Friday, September 26, 2014

No Confusion Between Foxboro and Vegas Signs

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, September 26, 2014.
By Bill Gouveia


            You never know what can wind up being controversial in a small New England town.  But there are some things that always raise the anxiety level in seemingly every community.


            Put a leash law on the Town Meeting warrant and watch the fur fly.  Try cutting sports from the school budget and be prepared to see some hard-hitting action.  Discuss spending money on a new town hall and feel the walls closing in on you. 


            But right behind those is another soul-searching issue currently making the rounds in Foxboro, with voters perhaps being faced with determining its fate soon.  Yes, we are talking about the highly subjective and always sensitive issue of – signs.


            More specifically billboards in this instance, with technology adding fuel to the fire.  Be they political, business or just general signage, these advertising tools always seem to capture a somewhat disproportionate section of the attention spans of town officials and residents.


            Signs may be emotionless creatures, but the feelings they can stir in others are amazing.  They tend to be highly personal to both those who own them and those who merely have to look at them. 


            Put a political sign in your front yard and watch what happens.  Malls and restaurants depend on unique and colorful signs to draw people into their locales.  A few years back in Norton, there was much ado about a rather ordinary CVS sign not blending with that community’s “colonial character”.


            But now digital and LED signage has risen to become the focus of the Foxboro debate.  The town already has such a billboard, located on Route 1 near North Street in the shadow of Patriot Place.  A proposed new sign bylaw would allow for others, but pretty much restrict them to the Route 1 corridor.


            For those unfamiliar with the concept here, these digital billboards are extremely clear and colorful.  In some cases they are almost like large televisions.  They certainly do draw a lot of attention.


            You might think this would be the perfect area for the latest in advertising technology, given the amount of commercial activity and traffic drawn to the area.  Route 1 – especially in the general vicinity of Patriot Place and Gillette Stadium – has not projected the image of a small town for decades now.  And it is no stranger to billboards.


            In fact, the town itself is involved in a complicated and bitterly contested arrangement with the Kraft Organization in which both make money from renting out billboards.  But some in town are much more concerned with the aesthetic impact upon their community than the financial one.


            To be sure, there are legitimate concerns about electronic signs and everyone is more than entitled to their own opinion.  Some believe they are a safety hazard and a distraction, although between the GPS screen, satellite radio, mobile phones, digital dashboards, and back-up cameras, that might be a little difficult to swallow.


            Others believe they are simply in bad taste.  Foxboro calls itself “The Jewel of Norfolk County”, but many officials and citizens would not like to see jewelry ads actually moving on a billboard as they drive the busy Route 1 roadway.


            Foxboro Advisory Committee chairperson Tracey Vasile recently revealed that a strong majority of her committee members “had concerns about additional electronic billboards on Route 1.”  Committee member Larry Thomas expressed his disapproval of additional electronic displays, reminding everyone “This is a New England town, not Las Vegas.”


            It’s a good thing he cleared that up.  At the Patriots game Sunday people were getting confused and asking for directions to The Strip and Caesar’s Palace.  I mean, seriously?  Is there anyone who really thinks the stadium section of Route 1 could possibly look like a small New England town anymore?


            The truth is electronic signs fit the character of Route 1 in the stadium area.  A handsomely made wooden sign with colonial overtones would actually look out of place.


            Fear of both change and technology is not new.  But when you allow an area in any town to become a commercial shopping destination and home to an NFL team, it is hard to continue to accept the tax revenue it produces and at the same time ban the signs that help raise it.


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

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Hypocritical Behavior Concerning Casino Repeal Question

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on September 19, 2014
By Bill Gouveia


            Question 3 – the ballot initiative seeking to repeal the law allowing construction of three casinos and one slot parlor in various parts of Massachusetts – will be voted upon in little more than a month.


            This decision (just one of several critical choices) is extremely important for everyone in the Bay State.  It will also be a classic lesson in how to conduct a political campaign in these modern times.  The side that is successful in framing the question and dictating the parameters of the debate will end up prevailing.


