Monday, November 24, 2014

Celebrating My Thanksgiving Day This Year

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, November 24, 2014.

By Bill Gouveia

            This Thursday is Thanksgiving Day, that uniquely American holiday where each year we all pretend to remember how thankful we are for the things we will go back to ignoring before Christmas.

            It is my favorite holiday, and not just because it is always on a Thursday, thus providing an extra-long weekend.  Thanksgiving appeals to me because it is a day spent in actual celebration of nothing except a spirit of grateful reflection. 

That spirit is not based upon your religion, your ethnicity, your race, or your geographic location.  It’s merely a day where you can count your blessings, regardless of where you think they may have come from.

            It manages to encompass three of my very favorite things in this world:  Food, football, and family (not necessarily ranked in order of my own personal priority).  And this week, I will thoroughly and happily enjoy all three.

            My family will gather at the home of my sister-in-law and brother-in-law in Norton to relax and shatter our diets.  There will be turkey and mashed potatoes, and we will argue about whether they should have butter on them and how much seasoning should be applied to the various meal components.  The desserts will be fabulous, as my wife and her sister renew their decades-old battle about who makes the better apple pie.

It’s possible the morning may begin with a trip to one of the local Thanksgiving Day high school football games, depending on the weather and how early I drag myself up out of bed.  There will be football on television, and I will be rooting for my fantasy league players to help me make my league playoffs.

But best and most important of all, there will be family.  We will be gathered together in numbers seldom realized anymore, as busy lives and extended family obligations make our times together all that more precious and few.

My two sons and their families will both be there, along with many of their cousins and other family members.  And that means the most important part of any holiday (or any day, for that matter) will also be present – our three beautiful grandchildren.

Our oldest grandchild Will (did I mention his name is William?) is now six years old and in the first grade.  Our amazing granddaughter Avery will be visiting and she is wise far beyond her 2-1/2 years.  And at 15 months baby Sam (we won’t be able to call him that much longer) will be mobile for the first time during a major family holiday.  We are nailing down the furniture.

I have gone through most of the stages of family Thanksgivings now.  I remember the excitement as a child, waiting to see all the relatives I rarely got to visit.  The smell of my mother’s cooking, going to Mansfield-Foxboro football games with my grandfather, and then being bored as the old people sat around having beverages and talking about family stuff for the umpteenth time.

Then there was the second stage, bringing my own children to such celebrations.  The hassle of getting them out of the house, keeping an eye on them, and trying to get them home at a decent hour.  We always did two dinners every holiday, one with each family, and continually threatened to end that practice (though thankfully we never did).

And now there is the third stage – where we ARE the old people sitting around telling the same old stories and laughing just as hard as we did years ago.  Now we chase the grandkids around, give them sweets behind their parent’s backs, and marvel in the pure love and joy they manage to provide and inspire in us. 

Many of the people who were integral parts of our holidays and lives for so long are now gone.  It is somewhat frightening and yet at the same time reassuring to know our kids and their kids will look back at us someday the same way we recall our parents and grandparents now.  At least, we hope they will.

So count the Gouveia family grateful this year.  And to my good readers, I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving and all the food, football and family you can handle.

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

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Town Government Study Committee Report from 2004

Posting this here for the folks who wanted to see it for reference.  It is the report of the Norton Town Government Study Committee, of which I was a member.

    Town Government Study Committee
    Report to the Board of Selectmen
    June 29, 2004

    The Norton Town Government Study Committee was appointed by
the  Board of Selectmen in May, 2003. Members of the Committee are:
William Gouveia, Paul Helmreich, John Luti, Janice Rorke, and Lee
Tarantino, Chair.

    The Committee was charged by the Board of Selectmen to review
the current form of government in Norton, both legislative and
operational; to conduct an investigative study and evaluation of
other forms of municipal government; and to report its findings and
recommendations to the Board of Selectmen.  No time limit was placed
on the Committee in terms of fulfilling these tasks.

    Between May 29, 2003 and June 29, 2004, the Committee met 21
times. Four meetings were set aside for discussions with the Town
Manager, James Purcell; the Board of Selectmen (Robert Kimball
attended); the Town Moderator, Phillip Warren; and Heads of all Town
Departments (attended by the representatives of the Public Library
and School Committee).  In addition, in an effort to obtain general
public input regarding preferred forms of legislative government, the
committee participated in a public forum sponsored by the Norton
Women of Today.  Approximately 40 people attended.  The Chair of the
committee also appeared on local cable access television to discuss
this issue.  The Committee was invited to attend a Board of
Selectmen's meeting on March 4, 2004, at which time there was
additional general discussion regarding legislative forms of

    In researching and evaluating various forms of town
government the Committee gathered information from libraries, the
internet, the Massachusetts Municipal Association, and newspaper
articles about similar studies, problems, and events in other
communities.  This report consists of two main parts.  Part I deals
with legislative forms of government.  Part II examines the
operational structure of Norton's present governmental system, and
suggests possible alternative methods for providing cost-effective,
efficient services to the townspeople of Norton.  It should be noted
that early in its discussions it became apparent to the Town
Government Study Committee that the subjects under discussion in
Parts I and II are, at least in a formal and technical sense, quite
separate from each other.  Forms and methods of providing operational
services are quite independent from the legislative forms of decision
making.  Neither is in any way firmly linked to the other.  Yet both,
of course, are necessary.


    In its investigation, it quickly became apparent to the
Committee that it was most useful to consider seriously the various
forms of municipal government generally utilized by communities in
New England.  The reasons for this are several, but two seem
particularly important.

        1.  In New England in general and in Massachusetts in
particular, county forms of government play a very minimal role,
especially in comparison to other areas in the United States where
road maintenance, public safety, schools, and other services often
rest with county authorities.

        2.  In New England, almost all public services
conform to the territorial configuration of a given town or city.
Contrastingly, in New York State or Pennsylvania, to give just two
examples, highway districts, school districts, library districts and
water districts often include parts of several communities (but not
necessarily all the territory of those communities).  And each of
these districts may have a different territorial configuration from
the others, or from the political boundaries of the communities
involved.  In New England, more than in any other section of the
country, the political unit of the town or city remains the sole and
all-inclusive method of organizing and financing public services.

