Friday, February 27, 2015

MBTA Problems Stem From State Officials

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, Feb 27, 2015
By Bill Gouveia


            If the latest fuss over the MBTA by state legislators and officials weren’t so harmful and hypocritical, it would be funny.  But it’s hard to laugh when one of the key components of your state’s economic engine is running like a gerbil on a worn treadmill.

            The Winter of 2015 will go down in history as the time when state officials rediscovered their mass transit system.  Though most of them probably haven’t ridden the beleaguered T in a while, many are now discovering they have to at least look like they are paying some attention to it.

            The MBTA has long been a tremendous source of patronage for legislators and governors.  Because it is technically a separate entity from state government, officials have long considered themselves politically insulated from it.  They are always quick to jump on the T’s accomplishments, but are adept at distancing themselves from its many problems.

            You have to wonder why it took the worst winter of our generation for lawmakers to realize the MBTA has not been spending enough money on maintenance and equipment.  Their apparent amazement at the overly-generous pensions, collective bargaining agreements and executive travel expenses they helped create makes it difficult for anyone to take them seriously.  But since most of them run virtually unopposed, I guess they can get away with this “holier-than-thou” act.

            The fact the T had serious issues in the midst of eight feet of snow over a few weeks is hardly shocking.  Most of us had trouble getting to the end of our driveways.  That the local mass transit system could not move hundreds of thousands of people given the weather should not surprise anyone.

            Now suddenly there are committees being formed, and Gov. Baker is acting tough and issuing ultimatums.  While the call to action is a welcome change and reforming the MBTA is a great idea, we should all remember that politicians created this problem.  They built the MBTA, politicized it, milked it for their political advantage, and now are using it as a scapegoat.

            Gov. Baker is a prime example.  While running for his current job, he refused to take a position on the T expanding service on an existing (though in need of upgrading) rail line to Gillette Stadium.  After he won and the snows came, he suddenly found the courage and wisdom to say it is a bad idea.

            But at the same time – as the Sun Chronicle’s Jim Hand so insightfully noted in his recent commentary – he stands firmly behind bringing rail service to the New Bedford/Fall River area.  This is something politicians have been promising for years, even though the price tag is absurd and it would require far more new construction. 

            That’s because he needs votes from that heavily Democratic area, just the way his predecessors did.  So he caters to them despite the foolishness and the cost.

            Politicians can’t make it without serious support from the long-ignored South Coast communities.  But towns like Foxboro, Norton, and other surrounding towns just don’t have enough numbers to be “important” to those who make the rules.

            Foxboro gets some attention because of the stadium and the desire to develop the land around it.  The state and the MBTA are willing to spend big bucks on service there because they believe they will get it back in economic development, new jobs, and increased revenues.  Whether they are correct in that assumption remains to be seen.

            Local politicians are not exempt from the hypocrisy surrounding the T either.  Foxboro selectman and former state legislator Virginia Coppola recently backed Baker and again criticized T officials for not communicating better with the local leaders.  She blasted the MBTA for not seeking local input, declaring: “So much for transparency.”

            The Foxboro Board of Selectmen criticizing others for a lack of transparency is a bit like the Yankees telling other teams they shouldn’t spend so much money.  But that’s another story for another day.

            Make no mistake - the problems with the MBTA are largely caused by a lack of leadership and sound fiscal management from the State House.  The T is crucial to our future here in Massachusetts, and we must both maintain and grow the system if we expect it to survive.

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

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Speaker Term Limits Debate Embarassing

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on Monday, February 16, 2015

By Bill Gouveia

            Question:  What do you call a creature with no spine or backbone?

            Answer:  A Democratic member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

            That joke may be funny to many of us, but what is not amusing at all is the hypocrisy and lack of courage displayed by most Democratic members of the House recently regarding the vote to eliminate term limits for the position of Speaker.  As was correctly noted in a recent and extremely strong editorial in this newspaper, this is nothing less than our elected officials going back on their word.

            In 2009 our esteemed state legislature voted to place strict term limits on the Speaker position.  They did so in large part due to the unchecked and overwhelming corruption that has been allowed to occur in that post in recent decades.

