Monday, December 22, 2014

Annual Christmas Poem For Our Local Officials

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, December22, 2014

By Bill Gouveia

          Almost everyone has their own special Christmas traditions.  Should you decide to read further, you will discover one of mine.  Proceed at your own risk.

            Nearly every Christmas I share with you good readers my latest rendition of perhaps the most famous holiday poem ever.  Of course, I adapt it to reflect the love and emotion we all hold for our various local officials – and that would include me.

It is my way of thanking the dedicated and devoted public servants who give of their time and energy to make our local governments work.  Or at least, that’s what I tell everyone.  The truth is they keep me stocked with column material, and it’s just a lot of fun.

So with apologies again to the late Clement Moore, I do hereby submit for your reading pain or pleasure my version of “T’was The Night Before Christmas”…

T’was the night before Christmas, and town halls were still,
The leaders were home now, and full of good will.
Attleboro city councilors put their differences aside
And all headed out on a nice school bus ride.

The taxpayers were settled all snug in their beds,
While nightmares of overrides danced in their heads.
Your favorite local columnist was working away,
Preparing a masterpiece to be read Christmas Day.

Then from just outside there came a loud boom
That shook all the TV’s I had in the room.
I ran to the front door and opened it wide,
And gazed in amazement at what was outside.

The moonlight was reflecting, making all things aglow,
As expensive salt was poured on the streets down below.
When suddenly, slicing through the night so grey,
Were five people riding in a football shaped sleigh.

They were arguing and voting, and splitting 3-2.
They were Foxboro selectmen (it’s just what they do).
They had presents for officials, such good little elves.
They were ticked there was nothing in the sleigh for themselves.

To North Attleboro selectmen, they delivered some notes
That Santa was running out of those override votes.
They also left selectmen a few lumps of coal,
And said a split tax rate should be their new goal.

Over Plainville they almost fell out of the sleigh
When they saw that new slot parlor where people will play.
Plainville’s gift was new revenue to keep taxes low,
Which Foxboro could have had, but selectmen said No.

For Norton officials, they had quite a gift -
A new solar farm that has caused a big rift.
For Wrentham citizens, that gift was much harder
Now that they have a new bright shiny charter.

For Mansfield selectmen, they swooped down like a vulture
And pulled any signs that were not of our culture.
For those who love going out and getting drunk quicker,
They brought 11 new licenses for folks to serve liquor.

Rep. Barrows got a gift that just made his day -
A woman called to discuss getting fair equal pay.
Rep. Poirier no longer has that quite angry frown,
Because they made sure no visiting reps come to her town.

For Bishop Feehan High, they brought something neat –
They get their own driveway, complete with a street.
Area food shoppers will get bargains galore
As they finally open that Market Basket store.

They swung through Rehoboth to hand out Christmas greetings,
And warn school officials about stacking Town Meetings.
They found Seekonk selectmen all wearing a grin
As they sat on their bar stools, just being sworn in.

They saw me, and their look was not one of elation -
They looked like they’d seen an OML violation.
In executive session, they then took a vote
To totally ignore anything I ever wrote.

They finished their business and emptied their sleigh,
Waved (not with all fingers) and then dashed away.
They rode off repeating their now familiar refrain:
“There’s no way we’re letting Bob Kraft have that train!”

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist, town official, husband, parent, grandfather, and terrible poet.  He wishes you all a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, and can be reached at and tweeted at @billinsidelook.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Year The Santa Alarm Had A Problem...

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


            Every once in a while an event occurs that shakes you to the core, makes you question what you know, and threatens the life you have built.  This past weekend was one of those times, and it could possibly mean the end of an era.


            Our period of innocence may be over.  Despite my best efforts to shield my family from the cold and cruel world, cynicism continues that steady and deadly march as it tries to eventually overtake us all.


            Just this weekend, my six-year-old grandson Will (did I mention his name is William?) informed both me and his parents that he no longer believes in what is undoubtedly one of the greatest Christmas traditions of all time.  He’s so young to lose this now.


            That’s right folks – Will no longer believes in the existence of the Santa Alarm.


            For those of you unfamiliar with this great piece of American folk lore, it is something that (as far as I know) I made up.  Or at least I’m taking credit for it until someone sues me.