    In its deliberations the Committee examined four forms of
government currently found in Massachusetts and two others used to
some extent in New Hampshire and Rhode Island respectively.  In all
cases there are a variety of permutations to be found from one
community to the next.  But overall, these six types can be said to
reflect the basic forms of municipal government found in New England.

        1. Open Town Meeting. This is the form of government
that Norton has used for nearly 300 years.  At its heart is the open
town meeting at which all registered voters in the town are eligible
to attend, speak and vote on all town business presented through
articles placed on a warrant issued by the Board of Selectmen for
that meeting.  Voters can also place articles on the warrant through
a petition process.  The meeting is run by an elected moderator
according to the rules found in a book entitled Town Meeting Time.
Norton's charter requires that at any town meeting, annual or
special, the Finance Committee, an independent committee appointed by
the Moderator whose members are prohibited from serving on any other
standing town committee, is required to present a recommendation to
the voters regarding whether or not any article should be approved.
The Finance Committee is also required, if recommending an article
involving spending, to specify the amount it recommends should be

        2.  Representative Town Meeting.  This form of
government is basically the same as that of the Open Town Meeting.
The one major difference is that the voters in the town elect
official representatives who are the only ones eligible to vote on
articles presented on the warrant at town meetings.  Normally each
ward or precinct elects a prescribed number of town meeting
representatives, and in some communities there are several
representative units within each precinct.  The total number of
representatives varies in different communities from 240 to as low as
50.  While all registered voters are free to attend and speak at town
meetings, only the elected representatives can vote on any issue.

        3.  The Financial Town Meeting.  This form of
government is used primarily by towns in Rhode Island and a few in
Connecticut.  The form is that of an open town meeting, but only
articles that involve authorization to spend money are brought before
the meeting. Some communities have a finance committee to make
recommendations to the voters, others do not.  The majority of towns
in Rhode Island have given up this form of legislative government.

        4.  The Official (Australian) Ballot form of Town Meeting.
This is used by some communities in New Hampshire.  It requires an
open town meeting at which all articles on the warrant are discussed
and are open to amendment.  No article is voted on.  One month after
the open deliberative town meeting, voters go to the polls and vote
on all articles on the warrant, which are presented in abbreviated
form on the ballot, and which reflect any amendments made at the open
town meeting.  The main operational budget is voted on as a whole,
with no breakdown provided on the ballot.  If the budget article
fails, the operating budget for the ensuing year remains the same as
the last previously enacted budget, unless the selectmen choose to
call a special town meeting and go through the process again.  The
vast majority of New Hampshire towns still have the open town meeting
form of government.

        5. Town Council, with either a Town Administrator or
a Town Manager.  The most common number of councillors is either 9 or
11, with representation usually coming both from councillors elected
to represent each voting precinct, and from others elected "at
large."  The duties of the Town Council include all those undertaken
by a Board of Selectmen in town meeting forms of government, plus
legislative authority on all matters formerly reserved to a town
meeting, either open or representative.

        6.  Council Form of Government with an Elected Mayor.
This is a city rather than town form of government. The position of
Mayor is a full-time job and the person holding it is paid
accordingly.  This system places a premium on a community's creating
and preserving a professional staff of department heads, with the
necessary support system and expertise to allow the operational side
of the government operation to function smoothly regardless of the
basic knowledge or need for on-the-job-training on the part of the
elected Mayor.  Normally a city form of government is most suitable
for large communities.  However, it should be noted that there are
four communities in Massachusetts whose population is less than that
of Norton which have adopted this form of government.

    After examining these six forms, the committee determined
that it did not regard three of the six forms of government as
appropriate for Norton. These are as follows:

    1.  Financial Town Meeting.  In effect this system provides
little that is different from Norton's present form of government.
Voters will come to the Financial Town Meeting as well or as little
prepared as they do under our present system.  And it will remove the
chance for voters to have a say on non-financial issues such as water
resource districts, industrial tax incentives, leash laws, zoning
changes etc.  Historical data from Rhode Island indicates the same
problems involving voter attendance and preparedness that exist in
other systems are also to be found with this one.  In short, little
or nothing is improved and some things are lost.

    2.  Official (Australian) Ballot Town Meeting.  Initially
this may seem appealing for it provides an opportunity for voters to
cast their ballots over an extended period of time on a single day,
thus undoubtedly making it easier for some to do this than to attend
an evening town meeting.  But the evidence suggests that the process
is in fact unwieldy, and leads to much confusion.  Since the
preliminary town meeting allows for articles to be amended from the
floor, the ballots cannot be prepared until after that meeting is
concluded, which means there is a period of time of several weeks
between the open town meeting and the ballot vote.  Voters who did
not attend the presentation and discussion meeting apparently often
enter the voting booth with knowledge about only the one or two items
they are particularly interested in.  Moreover, the operational
budget figure is given on the ballot with no explanation and can only
be voted up or down.

    Presented with a five or six page ballot which has anywhere
from 25 to 50 articles, with no explanations given and no one to ask,
many voters apperently find the process quite daunting.  "A
significant percentage of the voters failed to vote on each article
in a long warrant.  Faced with a seventy-six article combined town
and school district ballot, many Charlestown (NH) residents in 1997
reported they started 'checking "no" because the process was taking
too long.'" (Zimmerman, New England Town Meeting, p. 76)

    3.  Council with Elected Mayor (city form of government).
For a community the size of Norton, relying as it does on many
departments that are quite small, and many volunteer boards, the lack
of professional direction provided by a Town Manager could well prove
to be disastrous.  Not only would there be the Mayor's salary, but
undoubtedly there would also quickly be one for a full-time
professional administrative assistant who would in fact be doing much
of what our present Town Manager does.  In addition, the obvious
risks involved in having the administrative head of a small community
also be the holder of the most highly visible political position
should be apparent.  Norton is not ready to become a city and will
not be for quite some time to come.

    Three forms of government remain:  Open Town Meeting;
Representative Town Meeting; Town Council with appointed Town
Manager.  Below is a summary of what the Committee perceives to be
the most important advantages and disadvantages of each.