            Since the mid-1990s three different Speakers have resigned under a cloud of controversy.  One ended up pleading guilty to tax evasion.  One resigned amidst perjury and obstruction of justice charges.  A recent ex-Speaker is currently serving time in prison for mail fraud, conspiracy, and various other crimes.

            That is and should be an embarrassment to the citizens of Massachusetts, and even more so to the men and women who serve in the House itself.  It is especially embarrassing to the Democrats, who are in complete control of that chamber.  When they came together six years ago and recognized that term limits was the only real and effective way to keep the power of these individuals in check, it was seen as a small step towards true reform.

            Now that has been exposed for what it really was:  A publicity stunt to lessen the pressure and allow them to go back to business as usual while placating the public and taking advantage of the short memories voters in this state have displayed.

            Current Speaker Robert DeLeo was one of those who worked to institute the term limits.  But now that he is approaching the point where they would actually apply to him, he has changed his mind.  His reversal is inexcusable, self-serving, arrogant, and displays blatant disregard for anything but more of the same in what might be the most corrupt state legislature in America.

            And because of the power he is allowed to wield, legislators from across the Bay State who depend on the crumbs he tosses to them and their districts will give him anything he wants.  Even worse, they will defend their gutless actions by pretending they are really doing it for the people they represent.

            An example is Rep. Paul Heroux (D-Attleboro).  Heroux was not in office in 2009, and has never been a supporter of term limits.  But recently he made the following comments on the situation.

            This change in the rules is much ado about nothing. No harm has been done. Unlike some past speakers, the current speaker has not been indicted or convicted of anything. He has only been speaker for six years, half the time our current mayor has been in office who does not have term limits. 

Heroux then added, If he starts to act against the interests of our district and our state, I will reconsider my support for his leadership role in the House.

            Its comforting to know Rep. Heroux stands ready to lock the barn door if the horse is stolen for the fourth time.

            And in case you think this is just a Democratic Party problem think again.  Republicans have no term limit on the position of Minority Leader.  And while Rep. Betty Poirier (R-North Attleboro) voted against the removal of term limits, she said she understands the rational for it.  She said if they stayed in place, Democrats would spend too much time jockeying for position to become the next Speaker.

            Unlike now apparently, when they just jockey to stand in line and kiss his butt.

            I am generally not a fan of term limits.  But given the absolute power of the Speaker position and the lack of fortitude of Massachusetts legislators in general, in this case they are a necessary evil.

            You lost all credibility, Mr. Speaker.  But then again, you never really had that much to begin with.

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

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Rough but Happy Winter for New Grandfather

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on Friday, February 13, 2015.

By Bill Gouveia

This has been a horrible, expensive, amazing and wonderful winter.  I can’t wait for it to be over, yet I never want it to end.

Let’s start with the bad part.  That shouldn’t be hard for any of you to figure out.  We are currently in the midst of what could be the most snow ever to fall in this area over a single winter.

I’m not a snow person.  I would be fine with a green Christmas.  I’m not into sledding, snow angels or sliding my car sideways into a Jersey barrier.

I have a 300 foot driveway that starts off uphill, a bad back, and an intense hatred of snow-blowers and shoveling.  One more storm and I’ll be able to claim my plow guy as a dependent.  There is currently more snow on the roof of my house than fell in my yard all last winter, and I now have to pay to have it all knocked down into said yard.

All that’s enough to depress a hyena.

But in the midst of the cold, white blanket of gloom – there has been intense happiness and joy.  While this could have easily been the Winter of the Empty Wallet, for me it will now always be the Winter of Wonder.

First, there was the little matter of the Patriots.  In perhaps the greatest Super Bowl ever played, the team I have faithfully followed for more than four decades prevailed.  They overcame a league that hates them, a distrusting public, and the best defense in the NFL to win their 4th title in the last 14 years – and do it in style.

I traveled to Kansas City to watch them early in the season.  They got beaten like a drum, and people were whispering that Tom Brady was all done.  They were trailing Baltimore by 14 points – twice – in their first playoff game, but came back for the big victory.  They hung tough, battled back, and eventually captured the ultimate prize.