            The Santa Alarm is an extremely complicated device visible to only fathers and grandfathers (and perhaps great-grandfathers) who have children spending the night in their homes on Christmas Eve.  I could tell you exactly how it works, but then I’d have to…well, you know.


            I first used it when my two boys were very small.  They were so excited about getting up on Christmas morning to open presents that they could not sleep. 


I heard them plotting together upstairs in that conspiratorial whisper kids have when discussing the possible overthrow of parental authority.  I realized they could sneak down the steps when my wife and I were getting our scant few hours sleep. As a former Christmas Ninja myself, I knew the drill.


            I had already threatened them with dire consequences should they try and sneak a peek under the tree before receiving the “all clear” signal from us in the morning.  However, I could see in their eyes the belief they could pull one over on the Old Man.  I knew this was going to take more than just the usual warnings.


            So I called them together and explained how things were now out of my hands.  Santa had installed the Santa Alarm and appointed me as guardian and operator.  This is how it works:


            There is a super special and invisible beam of light about halfway down our stairway.  When set it immediately trips if anyone under the age of 18 comes down the stairs.  It cannot be avoided, or stepped around, or beaten.  When triggered, an alarm would go directly to the North Pole.


            Local elves (on standby for just such a situation) would then immediately activate the Present Puller.  This would transfer all presents within seconds to a secure location, where they would be picked up and distributed to needy – and less sneaky – children.  By the time their feet hit the living room floor, it would be all over.


            They wanted proof.  I told them there was a secret switch located in a special spot on the wall going downstairs and only my hand could set it.  I made them hide their eyes while I turned it on (they tried hard to look).  Afterwards I watched them search those walls for hours, but they never did locate it.


            It worked.  Fear is a great motivator.  Christmas morning they rushed into our room, pleading to go downstairs.  They eyed the steps like they were lined with thermonuclear devices, and looked away while I shut off the alarm.


And to my delight, my oldest has continued the use of the Santa Alarm at his home.  To this point, it has been equally effective with my oldest grandson.


But now he is in school.  He has heard stories of other kids successfully sneaking.  He thinks this is a ruse.


But he can’t be 100% sure.  I have shown him an actual alarm panel in my home, yet he remains skeptical.  This kid is a tough sell.


My own boys still tell stories of the Santa Alarm at holiday gatherings.  I’m hoping Will can be convinced for at least another year or two.  There are other grandchildren involved here.


And just how am I going to explain all this to Santa?


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

Monday, December 8, 2014

Foxboro, Kraft Must Get On Same Track

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, December 8, 2014.

By Bill Gouveia

            In most places, having a commuter rail station in or around your community is considered a good thing. 

            Many people buy homes to be near train service.  Being located nearby tends to increase property values.  It is what helped open up the suburbs for those working in Boston and Providence decades ago.  It saves people time and money, and allows them flexibility in this auto-oriented age.

            Folks in New Bedford and Fall River have been fighting for commuter rail access for more than 30 years now.  Every candidate who has ever campaigned there for any state-related office has promised to help make it happen.  Yet it is no closer to political reality today than it was a quarter-century ago. 

            Now it seems Foxboro could possibly become the home of a new commuter rail station located at Gillette Stadium/Patriot Place.  Initial reports indicate there would be no cost to the town for this, no increased MBTA assessment, and limited disruption of neighborhoods since it would run on existing freight rail tracks.  Sounds like good news, right?

            But it has become a lightning rod for controversy for several reasons – chief among them the involvement of the Kraft Group and the possibility they might make a buck or two in the process.

            In all fairness, there is a long way to go before anyone can really determine if a commuter station at this location will be a good thing for Foxboro.  The route of the trains, improvements to the rail, protection for residential neighbors, the cost to the state to convert the tracks – all these things have to be carefully considered first.  And it is early in the process.

            Not helping things is the fact the state and the KG having been negotiating on this for nearly a year without letting Foxboro officials in on the plans.  Selectmen were understandably perturbed when they discovered those two parties had signed a letter of intent involving the creation of a Gillette Stadium station back in January.

            That’s just wrong.  When you are a major taxpayer and economic force in town it is important to work with town officials, seek their help and guidance, and establish a spirit of cooperation that helps you both achieve your goals and objectives.  You can’t blame Foxboro selectmen for feeling left out and ignored.