    1.  Open Town Meeting.

        A.  Advantages.  It is the only legislative system of
government still available that affords the opportunity for every
citizen who is a registered voter to attend, speak and vote at a town
meeting.  It is, in fact, the last bastion of direct, participatory
democracy.  Giving up that right/privilege will be a major loss for
popular political empowerment, and should not be forsaken lightly or
easily. This is as true for those who are reluctant to speak in a
large public forum, but who treasure the right to vote, as it is for
those who relish the give and take of public debate.

    Historically, open town meeting has served Norton well for
nearly 300 years, and those who support it can argue that even with
small attendance at town meetings (normally 200-500 persons), it
remains a representative body in the sense that those who choose not
to come do so voluntarily, and therefore equally voluntarily give
over their rights to those citizens who do attend.  Town meeting, in
effect, becomes a representative body whose members are
self-selected, rather than elected or appointed.

    Open town meetings force governing authorities and boards to
seek general public approval of the town and school budgets, and of
changes in the zoning by-laws.

        B.  Disadvantages.  It can be argued that in today's
world, with persons commuting long distances to work, and both adults
in many households holding full-time jobs, the time and energy needed
to become a prepared, knowledgeable participant in an open town
meeting is nearly impossible for many citizens, even with the best of
will.  What worked in a small, mainly agricultural community in the
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries became increasingly outmoded
during the latter part of the twentieth century, and is both
cumbersome and non-representative today.  This is born out by the
fact that at most town meetings an attendance of between 300 and 500
voters out of the l0,000 registered in Norton is considered a good
turnout.  Even the largest voter attendance in living memory
(January, 2003) brought only 20% of the registered voters to the
meeting, and that number stretched our available facilities to the

    Those proposing change regard the open town meeting system as
a cumbersome, inefficient and ineffective way of conducting the
town's business.  It offers participatory rights which the vast
majority of citizens seem unwilling or unable to exercise.  As one
opponent stated: "The horse and buggy served wonderfully for several
centuries.  It still works as well as ever today, but is ill-suited
for effective use in our 21st century society."

    2.  Representative Town Meeting

        A. Advantages.  Supporters of a representative town
meeting form of government maintain that this form of government
ensures fair representation and voting power from all geographical
sections of a community.  This in theory will place the interests of
the town as a whole over the interest of any special issues "faction"
when the members of the town meeting are deliberating and voting.
Representative town meeting requires a commitment from its elected
members to come to the meeting well-informed on the issues, and its
limited size makes the conduct of the meeting easier and more orderly
for the Moderator.

    `    B.  Disadvantages.  There is much statistical
evidence to show that most communities have a hard a time getting
candidates to fill all town meeting slots, that many positions often
go vacant.  Rarely are there enough candidates so that a seat is
actually contested.  Attendance at many town meetings is often
problematic, so much so that one person currently employed in a town
with this form of government told us that just getting a quorum to
hold a meeting was often quite difficult.

    Critics point out that the general public is allowed to
attend and speak at a representative town meeting, but only the
representatives can vote.  This often creates resentment on the part
of non-members who choose to attend, feel strongly on an issue, but
who can no longer vote as they previously could in an open town
meeting situation. In one case cited to the committee, town employees
garnered so many seats in a representative town meeting situation
that they effectively seized control of the meeting. Many towns
forbid town employees to sit as members of a representative town
meeting, a provision that can have negative ramifications of its own.

    Critics also contend that with a limited number of possible
votes, private lobbying of representatives and vote "swapping"
agreements tend to become more likely.

    3. Town Council with Appointed Town Manager.

        A.  Advantages.  This system gives to the Town
Council not only the policy-making and license-granting authority
presently in place for a traditional Board of Selectmen, but also
grants to the Council the legislative authority previously vested in
one or another form of town meeting.  It clearly states on whose
shoulders the responsibility lies, subjects all councillors to
election by the citizens of the town every two years, and ensures
that there are representatives on the Council from all voting
precincts within the town.  Normally meeting every week, the Council
is able to conduct the Town's business far more swiftly and
efficiently than is the case when town meetings have to be called to
enact budgetary and other forms of legislation.

    Retaining a strong Town Manager, rather than an elected
Mayor, makes it certain that the Town has professional, experienced
operational and budgetary leadership, while also ensuring that the
Town Manager is ultimately responsible to and operates under the
policy guidance of the Town Council.  In turn, Town Council members,
being few in number, are constantly held up to the eyes of public
evaluation and scrutiny in a way that members of a representative
town meeting are not.  Those that run for office know in advance the
amount of time, commitment and preparation that will be required of

    Supporters also argue that for those newer residents of
Norton who have no knowledge or experience here or elsewhere with a
town meeting form of government, the annual duty to elect members of
a governing council is one clearly recognized and understood.  It is
the system in place in the vast majority of communities in the United
.  Voting in an annual election is an obligation far easier to
meld into the complicated and varied lifestyles of the world of the
21st century than is preparation for and attendance at a two or
three-evening annual town meeting.  Supporting this view is the
Committee's own distinct perception that those attending Norton's
town meetings tend predominantly to be either long-term residents of
the town, or younger persons who have grown up in this or another
community with a town meeting form of government---groups for whom an
open town meeting government seems natural and is well understood.
It can legitimately be predicted that within ten to twenty years a
much larger percentage of Norton's population will not understand or
be comfortable with an open town meeting form of government than is
the case today.

        B.  Disadvantages.  A Town Council form of government
clearly is the most radical move away from the direct participatory
form of government exemplified by open town meeting.  Critics point
out that it represents a major consolidation of power into the hands
of a 7, 9, 11, or 13 member Council, combining the authority
currently shared by the Board of Selectmen and the Town Meeting.
Political deals, factions, "vote swapping" etc., if they occur, can
at times paralyze the working of a small group that finds that it is
"divided against itself."  Although citizens can attend, and often
speak, at council meetings, only the election process is available
for the ordinary citizen who wishes to "effect change."

    General Commentary.

    Citizens of Norton should be aware that since Norton has an
authorized Home Rule Charter form of government (granted by the
Commonwealth in 1989), the latitude for the Town to amend its charter
in terms of departmental structure and operation, without recourse to
approval from Commonwealth offices and authorities, is considerable.
However, a major change in the legislative form of town government,
though possible by two very different procedures, is more cumbersome,
more time consuming, and involves cooperative action at the state
level (see Appendix).