And that wasn’t even the best part of this snow-covered season.

No, that came this past Monday.  On that day, the weather didn’t matter.  The Governor declared a state of emergency, the snow continued to fall like it was never going to stop, and the temperature dropped dangerously close to below zero.  But I didn’t care.

On Monday, I became a grandfather again.  For the 4th time – just like the Patriots.  And as Bob Kraft said after the Super Bowl:  “I never thought another could feel as special, but this one absolutely does.”

Addison Claire Gouveia made her debut on Monday, joining her sister Avery on the family roster coached by our son Nate and daughter-in-law Melissa.  She is already the odds-on favorite for Rookie of the Year, and as you read this her grandmother and I are on our way there to sign her to a lifetime contract.

So far we have only seen her perform on video, but that was more than enough to convince us she is a proven winner.  We’ve made some pretty good signings in the past, including the aforementioned Avery, our youngest grandson Sam, and of course our original superstar grandchild Will (did I mention his name is William?).  Clearly, the Pats are not the only organization building a dynasty.

And we are not sitting on our laurels.  Just like the Patriots are already out there searching for new talent, our front office is doing the same.  Son Aaron and his wife MJ are currently in the midst of yet another addition, and have even timed it perfectly.  The next new player is due just about the time the Super Bowl champs open up the new season in September.

But right now the focus is on Ms. Addison.  She is beautiful, obviously brilliant, and just what we needed to forget this cold, dreary, slushy winter.

As we watched our son hold her and smile, little else seemed to matter.  This weekend we will rock her in our arms and welcome her to the extended family that loved her before she was even born.

For the rest of you, this may be the toughest winter ever.  But for me, it’s one of the all-time best.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and proud grandfather of four.  He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Monday, February 9, 2015

North Attleboro RTM Needs To Do Right Thing

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, February 9, 2015
By Bill Gouveia

            Kudos to North Attleboro selectmen for doing the right thing last week and finally sending the oft-delayed Special Charter Act to Town Meeting.  It is the first of two critical steps towards complying with the expressed desire of the town’s voters to have this come before them for a binding ballot decision.


            The second critical step will come on March 23 when Representative Town Meeting (RTM) begins deliberations on whether or not to send this question to the legislature for placement on a future town ballot.  The Special Act Charter cannot be approved and/or instituted unless a majority of citizens at a town election vote for it.


            So when RTM members cast their votes next month, it will not be in opposition or support of the charter proposal itself.  They will not be giving it their stamp of approval should they send it to Boston.  Their decision will not be – and should not be – indicative of whether or not they believe changing the form of government is a good idea.


            The only question RTM members will have before them on March 23 will be:  “Should the voters of North Attleboro be allowed to decide their own future, or are we who were elected to represent them going to once again prevent that from happening?”


            No amount of explaining, politicking or excuse-making can change that fact.  Some will cast the upcoming process in a different light, but North Attleboro citizens and voters should be very clear on this.  RTM will not be voting on whether the form of government should be changed.


            All they will be voting on is whether or not to let their citizens cast ballots.  They will either trust them with this decision in the manner prescribed by law, or treat them like little children and tell them to leave it all to the RTM members.


            RTM is supposed to be the voice of the people.  Members are elected to carry out the town’s business.  They have knowledge and experience that can only come from getting intimately involved in overseeing a local government.  And yes, their job is to lead and make important decisions.


            But it is not their job to be obstructionists.  It is not their job to stop elections from happening.  It is not their job to dictate.


            If the charter proposal is allowed on the ballot, there will be plenty of time for RTM members to be heard on whether it should pass.  There will be the opportunity for vigorous campaigning on both sides of the issue. 


            If you are an RTM member, you owe it to the voters to give your opinion on the charter during a campaign.  If you oppose the government change, that is the time to say so.  Stand on the rooftops and shout your position if you are so moved.  Your view on the charter is important and needs to be aired.


            But there has to be the opportunity for debate.  Not just within your small elected group, but amongst the people you serve.  You have an obligation to further that debate, not prevent it from occurring.  Changing the form of government should be decided by that most American of methods – a vote of the people.


