are more behind-the-scenes types who do the important but less publicized work which makes your government possible.  If serving as a selectman isn’t your cup of tea, you can be a finance committee member or perhaps serve on the local zoning board.  You probably won’t get the recognition – good or bad – that others do, but you will know you contributed to your town by serving the taxpayers and residents.



5.    It’s a relatively inexpensive hobby.  While serving as a local official certainly can consume a lot of your time, it generally doesn’t have to consume much of your income.  Campaigns can be expensive, especially considering most local positions pay nothing in salary or stipends.  But for the most part local election expenses consist of a few campaign signs, some newspaper ads (we’d really like you to remember those), some web page construction costs, and maybe a party to celebrate on election night.  It is relatively easy in this technological day and age to get your name and qualifications out in front of the voters.  In most instances, money is not really a huge factor.


Those are a few of the reasons why you should consider getting directly involved in your local government as an appointed or elected official.  Maybe next week we’ll discuss the reasons people generally don’t do that very thing.


Unless, of course, I can come up with list of the Top Five Reasons Chocolate Ice Cream Should Be The Official Dessert Of Columnists Everywhere.


Excuse me.  I’m off to do research.


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