    In any of the three above systems of legislative government
it is possible to amend the town charter to address specific,
particular issues or problems. An example of this would be large bond
issues, which, whether they involve land purchase, municipal building
construction, or new schools generally tend to create the greatest
interest and attendance at our present open town meetings.  It would
be possible and legal to amend the Town Charter under any system of
government to require that a bond issue that is greater than a
certain amount be subject to approval at a general ballot rather than
by a vote of a Town Meeting or Town Council.

    It may be worth noting that all members of the Town
Government Study Committee are of course very familiar with Norton's
present form of town government. Three members currently serve on the
Finance Committee.  One is a former Selectman; another serves on the
Industrial Development Committee; a third is an active participant in
the Norton Women of Today; and a fourth recently served on the School
Building Needs Assessment Committee.

    Two members of the committee have extensive experience as
participants in a representative town meeting form of government, in
both instances in Holbrook.  Another has a daughter-in-law who served
as a representative town meeting member in Sanford, Maine.  The
Committee also had the opportunity to talk with the present Town
Administrator in the Town of Holbrook, and to obtain opinions and
comments from other knowledgeable individuals regarding the pros and
cons of this particular form of government.

    Members of the committee have much less direct personal
knowledge and experience with a Town Council form of government,
other than having read a fair amount of literature that has been
generated concerning it.  But it is also true that the Town Council
is perhaps the simplest and easiest form of government to understand
and evaluate of all the systems studied by the Committee.

    One of the issues that continually came up in committee
discussions was the question of size of a community in relation to
its form of government.  Clearly the open town meeting form of
government was formulated at a time when the populations of towns
were very small and homogeneous by today's standards. Yet today
Andover (2000 population of 31,247) still has an open town meeting,
while Framingham (66,910) maintains a representative town meeting.
Conversely, Southbridge (17,214) has a 13 member town council and a
town manager. Four communities smaller than Norton have adopted a
city form of government, eg. a council with an elected Mayor
(Amesbury, Easthampton, Newburyport, North Adams). It is evident that
data from other Massachusetts communities is not helpful in providing
a guideline regarding size of population in relation to type of

    Finally, it was a surprise to the Committee to learn how many
towns in Massachusetts are right now in the process of evaluating
their systems of government with an eye to possibly adopting some
alternative form from the one they presently have.  Accounts in the
media regarding their experiences, deliberations and recommendations
were beneficial to the Committee.

    Final Conclusions and Recommendations.

    After much careful deliberation, the Committee has come to
several conclusions concerning the future of town government in

    Growth means change.  The Committee has agreed that as Norton
continues to grow, our form of government will need to change.  While
there are towns larger than Norton who still use Open Town Meeting,
they are the exception rather than the rule.  It is clear to the
Committee that as Norton's population increases Open Town Meeting is
likely to become logistically more difficult, and procedurely more
incomprehensible and irritating to the vast majority of the town's
citizens.  In turn, this will make it less and less effective in
representing adequately the wishes of registered voters.  In fact,
three members of the committee believe the town is already too large,
and public apathy too great, to ensure proper representation and
effective government through the Open Town Meeting process.  And the
two remaining members are of the opinion that the time for change
will come in the very near future.

    In particular all members of the Committee were aware that
attendance at a routine annual town meeting in the past several years
has been considerably less than it was 30-40 years ago, when Norton
had far less than half the population it has today.  Equally
noticeable is the rapidly advancing age of the majority of those who
still choose to attend.  All of this does not bode well for the
future of the Open Town Meeting system.

    The Committee believes that of the three viable options it
has studied, Representative Town Meeting should be eliminated from
consideration.  We find it does not provide substantial change from
the current system, offers limited increases in efficiency, does
little to eliminate the problems of Open Town Meeting, and adds
others specific to that form of government.

       After thorough and lengthy consideration, the Town Government
Study Committee has come to one basic conclusion, which leads in turn
to two specific recommendations to the Board of Selectmen and the
townspeople of Norton.

        Basic Conclusion.  The Open Town Meeting Form of
Government no longer serves Norton as well as it did for many
decades. Moreover,  it is annually becoming more ineffective as
growth in population size and changes in the occupations and life
styles of the citizens of the town continue at an accelerating rate.
The need to move to a new form of government is already apparent and
will become more pressing in the immediate future.

        Specific Recommendations.

            1. Recognizing that a major alteration in the
legislative form of government involves a process that is likely to
take several years to complete, the Town Government Study Committee
unanimously recommends that the time to begin the procedures
necessary to effect this change is now.

            2.   It is the unanimous recommendation of
the Town Government Study Committee that Norton adopt a Town Council
form of government with an appointed strong Town Manager.

    We believe that this form of government will provide the best
representation and efficiency of operation for a community that is
likely to experience population growth at the rate predicted for
Norton.  The Committee recommends that the Town immediately begin the
process to effect the ultimate transition to a Town Council form of
government, using one of the two methods available to it for
effecting this change:  (a) Home Rule Charter Amendment; or (b)
Special Act Charter Amendment. (See Appendix)

    Bond Issues.  All members of the Committee are agreed that a
revision in the Town Charter to require that decisions on bond issues
greater than $5,000,000 be made through a general election ballot
process should be implemented as soon as possible.  This is a change
that the Committee sees as desireable, whatever the form of
legislative government.  It will provide the greatest and fairest
opportunity for all citizens to have a chance to cast their vote on
special issues that involve a major expenditure of capital. It can be
enacted through the Charter "Amendment" process. (See Appendix)

                * * * * * * * * * *

    In addition to requiring that all bond issues in excess of
$5,000,000 be voted on at a general election rather than at Town
Meeting, the Committee also makes the following specific
recommendations relative to improving the decorum and smooth
operation of our present open town meeting system.