            You might think this is a relatively simple matter.  Those wishing to see casinos built will tout the good things they can provide, including badly needed revenue for the state and many temporary and permanent jobs.  Those opposed will cite the socio-economic negatives they anticipate, and frame casinos as an attempt to prey on the most vulnerable and poor among us.


            That’s why the group seeking to keep casinos legal is called the “Coalition to Protect Mass. Jobs” rather than the “Committee for Casino Gambling”.  Their goal is to focus on the employment boost and economic spark casinos can create.  They would like you to think of this as a giant job fair rather than an actual business.


            The prominent anti-casino group is called “Repeal the Casino Deal” because they want to promote the perception the legislature did something wrong.  They want to convince you special interests won out over our general social, moral and economic well-being.  They’d like you to believe you got cheated, and the only way to right that wrong is to overturn the decision of your state officials.


            Massachusetts Roman Catholic Bishops came out in favor of repeal, which was no great surprise.  But they have not gotten heavily involved in the political process as of yet, largely because it makes the positions of the Church look more than a little hypocritical.


            We are concerned that the Commonwealth will be forced to rely on an unstable form of revenue, depending largely on those addicted to gambling. They are the citizens who are already among the ranks of the poorest in the community – the ones who can least afford to gamble,” the statement by the bishops said.


            It is interesting to contemplate those words as you ride by one of the many bingo games run by Catholic parishes across the state.  You know, the ones apparently attended only by millionaires who can afford to lose.  Perhaps the bishops should repeal those licenses first, as a sign of good faith. 


            But in the end, those seeking repeal want you to think this is about teaching the government a lesson.  They are trying to tap into that ever-present and seemingly endless supply of distrust and anger voters have towards their governmental institutions and officials. 


            They present this question as a way to show “the people” are still in charge.  Who do these lawmakers think they are, passing actual laws after decades of study and analysis?  So what if they gave local municipalities the final say?  Do you really want them telling you what to do?  This is your chance to flex your muscles and send a clear message, 


            Well, maybe not clear, but a message nonetheless.


            They would prefer this election and this question be a referendum on the legislature itself.  They want to get you up on your high moral horse in a stance against the evils of gambling, even though all it may accomplish is pushing the gamblers out of our sight and forcing them to contribute to the revenues of other neighboring states.


            Even the set-up of the question lends itself to confusion.  If you are in favor casinos, you must vote No.  If you are opposed to casinos, you need to vote Yes.


            Voters can’t let either side play to their emotions and fears rather than the facts.  This is not about jobs, or morals, or teaching legislators a lesson.  The real question is whether or not repealing this legally-passed law is a smart thing to do given our circumstances today. 


Whatever voters ultimately decide, it is important to note that a Yes vote will not end gambling, and a No vote will not make us any less moral.


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

Monday, September 15, 2014

Foxboro Selectmen Seek More Compatible Counsel

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, September 15, 2014.
By Bill Gouveia

            So it seems the Foxboro Board of Selectmen will be looking for a new law firm to represent them and the town very soon.  Apparently dissatisfied with their current legal firm, they will no doubt be posting the opportunity in various state and municipal publications as well as on selected web sites.


            But after hearing some of their initial reasons for wanting to change counsel – again – it might be better if they post their request on a different type of web site.  You might soon see an ad similar to this one in the personals section of your favorite newspaper or web page:


            “Beautiful small town’s highest elected body seeking attentive, loyal lawyer to agree with us at all costs.  Must be an “advocate” and not an “accommodator” – unless accommodating us.  Must deliver only agreeable opinions, never even imply we are wrong publically or privately, and like long walks on the beach while holding at least three hands.  Must like sports, but can’t be too big a Patriots fan.  Experience in accurately analyzing Open Meeting Law unnecessary.  Submit application with loyalty oath to Town Hall.”


            But those answering need be aware the board may not be looking for a long-term relationship.