            Of course, given the track record between the selectmen and the local NFL franchise, it’s also hard to blame the KG for keeping their cards close to their vest.  They got burned on their last major project, and it can be argued the disrespect shown to them was far greater than what has been done so far in this situation.

            For those who have forgotten, Robert Kraft and Steve Wynn got together to propose a resort casino for Foxboro.  They went to selectmen first and asked for the chance to present their plans in detail to the entire town.  They followed the proper procedures and did everything as required.

            But after initially agreeing to at least hear them out, selectmen did an about face and slammed the door on the casino plan before it was ever formulated.  Selectmen refused to let Kraft even talk to them about it. 

The board would not give the town’s largest single private source of revenue the respect of allowing a presentation.  That devolved into the most contentious town election in recent memory, complete with the then-town manager publicly insulting the KG every chance he got.

            Do you think maybe Robert Kraft and his people remembered that?  Could it be perhaps they were afraid town officials would once again sink them before they even got started?  Was it really in their best interests to be completely upfront?  Probably not.

            This is a prime example of why it is important – for both sides – to maintain a civil relationship.  There should not be surprises like this.  And there probably would not be, except neither side trusts or respects the other very much.

            Foxboro officials should stop counting Robert Kraft’s money and try and reestablish a cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship.  Kraft should put aside his distrust and disdain and recognize he needs these local politicians.

            Maybe if they do that, they could all take a ride on the choo-choo together.

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

Friday, December 5, 2014

Remaining Silent On Racism Is Not The Answer

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


            The town of Ferguson, MO isn’t just located in America – it is America.  It is a typical example of what is going on in this country with regard to race, life, policing, the legal system, the frustration of citizens, and the delicate and subjective concepts of fairness and decency.


            I can’t do justice to the many complex and complicated issues going on there.  I can’t properly analyze the many forces at work, both good and bad. 


I’m neither qualified nor equipped to properly and completely assess the impact of events which have crippled a town, made us question our values and systems, and created a public dialogue that is either helping the situation or destroying the country, depending on your personal perspective.


            So all I am left with is my own point of view – that of a relatively privileged white person in a liberal state who has never had to personally endure much when it comes to discrimination.  I have never had to fear for my life as I walk down the street at night because I might look out of place.  I have never had to be a law enforcement officer and risk my life every time I answer even a relatively simple call.


            I have not been a part of a community where the police are viewed as the enemy, where their very presence is a threat whether or not there is any wrongdoing.  I have not had the experience of working within the public safety sphere or the court system, where there is constant exposure to people who commit crimes and pose a real threat.


            But there are some things I know.  I can’t explain to the satisfaction of all just how I know them, or why I am convinced of their validity.  But I am – and for the purpose of this discussion, that is what is important.


            I know racism is something deeply ingrained into our way of life.  I know it permeates many of our institutions in ways both obvious and subtle.  I know it unfairly affects those who are both victims of it and collateral damage of attempts to end or correct it.


            I know the bombing and burning in Ferguson is wrong.  I also know it is a symptom, not a disease.  It can’t be tolerated, it must be stopped.  But to concentrate on that, to make these destructive acts the focus of what is happening there, is a mistake of serious proportions.


            I know there is a large African-American population in Ferguson.  I know a large percentage of criminal activity there is committed by people of color, in large part as a result of that percentage.  But I also know that should not and cannot be reason for police officers to profile black people in general as more likely to be criminals.


            I know the grand jury process is the way the law works in Ferguson and other places.  I know that system is often nothing more than a tool for the local prosecutor, who controls what the grand jury gets.  I understand that if the prosecutor wants an indictment, he/she will get an indictment.  And if he/she doesn’t – they won’t.


            I know white police officers in Ferguson and elsewhere are not racists simply by virtue of their profession.  I know their job sometimes casts them in an unfair light.  But I also know they are trained in a system that often seems to excuse racism in the name of safety.  I know neither safety nor freedom should be determined by your race.


            I know there are criminals looting and burning in Ferguson, and they should be jailed.  But I know they are not indicative of the majority of those standing up against injustice and inequality, going far beyond what occurred between a Ferguson teen and a police officer.


            What I don’t know is how to attack the real problem of racism in all its forms, not just the most obvious and visible ones.  I don’t know how to fix it, to make it fair, to make it right.


            So for now I will try to be a part of the discussion, to keep a dialogue going.  I don’t know if that will work.


            But I know remaining silent won’t.


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