    1.  Some members of the Committee would like serious
consideration to be given to holding the town meetings in either the
High School or Middle School auditoriums, believing that the more
comfortable seating and better sound systems found in both these
venues might help to improve both attendance and decorum at the
meetings.  Others believe that the larger seating capacity in the
Yelle school auditorium ensures an ability to adjust easily to
fluctuating attendance numbers.  They also are of the opinion that
the relative ease of movement in the Yelle auditorium makes it easier
for voters to participate in discussion and debate than would be the
case at the other halls.

    2.  If the meeting is held at the Yelle School, the back half
of the auditorium should be roped off and opened only when the front
section is nearly full.

    3.  As long as only the front half of the auditorium at the
Yelle School is in use, citizens with questions and comments should
use only the microphone at the front of the hall.

    3.  At all meetings, the Moderator should appoint and
announce for each meeting a sergeant-at-arms, whose duty shall be to
assure that proper decorum prevails in the back part of the hall, and
who can notify the Moderator by "walkie/talkie" when such is not the

    4  Other than an official of town government or a town
committee, whose function is to answer a specific question or provide
general information to the townspeople, no person should speak more
than twice on a single motion or sub-part of a motion, as long as
persons who have not yet spoken on that matter are waiting to talk.


    In this section the Town Government Study Committee presents
the results of its review of the structure and procedures currently
in place in terms of the day-to-day operation of government services
in Norton.  The purpose of this review is to make recommendations
that, in the opinion of the Committee, can lead to a more rational
and cost-effective operational structure of town government as
presently constituted. All the recommendations made below could be
enacted using the Charter "Amendment" process. (See Appendix)

    The Committee wishes to emphasize that the recommendations
made here are independent of any decision regarding the wisdom of
effecting a change in the legislative form of town government.
Obviously if such a change were to be made it would result in the
alteration of some committee, and possibly departmental, structures
and operations. Perhaps the most obvious example of this would be the
composition and role of the Finance Committee.  Massachusetts law
requires that every city and town have an independent Finance
Committee. If Norton moves to a Town Council form of government there
will be no Moderator to appoint a Finance Committee, and the
membership and method of appointing that committee, as well as its
specific duties, will have to be redefined.  But that and other
changes made necessary by a new legislative form of government should
and must fall within the purview of a Charter Review Commission or
Charter Commission, and no discussion of these will be made in this

    The comments and recommendations made here are seen by the
members of the Town Government Study Committee as potentially
positive steps in the long range development of effective and
efficient government services, regardless of the legislative form of
government in place in Norton.  The committee has systematically
considered the following categories:  Elected Officials; Town Manager
Appointments; Board of Selectmen Appointments; Moderator
Appointments; Town Departments or Accounts with a separate Budget
line, FY2004.  Only those instances where a change in the method of
election, appointment, or operation is recommended are included in
this report.

    All of these recommendations could be implemented by a simple
vote of Town Meeting. They would not even legally require the
appointment of a Charter Commission or Charter Review Commission.
(See the section in the Appendix entitled "Charter Amendment.")

    I. Elected Officials.

        a. Town Clerk.  The Committee recommends: (a) that
the position of Town Clerk be designated as full-time; (b) that the
position be filled under the standard procedures of appointment by
the Town Manager.  As Norton continues to grow and the services
demanded of this office become more numerous and more complex, it is
important that this position be regarded as a professional one
subject to stated guidelines of expected qualifications and

        b.  Town Treasurer/Collector.  The Committee strongly
recommends that this position become an appointed rather than elected
position.  The Treasurer/Collector is now reponsible for handling
financial matters involving more than $50,000,000 annually in
revenues, investments, and disbursements of funds.  The need to be
able to guarantee the professional expertise and qualifications of
the holder of this position is patently obvious to the Committee, as
well as the desireability of opening the candidate pool to those who
do not conform to the current requirement that the holder of this
elective office be a resident of the Town of Norton.

        c.  Board of Assessors.  The Committee recommends
that members of the Board should be appointed by the Board of
Selectmen.  The main, though not only, function of members of this
Board is to review petitions for tax abatements.  In this the Board
is not unlike the Zoning Board of Appeals in terms of hearing
petitions for relief from certain rules or judgments.  An ability to
operate independent of concerns relating to election or reelection is
very important in this instance.  The Committee also recommends that
the Town cover the costs incurred by appointed members of the Board
of Assessors in taking the courses required by the State for
certification as an Assessor.

        d. Southeast Regional School Committee member.  The
Committee fully concurs with the action taken at the last two annual
Town Meetings in recommending that the method of selecting city and
town representatives to this Committee be altered from district-wide
election ballots to a process of appointment by members of the
combined Board of Selectmen and Norton School Committee.  Only this
method will ensure that Norton does in fact have a representative of
its choosing on the Regional School Committee.

        e. Water/Sewer Commissioners.  The Committee
recommends that the members of this Board should be appointed by the
Board of Selectmen, and thus allow the water section of the
department to become subject to the same general operational overview
by the Town Manager as is the case for all other town departments
other than the School Department.  This change would also be
necessary in order effectively to implement the Committee's
recommendation concerning the creation of a Public Works Department
(see below, Section 5 (a)).  The Water/Sewer Commissioners would
continue to operate in the same manner as other appointed town
boards, such as the Recreation or Conservation Commissions.  This
change would have no effect on the Water Department's ability to
continue operating financially as an Enterprise Account, or the
authority of the commissioners to oversee the financial operations of
that account.  The long term goal of making the sewer section of the
department a part of the separate Enterprise Acccount should be
industriously pursued.

    2. Town Manager Appointments.

        (a)  Health Agent.  The Committee recommends that the
Health Agent be subject to appointment by the Town Manager in the
manner generally utilized in all departments with specific appointed
Boards attached to them---i.e initial search and interviews by the
Board, which then submits with its comments and recommendation two or
three candidates to the Town Manager, who then makes the ultimate
hiring determination. The Town Manager is ultimately reponsible for
the cooperative, effective and fiscally reponsible operation of all
town departments other than the school department, and as such should
have the final say in the hiring of operational department heads.

        (b)  Town Planner.  The Committee recommends that the
Town Planner be subject to appointment by the Town Manager.  It does
so for reasons similar to those expressed in the case of the Health
Agent, even though the Planning Board itself remains an elected
rather than apppointed board.  The effective, cooperative, and
fiscally responsible operation of town departments is charged to the
Town Manager, and as such he/she should have the final say in hiring
department heads.