            The move to dump the current firm of Gelerman and Cabral LLC was supported by selectmen Lorraine Brue, Virginia Coppola and James Gray.  It was opposed by James DeVellis and David Feldman.  It came despite the understanding of at least some members that selectman had committed to the current firm for three years, and was now dumping them after two.


            Coppola did indeed say Richard Gelerman, the main attorney, has been too much of an accommodator.  She explained that an advocate for the board’s goals was needed.  She also said the firm lacked “depth”, and that other town boards had found it necessary to hire outside counsel on various issues because of that.


            While the title of the position is “Town Counsel”, the truth is lawyers who hold these jobs basically work for the selectmen – the board that hires and fires them.  If an attorney does not make a majority of their bosses happy, the relationship is not likely to last.


            To anyone observing selectmen’s meetings over the last year or so, it is obvious Gelerman was on the outs with some board members.  Much of the conversation directed towards him tended to be more than a bit condescending.  Two of the selectmen in the majority are up for reelection in May.  It may be they felt the change had to be done before the possibly of a power shift.     


The fact Gelerman had to advise his bosses they violated the Open Meeting Law on at least two occasions has not helped, nor has his role in resolving some controversial issues (like Splittsville) where the board was forced to do an uncomfortable about-face.


            The “depth” issue is a bit of a red-herring argument.  It is not unusual for town boards in any community with specialized needs to seek outside counsel for bonding, labor issues or special circumstances.


            Foxboro’s issues and legal situations are especially complicated.  With an NFL franchise supplying a huge percentage of its revenue and bringing with it many complex contracts and agreements, the legal and political issues can be difficult.


            It may be that finding a new law firm to represent them is a good thing.  The board must have faith and confidence in their legal representation.  If that no longer exists – regardless of the reasons – it can put the entire community in a bad situation.


            Of course, there is a difference between just simply replacing your attorney at the end of their contract, and unceremoniously dropping them with almost a year left on their agreement.  And making the decision after only one brief public discussion implies either a failure to consider the matter carefully enough or a predetermined plan.


            But that would indicate a disregard for the Open Meeting Law.  Surely that is not the case.


            An attorney must indeed be an advocate for their clients.  But the attorney also owes them honesty and his/her best advice – even if they don’t want to hear it.


            And that can make those long walks on the beach very uncomfortable.


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

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Worst Part of Having Cable

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, September 12, 2014
By Bill Gouveia

            When I heard the beep from my iPhone, I was terrified.  Beads of perspiration began to break out on my ever-expanding forehead.  The fear and apprehension joined together to form a ball of anxiety in the pit of my stomach.


            It was the reminder I had reluctantly set just a year ago.  It was time again for my annual journey into frustration and repetition.  I didn’t want to do it, I would have avoided it if I could have, but like the passing of the seasons it was absolutely inevitable.


            So I picked up the phone to call Comcast and negotiate the renewal of my cable, telephone and internet package.


            Every September the ritual begins.  My “promotion” with Comcast comes to an end and must be renewed or changed.  If this doesn’t happen, then my bill suddenly soars to unbelievable heights.  And while it might eventually get fixed, we then enter the “partial bill adjustments” period.  I get the shivers just thinking about trying to understand that.


            Dialing the number was easy.  But then the recordings began. 


            I was told what a valued customer I am.  I was asked to enter my telephone number so they can pull my records.  I dutifully supplied it, took a deep breath, and waited for the seemingly endless choices offered by their “main menu”.


            I listened carefully for the droning voice to tell me which button to push.  I heard virtually every option except the one I wanted.  I let it run through twice, then chose the one I believed most closely matched my intent.  My reward was to be immediately transferred to another menu.


            This was repeated several times until I figured out a way to be transferred to a real person.  Before I was switched over, I was again asked to enter my number.  Again I complied.


            Then I was told there would be a wait, and I get treated to the hypnotic “on hold” music.  It is periodically interrupted by that voice telling me how important my call is to the entire Comcast organization.


            Then an actual human being began talking to me.