            North Attleboro will have a silly preliminary election this week for no good reason.  How can you allow an election to just reduce the number of candidates, but deny one on the form of government?


            The selectmen did not take a position on the charter proposal because it was not the time to do so.  No doubt they will make their feelings known if this advances.  They properly recognized that at this moment, this is a simple situation.  You either let the people vote, or you deny them that right.


            For over a decade now, North Attleboro voters have been asking for the right to cast a binding ballot on their form of government.  Next month their RTM will either give them that right, or deny them once again.


            If RTM members fail to send this proposal forward, it would be a clear indication they do not value the intelligence or the rights of their constituents.  Here’s hoping they follow the example of their selectmen, and do the right thing.


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

Friday, February 6, 2015

A Letter to Haters of The Patriots

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on Friday, February 6, 2015

By Bill Gouveia

            This is an open letter to all you Patriot-haters out there. 

            We Pats fans (the real ones, not the bandwagon folks) want you to know and understand a few things.  Please take a moment, set aside your natural and instinctive distrust of our team and organization, and try and comprehend a few simple facts.

            First of all, we are New Englanders.  We take our sports seriously.  Yeah, we know – you think you take your sports teams seriously too.  And that’s cute. 

But you have to grasp the reality here.  These teams are our family, and we treat them with the same love, respect and lack of patience you generally reserve for those actually related to you.  In New England, we don’t ask or care about your religion.  However, if you have the wrong sports team affiliation, we could have some serious problems.

But here’s the thing.  No one is tougher on our teams than we are. 

We are not sycophants who blindly pledge allegiance to our sports franchises and never say anything bad about them.  We don’t take what they tell us at face value.  We question them, we criticize them, and we hold them accountable.  We ain’t easy.

It’s popular to think of us as obnoxious and spoiled sports fans these days.  New England teams have won nine professional championships over the last 14 years.  The latest – in case you missed it – was this past Sunday when the Patriots and Tom Brady won their 4th Super Bowl title.  And we are enjoying this Golden Age immensely, often at your expense.

But it took the Patriots over 40 years to win their first title.  They spent most of that time as the laughingstock of professional sports.  The Bruins had a 39-year barren stretch between Stanley Cup acquisitions.  The Celtics had a 22-year gap between NBA championships. 

And the Red Sox?  That was an 86-year drought they made movies about.  So when you call us obnoxious and completely spoiled – well, you’re half right.

My point is we know what type of an organization the New England Patriots are.  They are business-like, they make a lot of money, and they carry themselves in a manner often seen as brash and arrogant.  They are not always an emotional group towards fans or players.  We don’t deny any of that. 

Our coach is a downer.  He doesn’t really care what you or we think of him.  He wins football games and has built the best organization in sports.  If he had to cut his own son from the roster for salary cap purposes – he would.  He doesn’t like the press, feels no need to answer simple questions, and knows exactly how good he is at his job.

But the Patriots are not cheaters.  They are champions.

Spygate?  Come on, you didn’t really fall for that, did you?  We know the Patriots did something after specifically being told not to do it.  In the words of Bill Belichick, they videotaped a guy who was giving signs in front of 80,000 people.  They broke the rules and were punished.

That happens to every NFL team on a weekly basis.  They hold, they jump offsides, they grab a facemask.  They get caught, and they are penalized.  The Patriots were stupid about it, and they paid a price.  A steep one.

Deflated balls?  You can’t be serious.  There may now have only been one football that was seriously under-inflated in that 45-7 AFC Championship game.  People are believing this crap because they want to, not because there is any real proof.  It just suits your purpose and your hatred.

We get that.  Mention the word “Yankees” around us and watch what happens.  Irrational hatred of winning franchises is not new or unfamiliar to us.

We have no problem telling off our teams when they deserve it.  If the Pats had actually done something, we would be all over it.

But this team and this franchise are just good.  They are winners.  You can call them cheaters and invent excuses for their success all you want.  But it won’t work.

Sorry to let the air out of your complaints.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some celebrating to do.  My team just won the Super Bowl.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime Patriots season ticket-holder.  He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.