        (c) Water/Sewer Superintendent.  The Committee
recommends that the Water/Sewer Superintendent be subject to
appointment by the by the Town Manager. This would not diminish in
any way the role of the Water/Sewer Commissioners in defining the job
qualifications and conducting the general search and interviews.  But
it would ensure, that the Town Manager, who is reponsible for the
effective, cooperative, and fiscally responsible operation of town
departments, would have the final say in hiring the department head
with which he/she must work in terms of the day-to-day operation of
town government and services.

        (d)  Town Clerk and Town Treasurer/Collector.  The
Committee also recommends that the positions of Town Clerk and Town
Treasurer/ Collector should be appointive by the Town Manager (see
above, Section 1(a) and (b).

    3.  Board of Selectmen Appointments.

        (a)  The Committee recommends that in addition to the
Boards and Town Officials currently appointed by the Board of
Selectmen, the Board should have appointive authority for members of
the Board of Assessors,  Water/Sewer Commissioners, and (jointly with
the School Committee) appointment of Norton's representative to the
Southeastern Regional School Committee.  See above, Section 1 (c),
(d), and (e).

        (b)  Capital Improvements Committee.  The Committee
recommends that the position on the Capital Improvements Committee
currently held by a member of the Planning Board be occupied instead
by the Superintendent of Schools.  This will allow the administrative
heads of the two major divisions of town government to participate
equally in recommending and considering capital expenditures, while
leaving the majority of the committee membership in the hands of
representatives of constituencies that do not ever propose capital
expenditures, but whose work routinely involves the general financial
condition and needs of the Town (Selectmen, Finance Committee, Town

    4.  Moderator Appointments

        The Committee recommends no changes to current
procedure. If Norton does move to a Town Council form of government,
the position of Town Moderator will cease to exist, and that in turn
will obviously necessitate a restructuring of the current appointive
responsibilities held by the Moderator.

    5.  Town Departments or Accounts with Budget Lines, FY 2004

        a. Public Works Department.  The Committee supports
the concept of a Public Works Department. Over the years Norton has
moved closer to the kind of departmental cooperation and
consolidation that such a move envisions as it brought both the
Cemetery Department and the operational functions of the Tree Warden
within the supervisory and operational control of the Highway
Department.  The Committee recommends that serious consideration be
made to the creation of a Public Works Department that would
consolidate (a) the use and purchase of equipment and (b)
personnel--to include the present functions of the Highway, Water,
Sewer, Cemetery, and Tree Warden departments, as well as providing
grounds, water, sewerage and road/path maintenance of school, parks,
recreational, and town common facilities as part of its charge.  This
might involve the creation of a new position of Public Works

        b.  Municipal Finance Department.  The Committee has
considered several suggestions made to it that efficiencies of
operation, communications, and timely service in the operation of
Norton's fiscal departments might well be enhanced by the creation of
a Municipal Finance Department which would bring under one
technological and supervisory umbrella the work of the Accounting,
Treasurer/Collector and Assessors Offices.  Such an operational
configuration is found in a number of municipalities, and it could
help ensure the cooperative fit of various fiscal operations and the
smooth interchange of data collection, retrieval and communications
systems.  The Committee does not anticipate that this restructuring
would require the hiring of additional administrative personnel.

        c.  Communications Department. Since it serves both
the Police and Fire/Rescue Departments, the Committee does not
recommend any change in the current separate and independent
budgeting process for this department.  However, because of the
present location of the Communications Department in the new Police
Station rather than (as was formerly the case) in Town Hall, the
Committee recommends that the Communications Department be placed
under the administrative supervision of the Chief of Police.

    6. Miscellaneous.

        a.  Quarterly Tax Billing.  The Committee wishes to
note its endorsement of the action taken at the Spring 2004 Town
Meeting authorizing the institution of quarterly tax billing
beginning in FY 2006.  Had this action not been taken, a
recommendation for quarterly tax billing would have been part of this

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


                        NORTON T0WN CHARTER

      Charter amendments may be accomplished by complying with the
provisions of G.L. c.43B, the Home Rule Procedures Act, or by seeking
a special act of the General Court. I will briefly describe the
process required for both options. In short, the special act process
is simpler, and generally takes a shorter amount of time to implement.

Home Rule Charter Amendment

      1. Charter "Revision"

          A charter amendment which relates in any way to the
composition, mode of election or appointment, or terms of office of
the legislative body, the Board of Selectmen or a Town Manager may
only be proposed by a Charter Commission elected in accordance with
G.L. c.43B, 3-6, and is referred to as a "revision" or a "major"
charter change.  Thus, the hypothetical change from an "Open Town
Meeting, Board of Selectmen, Strong Town Manager form of government
to a Town Council, Strong Town Manager" form of government, may only
be proposed by an elected charter commission. The process requires
the circulation of a petition, to be signed by at least 15% of the
registered voters of the Town, election of a nine-member charter
commission, preparation of a preliminary charter report, review by
the Attorney General of the minority report, preparation of a final
charter report, and approval by the voters of the proposed amendments
at an annual election following at least two months after the filing
of the final report. The process is lengthy and procedurally complex,
taking approximately two years.

      2.  Charter "Amendment"

          In contrast, the second hypothetical amendment
relative to a change in the elected status of the Treasurer/Collector
does not require that a charter commission be elected. Instead, the
proposed change is deemed an "amendment" or "minor" charter change,
and may be proposed by the Board of Selectmen or by a petitioned
article under G.L. c.39, 10 (i.e., 10 registered voters may petition
the Board of Selectmen to include the article on the warrant for an
Annual Town Meeting, 100 registered voters may petition to have the
article included at a Special Town Meeting, or 200 registered voters
may petition the Board of Selectmen to call for a Special Town
Meeting). No special hearings on the proposed amendment would be
required in such circumstances, and a vote of 2/3 of Town Meeting
would be required to approve the amendment. In the alternative, a
single member of the Board of Selectmen, the Town Manager, or ten
registered voters may "suggest" an amendment the Board of Selectmen.
Under such circumstances, a hearing would be required, and only then
would the matter be submitted for Town Meeting approval.