            “Hello and thank you for calling Comcast.  My name is Robert.  How may I help you?”  I was almost overcome with emotion.  In a rush of words I explained my situation in relative detail, describing exactly what I wanted to accomplish.  I completed it and sighed in relief, thinking I had gotten past the most difficult part of the task.


            There was a pause, and then Robert said “Hello and thank you for calling Comcast.  My name is Robert.  How may I help you?”  I was confused, and the relief I felt begins to fade.  I nervously repeat my well-rehearsed spiel, expecting a different response.


            “Are you there?  It seems we are having a problem with our connection.  I don’t know if you can hear me, but I can’t hear you”, Robert says pleasantly but mechanically.  I began talking louder, like that might actually be the problem.


            “If you are still there, please call back so we can help you.  Thank you.”  And just like that, Robert left my life.


            Call back?  And repeat the entire long and painful process?  Surely I had misheard him.  But the dial-tone in my ear brought me crashing back to reality.


            That’s it, I said to myself.  I’m done.  I’ll go back to my old satellite dish.  I am not going through this again.


            Now I hear you all you younger folks out there right now, telling me to “cut the cord” and use the alternative technology available to me for watching TV.  If I used Hulu, Netflix, or merely streamed programming from the web I would be able to duplicate much of my service at a fraction of the cost.


            Believe me, if that were even close to an acceptable alternative I would take it rather than once again brave the world of the corporate cable giant.  But I am a product of the television age.  I need the variety and instant gratification of cable.


            So I rested a second, then picked up the phone and made the call.  And while on hold, I entered the reminder in my iPhone to do it all again next year.


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

Monday, September 8, 2014

When Politicians Act Like Children

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, September 8, 2014.
By Bill Gouveia

            When politicians act like petulant children, it’s often hard to decide if it is amusing or just plain sad.  But a recent tantrum by one local leader has some observers chuckling more than fretting.


            Rep. Betty Poirier says she has taken off her gloves – whatever that means.


            This past weekend the esteemed Republican state representative from North Attleboro, who also represents a single precinct in Attleboro, once again tried to make the alleged “leadership fight” in the state Republican Party into more than it really is.  This time her issue is so silly it is hard to take it seriously.


            Poirier felt snubbed when a candidate running in tomorrow’s Republican primary for the House seat covering the majority of Attleboro currently held by Rep. Paul Heroux (D-Attleboro) brought a state legislator from Whitman into the city to campaign for him.    She said it would have been “common courtesy” for Rep. Geoff Diehl (R-Whitman) to notify her he would be coming across the Attleboro border for political purposes.


            Diehl came to the area to support Jeff Bailey, who is locked in an interesting battle with Bert Buckley for the opportunity to oppose Heroux in November.  Diehl said he got to know Bailey when the two worked on a statewide campaign to repeal the automatic increase in the state gas tax. 


            But Poirier claims Diehl is part of a small group of Republicans who want to replace current party leaders with more conservative lawmakers.  She says they want to promote controversy and animosity rather than working collectively for the public good.


            So following Diehl’s alleged invasion of her turf, Poirier immediately used it as an excuse for endorsing Bailey’s opponent.  That should come as a surprise to absolutely no one, because Poirier and most other local officials have been promoting Buckley’s candidacy for months.  So her action merely confirmed the obvious.


            And with all due respect to Rep. Diehl, it is hard to imagine his visit swaying too many voters in this race.  It was hardly noticed in the media.  He was not controversial in his remarks or conduct.  And Whitman is not a neighboring community, so his ultimate influence is questionable at best.


            But last time I looked, notifying Rep. Poirier before visiting a city in which she represents only one precinct was not a requirement.  While there may be somewhat of a tradition of notifying local legislators when visiting, it is hardly any type of real obligation.  Poirier’s petty display of anger is totally out of place and an obvious political ploy to influence the election.  Which is fine – but she should be upfront about it.


            Her attitude about a simple campaign visit is actually amusing.  It brings back the attitudes of the Old West, when the local sheriff might tell a stranger to “get out of town by sundown” or advise them “this town ain’t big enough for the both of us”. 


            Her continuing reference to a battle in the Republican Party leadership also rings hollow.  There is no doubt some of the newer legislators want to rise within the ranks to more important leadership positions, and most of them are very conservative.  But so is Poirier. 


            If Poirier is trying to convince voters the new wave of Republicans are too conservative and prefer conflict over compromising, it may not sit well with those seeking to balance the overwhelming Democratic majority on Beacon Hill.  And there are only 29 Republicans right now in the 160-member legislature.  How much conflict can they create other than replacing their own minority leadership?


            The race between Bailey and Buckley will be decided by Republican voters tomorrow.  Whether the public endorsements by Diehl and Poirier make any difference at all will be a matter of debate and opinion. 


            But perhaps in the aftermath Poirier could challenge Diehl to a duel.  She could take those gloves she has apparently removed and slap him across the face for his lack of “common courtesy”, then propose a battle at Capron Park. 


            The winner would get to hold a leadership position in the House minority party.  The loser’s consolation prize would be the right to visit any city or town of their choosing.


            You have to love silly politics.  And silly politicians.


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

Friday, September 5, 2014

Reasons No 9-Year-Old Should Shoot an Uzi

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, September 5, 2014
By Bill Gouveia

When a nine-year-old girl recently lost control of an Uzi while taking shooting instruction at a place called “Bullets and Burgers” just outside Las Vegas and accidentally killed said instructor, the question popped into my mind:  Should nine-year-olds really be allowed to shoot Uzis?


After long and careful consideration (approximately .00001 seconds), I came down on the side of believing youngsters of that age should not be allowed to shoot an automatic weapon for fun, or pretty much any other reason.  Then I thought about how some pro-gun folks might consider me to be biased against gun ownership.


 And I realized something many of them have not – that allowing a nine-year-old to shoot an Uzi or similar type weapon is sheer stupidity and has absolutely nothing to do with the debate over gun ownership and control.


So in the spirit of illustrating that point, I developed the following list:  Seven Reasons Why Allowing a Nine-Year-Old to Shoot An Uzi is Nuts.


1.     If you aren’t old enough to babysit, you shouldn’t shoot an automatic weapon.  If someone is too young to take care of others, he or she is too young to have an Uzi in their hands.  Pretty simple, huh?


2.    Giving a small child an automatic weapon is a danger not only to them, but those around them.  Remember, this poor girl didn’t physically injure herself, but her instructor was killed.  When we decide to let our children shoot automatic weapons for fun or sport, our responsibility to others should trump our right to arm children.


3.    Laws banning children from shooting automatic weapons like Uzis are in no possible way a violation of the 2nd Amendment.  Anyone who makes this argument should be ashamed of themselves.  You have a right to bring your children up however you wish.  But you have no right to endanger the lives of those around you in doing so.  Uzis are not a parental decision, they are killing machines.  They should be treated as such.


4.    Your nine-year-old is not allowed to drive a car, so they should not be allowed to shoot an automatic weapon.  And please – spare me the drivel about kids in that general age range who drive vehicles in competition.  There is no place in this country that legally allows these kids to drive on our public roads.  If you allow a child of nine to shoot an Uzi, it is the equivalent of allowing that same child to drive an 18-wheel rig down Route 95. 


5.    Allowing a nine-year-old to shoot this type of weapon is a totally selfish act.  In the minds of extreme gun advocates, this is about stopping and preventing gun control laws.  Some misguided souls believe banning nine-year-olds from shooting Uzis is the first step towards making them unavailable to anyone and taking away their guns.  If you are willing to use your own children as a political pawn at the risk of their safety, I feel sorry for you – and even sorrier for them.


6.    The argument that some nine-year-olds who receive expert instruction are capable of handling an Uzi is crazy.  Sure, there might be a really strong kid who can handle the recoil and perform all the safety steps accurately and repeatedly.  But they would also have to be blessed with the maturity to handle an accident and the stress that follows it.  I don’t care if you have him/her supervised by a certified firearm instructor, the NRA Board of Directors, and the FBI.  They are still too young.