      In either case, assuming Town Meeting votes to approve the
amendments, a copy of the order proposing the same must be
immediately submitted to the Attorney General and to the Department
of Housing and Community Development. Within four weeks of the date
of submission, the Attorney General must provide an opinion as to any
conflict between the proposed amendment and the state laws and
constitution. If a conflict is reported, the statute provides that
"the order proposing the amendment shall not take effect except as
may be specified by further proceedings of the . . . town meeting."
G.L. c.43B, 10. If no conflict is reported, the order takes effect,
and the proposed amendments may be placed before the voters of the
Town at the first annual Town election occurring at least two months
after the effective date of the order.

      3. Ballot Question

          The form of the ballot question for submission of a
major or minor charter change to be presented to voters is set forth
in G.L. c.43B, 11. While a charter commission prepares a summary of
any proposed charter amendments for the ballot, Town Counsel prepares
a summary of any minor charter amendment. In addition, at least two
weeks prior to the election at which the question will be considered,
the Town must distribute to each residence of one or more registered
voters the proposed charter amendment.

Special Act Charter Amendment

      As an alternative to the home rule charter method, the Town
may amend its charter by petitioning the General Court to pass a
special act. While Town Meeting must still vote to request the
special act, there are no timeline requirements for such a request. A
special act charter change may include changes to any portion of a
Town Charter, including a change in the composition, mode of election
or appointment of the legislative body, Board of Selectmen, or Town
Manager. Further, the special act method does not require that a
public hearing be held, that the charter amendment be submitted to
the Attorney General or Department of Housing and Community
Development, or that the charter amendment be mailed to the voters of
the Town. Please note, however, that although it is not
constitutionally required, the Joint Committee on Local Affairs
generally prefers that a town requesting a special act to amend its
charter provide that the act will not take effect until the voters
have accepted the same at an election. Although the special act
charter method does require action by the General Court, it is a more
flexible process.

      The process for placing a proposed special act before Town
Meeting is the same as placing any other matter before Town Meeting.
The matter may be placed on the warrant and presented to the Town
Meeting pursuant to a petition filed in accordance with G.L. c.39,
10, as described above, or by the Board of Selectmen.

April 15, 2004

Lauren F. Goldberg, Esq.
Kopelman and Paige, P.C.

Friday, November 14, 2014

State Rep's Position On Women Just Wrong

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, november 14, 2014.

By Bill Gouveia

            Jay Barrows is a good state representative who has served his communities of Mansfield, Foxboro and Norton with distinction over the last eight years.  He is smart, savvy, and the kind of behind-the-scenes worker who gets the job done with little fanfare or publicity.

            But last week, Jay royally screwed up.

            While discussing the narrow victory by Governor-Elect Charlie Baker over Martha Coakley, Barrows said Baker talked about more relevant issues and didn’t get bogged down discussing the alleged “war on women”.  He suggested that even women were turned off by Coakley’s concentration on the pay inequity for women in the workplace.

            “They’re sick of all this talk about equal pay and discrimination against women”, the veteran legislator said.  He noted the issue is not a problem at the insurance agency he owns.  When asked about studies that show the inequity clearly exists, Barrows questioned their validity, asking, “Do you believe everything you read?”

            No Representative, I don’t.  In fact, I could barely believe your comments when I read them. 

Barrows may have only been serving for eight years, but the outdated, outmoded, prehistoric attitude he projects when he suggests the issue of equal pay for women is bad politics has been hanging around for generations.  And it is every bit as wrong as he is.

From a political viewpoint, it should be pointed out Baker did indeed improve over his 2010 performance with women voters by some nine percentage points.  But Coakley still beat him among women by 15% in a race that saw her lose by less than two percentage points statewide.  For Barrows to even hint that gap closed because women are tired of hearing they should get equal pay displays the kind of insensitivity and lack of understanding that keeps this problem from being solved.

It should also be noted Baker talked about the equal pay issue during the campaign.  He did not play it up as much as Coakley, largely because it was more of an issue to her political base than his.  But Baker agrees it is a problem.

Perhaps Barrows has some statistics he can share, but there seems to be little in the way of facts showing women were “sick” of hearing they should get the same pay for the same job.  But many women – as well as men – might be feeling ill that in this day and age, some public officials still just don’t get it.

Barrows said during his four terms as a state representative he has never heard a woman complain about unequal pay and never received a letter on the issue.  Now in fairness, that may in part be because there is little a state legislator can do directly to correct this basic unfairness, as opposed to a chief executive like a governor.

But given the position Rep. Barrows so clearly articulated last week, why would anyone even bother to talk to him about it?  People and politicians who don’t believe a problem exists are unlikely to try and do anything to solve it.  If you were a woman experiencing pay discrimination in the workplace, would you go to Representative Barrows to tell your story?

Although something tells me he might have gotten a letter or two on the topic this past week, and might get even more in the months ahead.

It is also important to draw the distinction between the so-called” War on Women” and the equal pay issue.  The war phrase has become a bit of a political catch-all, used more to create anger and fear than really pinpoint any particular problem.  But the “glass ceiling” for women and the fact they make on average 78% of what men get paid for the same jobs is something borne out by careful study and statistics.

Equal pay and treatment of women is neither a Democratic or Republican issue.  It is hard to imagine anyone getting sick of debating something so important to everyone, especially the good voters of the First Bristol district represented so ably by Jay Barrows.

If in the past eight years Jay Barrows has never run across a female constituent upset over the equal pay issue, then I respectfully suggest he needs to get out more often.

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

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Post-Election Analysis, Local and Otherwise

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, November 10, 2014
By Bill Gouveia


            As a political columnist, I feel compelled to give you my analysis of the recent midterm elections.  After careful study and consideration, here is my detailed breakdown on the state and national results:  It was a good year to be a Republican. 


How’s that for insight?


            On the national level, it was clearly a great day for the GOP.  They took control of the Senate with ease, won the lion’s share of the governor races, and solidified their majority in the House.  They managed to define the key issues and blame President Obama for almost everything, including Ebola.  It was a decisive and smart political butt-whipping.


            Of course, winning control of the government is sort of like being a dog chasing a car.  Once you catch it, you have to figure out what to do with it.


            Congress got virtually nothing done over the last two years.  Each side blames the other, but in truth they share the blame.  Both Harry Reid and John Boehner were obstructionists in their own chambers.  Republicans will discover – as Democrats know all too well – that having a majority in the Senate does not mean you suddenly can do what you want.


            But Republicans worked hard for the right to put their policies and philosophies front and center.  Democrats have to acknowledge that and accept the consequences of losing.  That doesn’t mean they should just fold their tent and go home, and they won’t.


            Winning is easy.  Leading is hard.  If Republicans concentrate on exacting revenge for what they perceive as past sins of Democrats, then nothing in government will get better.  We will continue the gridlock and hatred that has consumed and occupied Washington for the last decade or more.


            But right now, they should be allowed to enjoy their celebration.  They earned this victory.  It was clear, it was convincing, it was widespread.  This election might change everything, or it might change nothing.  That will be decided largely by the willingness of Republicans to be leaders as well as winners.


            On the local front, there were few surprises in area communities.  If you had any doubt this is a Republican-leaning part of the state, you need only look at the local results in the US Senate race. 


Hopkington Selectman Brian Herr actually carried five of the ten Sun Chronicle communities over Ed Markey, despite having less name recognition than the players on the Patriots taxi squad.  But he did have an R after his name.  The race for Massachusetts Attorney General was not competitive statewide, but GOP candidate John Miller still gained a majority in half the Sun Chronicle towns.


Governor-Elect Charlie Baker swept all ten communities, partly because his moderate-to-liberal stances on many issues made him attractive to local Democrats. 


The only surprise in the Attleboro state representative race was the margin of victory for incumbent Democrat Paul Heroux.  He dominated Republican Bert Buckley, who had the backing of nearly all the local representatives and city officials.  It was a solid vote of confidence for Heroux as he finishes his first term.  Wrentham State Senator Richard Ross also cruised to an easy victory.


But the biggest winner of the night may have been the Town of Plainville.  The defeat of Question 3 guaranteed the slot machine parlor run by Penn National will indeed open, keeping millions of dollars and several thousand jobs in town.  The casino repeal was rejected by 80% of Plainville voters, and lost in every area community.


Interestingly enough, that included Foxboro where over 60% of those casting ballots supported keeping the gambling law.  It was ironic that they got to vote on a measure allowing a gambling establishment on Route One, just down the road from where Robert Kraft had proposed a resort casino.


Granted, voting to allow legalized gambling statewide is different from allowing it in your own town.  But the wide margin does make you wonder how Foxboro citizens would have chosen had their selectmen not denied them the opportunity to even listen to a casino proposal, never mind vote on one.


Turnout in the area averaged over 50%.  Let’s hope some of those folks remember how to get to the polls come the next local election.


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

Friday, November 7, 2014

Life is Like "Let's Make A Deal"

This column originally appear3ed in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, November 7, 2014
By Bill Gouveia


            As I get older and inch closer to my sixth decade of life, I have come to a relatively simple yet still startling revelation:


            Life is pretty much a series of episodes of the old television game show, Let’s Make a Deal.


            Like most of us, I wasn’t worried about the aging process during my younger and more foolish days.  I mean, I wasn’t exactly a “wild and crazy guy” in the old Saturday Night Live image (could I possibly date myself any earlier into a column?).  But neither was I any type of “health nut”, devoted to a lifestyle that would ensure me a long and fruitful existence.


            I weighed 120 pounds when I graduated from high school.  I’m just a little bit over that now, some 40 years later.  Well, maybe a lot over that.  Okay, so I’m double that and have shrunk about an inch – you wanna make something of it?


            I didn’t get this way overnight.  It was a long and selfish road that led me to this spot where I currently waddle.  It took a lot of fatty foods and Coke (the beverage, not the other stuff) to get to this point.  And it wasn’t because I didn’t know any better.  I knew the job was dangerous, but I kept taking it.


            Many of us are willing to sacrifice our longevity for short-term pleasure and enjoyment – at least when we are younger.  As we get older, we want to start making a deal.


            We start worrying about ourselves, and rightly so.  Some eat less, eat better, exercise more, and generally take better care of their bodies.  They go to bed earlier and get more rest.  In return for these acts, they ask the higher powers we hope control these things to recognize their belated efforts and reward them with a longer and healthier time on this planet.


            “Okay, if I give up butter and go to margarine, you give me an extra three years.  I change to Diet Coke, I get another 18 months.  And passing on salt should definitely mean an extra five years,” you reason with the forces that control the universe.


            But in the end, we have to make choices.  Just like in the aforementioned game show, we are unsure what is actually behind doors number one, two and three.  There are no sure things.


            Then we get shown what is hidden behind one door, and have to decide if we are willing to settle for that.  Our heads tell us it might be the best possible deal, but our hearts urge us to try and get something better.  Go ahead – eat that bowl of ice cream every night.  It’s got to be worth the risk, right?


            When the second door swings open, we are often pleasantly surprised.  We got this far without paying an overly high price, and it’s not so bad.  Of course we aren’t going to settle for this.  We both want and need more.  And what the heck – we’ve gotten by so far, haven’t we?


            That is where I am now, and it won’t be long before Door Number Three swings open and reveals what the road to the final prize will look like.  Now the bargaining starts for real, because the stakes seem much higher looking forward.


            “Listen, I’ll do better,” you reason with the disembodied voices in your head.  “I’ll actually go to the gym once in a while.  I’ll get that physical I’ve been putting off.  I’ll even stop taking my diabetes pill with a Coke every night,” you add, throwing in what could be the clincher.


            But I realize I decided a while ago not to take the deal – at least, not fully.  I’m not saying that’s the smart move, and I’m not suggesting anyone else do the same.  I’m just saying it’s the choice I’ve made.


            I know when I’m 70 and facing various issues, I’ll probably be sorry.  I’ll be regretting my short-sightedness.  I’ll be thinking I should have sacrificed more for the longer view.  I might be wishing I had done it differently, and start trying to make a deal.


            But I have certainly enjoyed getting to this point.  And maybe – just maybe – there’s a treat behind Door Number Three. 


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