7.    We are not talking about pellet guns or .22 caliber weapons here, but rather an Uzi which fires 600 rounds per minute.  Think about that for just a second – 600 bullets per minute.  In the hands of a nine-year-old.  A kid probably in the third grade.  That is not a decision that should be left to the mother or father.  That is nothing short of sheer idiocy.


As a society we can’t pass laws that prevent bad parental choices.  But we have and must continue to pass laws that keep automatic weapons out of the hands of children.  And that opinion is not because I am anti-gun.


It’s because I am pro-children.


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

Monday, September 1, 2014

Labor Day Brings Portuguese BBQ Memories

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, September 1, 2014.

By Bill Gouveia

            Today is Labor Day.

            Although begun in 1894 as a federal holiday for workers, for most of us it has become a very welcome long weekend.  It marks the unofficial end of summer, the beginning of fall, the kids going back to school, and the start of football season.  It is a time for cookouts, traveling to see family and friends, or just relaxing and recharging.

            In this area and especially my hometown of Norton, Labor Day weekend is now marked by the Deutsche Bank Championship Golf Tournament, played on the beautiful TPC golf course unfairly known as “TPC Boston”.  It is a huge draw.

            But if you were a kid growing up in Norton during the 1960’s and 70’s (especially in my neighborhood), Labor Day weekend always makes you remember one thing:  The Portuguese Barbeque. 

            At least, that’s what we called it.  I’m pretty sure it was actually known as the Festival of Our Lady of Fatima, or some other religiously-inspired moniker.  But for us it was the very official end of summer, a last celebration before heading back to school, and a unique community and cultural experience.

            Held on what was then an open field on Plain Street, the Portuguese Barbeque was a kind of carnival and culinary experience.  It had the usual array of simple and old carnival rides.  It also had a series of booths where you could throw a dart and break a balloon, or roll a ball into a multicolored cupcake pan and hope it landed in your chosen shade, and win a prize worth about three cents.  The fact it cost a quarter each play didn’t seem to register with us.

            One of the best and most popular things at this yearly festival was the blade meat.  It wasn’t like you walked up and got a plate full of cooked beef, or a pre-made sandwich.  No, this was the best stuff I ever remember eating – and you had to work for it.

            You went to the booth and rented a large metal skewer, really more like a spear.  Then you bought the meat uncooked, and watched them roll it in huge chunks of salt.  By the time you got the pieces, they were virtually covered in seasoning.

            You (or more likely your parent) put them on the skewer, then laid them across a long, rectangular cement fire-pit.  The coals were always perfect, and the smell of the meat cooking was sweet torture.  But the incredible pleasure of tasting it shortly thereafter was so, so worth it.

            The Barbeque started on Saturday and ended Monday night.  The grand finale was a terrific fireworks display – perhaps tame by today’s standards, but absolutely thrilling to those of us who never missed them.  It was a ritual, celebrating the end of summertime freedom and a return to the rigors of getting an education.

            For those of us who are Portuguese, it had special meaning.  With Norton’s large Portuguese population at that time (which continues today), we saw a lot of friends, family, and particularly the older generation.  We watched, we listened, we learned, and were drawn into the culture and tradition of the home of many of our grandparents and parents.

            Of course, there were and still are similar celebrations still held in and around the area.  I’m sure many of them are just as steeped in tradition and providing similar memories.

            But in this day of video games, the internet, hundreds of cable channels, and phones that provide entertainment 24/7, it is hard to imagine these events meaning as much to kids as this one meant to us.  Believe me, it wasn’t the least bit fancy.  You didn’t walk through a shining festival of lights or get dazzled with technology, but it was still one of the highlights of the year.

            The field that hosted this great event for so many years is now the site of several homes.  The fire-pits are long gone, and the smell of that seasoned meat dissipated long ago.

            But today I’ll still drive by and remember the days when it was our end of the summer event.  And if I try real hard, I still might catch a stray whiff.

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