Monday, October 26, 2015

Why Is RTM So Afraid of North Attleboro Voters?

GOUVEIA: Is North Attleboro's RTM afraid of the voters?

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Posted: Sunday, October 25, 2015 11:30 pm | Updated: 11:44 pm, Sun Oct 25, 2015.
Many times in North Attleboro "the numbers" just don't seem to add up. But the recent action by the town's RTM is arguably the most nonsensical challenge to mathematical logic in the community's history.
Recently this elected legislative body passed a change making it more difficult for voters to overturn RTM actions via the ballot box.
Under the old rules, it took the signatures of 5 percent (about 900) of registered voters to place a referendum question on the ballot. A minimum of 30 signatures had to be from each precinct. Under the new rules, that regulation remains unchanged.
However, RTM members included a new provision that any such referendum cannot pass unless a minimum of 15 percent of the town's registered voters actually cast ballots. Currently, that would be approximately 2700 people.
The town election this year saw roughly 7000 people (about 40 percent) cast votes, largely because the ballot featured a Prop 2-1/2 override. That was a highly unusual turnout for a town election.
In 2014 just over 10 percent voted. That number was less than 10 percent in 2013. Unfortunately, that type of turnout is much more typical.
Most major legislative decisions in town are made by the 135-member RTM. Most RTM members are chosen at elections where less than 2000 people cast ballots, and the vast majority are unopposed. Last year only about 48 people ran for 65 open seats. Some seats attracted no candidates at all.
If 500 people turned out at an election to choose RTM members, everything they voted would be valid and binding. Those 135 people (or the 90-100 that usually show up) would essentially run the town.
But while 500 people is good enough to choose all RTM members, it will now require 2700 people to vote on affirming or overturning one of their decisions. The obvious question here is - why?
Why are 500 voters enough to select the people who will make the town's major choices, but not enough to overturn one of them? Why are 135 people enough to make those decisions in the first place, but 2000 at an election not enough to overturn them?
Just imagine this scenario.
A total of 500 voters turn twice in two years and elect 135 RTM members. Those 135 RTM members pass a controversial new rule of some sort. One thousand people sign a petition to put it on a referendum ballot. Then 2500 people come out to vote on the referendum and reject that controversial new rule by a landslide count of 2400-100.
But it doesn't count. Why? Because RTM passed a rule that 2700 people (15 percent) have to cast ballots or the vote is invalid.
So the action of 135 citizens, put into office by 500 citizens, trumps the actual vote of 2500 citizens? That doesn't add up.
Why do RTM members have so little faith in the citizens of North Attleboro? Why do they continually act like North voters can't be trusted?
RTM member John Dromsky claimed the change was needed because the old rules could have allowed a single voter to overturn a town meeting decision. Of course, that is absurd.
But under the new rules an overwhelming vote of 2500 people could be voided. Which of those two things is worse?
RTM member Jim McKenna was right when he opposed the change because it would "insulate" town meeting decisions from citizens. Obviously, that was the intent all along.
North's RTM ignores voters when they pass non-binding referendums. It refuses to allow them to cast binding ballots on government reform. Now it sets rules to ignore election results based upon arbitrary turnout requirements.
When voting against allowing people to cast ballots on government reform in March, RTM member David Manoogian said proponents of that charter never explained why the current government needs to be changed.
This is why.
Why are RTM members so afraid of the voters? Why are they so intent on limiting the power of the citizens they serve?
Some wonder why more people in North don't turn out to vote. Why should they? Their government has done everything possible to make their votes irrelevant.
If North Attleboro citizens aren't outraged over the way their government is treating them - then they deserve the government they get.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Friday, October 23, 2015

A Welcome To Grandson Tommy

This column appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, October 23, 2015

GOUVEIA: A heartfelt welcome to Tommy (AKA grandkid Number 5)

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Posted: Thursday, October 22, 2015 10:48 pm | Updated: 11:03 pm, Thu Oct 22, 2015.
When I began writing columns for this fine publication nearly eight years ago, only one of my two sons was married. I had no grandchildren. Life was simple, and I thought I was happy.
Fast-forward to the present. Both my boys are married. I have five — count ’em, five — grandchildren. And I realize now the life I had before was so much less than what I have been blessed with today.
Five grandchildren. That’s enough for a basketball team. It’s the number of Democratic candidates that had been running for president before Jim Webb dropped out. It’s more than double the number of grandchildren my mother had. It’s one more Super Bowl than the Patriots have won (so far).
My oldest grandchild (did I mention his name is William?) is now 7 years old, and his brother Sammy is 2. My oldest granddaughter Avery is 3 1/2 and her sister Addison is 8 months old.
And just last month, the newest addition to the family arrived. Thomas Alexander Gouveia entered this world on Sept. 21, just days before his grandparents were taking off for a two-week vacation outside the country. He is just as perfect as his four predecessors, and once again his grandmother and I have fallen totally in love.
Contrary to the belief of many who know his father well, Tommy is not named after Tom Brady (although if you would like to draw that comparison, it’s OK with me). His moniker is a fitting tribute to his maternal grandfather Tom, who I know is thrilled and proud.
Being away for the first couple weeks of Tommy’s young life was tough. We kept up with pictures and reports, but very much missed being able to hold him and just revel in his glow.
When we got back, we rushed to see both him and his brothers (our granddaughters live some distance away), and marveled at how much bigger he looked already. As I held and rocked him in my arms, I thought about how fortunate I have been in this part of my life.
In the second grade already, Will is smart, caring, loving and sarcastic — a perfect reflection of his father with the best parts of mom thrown in to boot. Sam is adorable and reacts with such pure joy whenever he sees us that it swells my heart.
Avery is the smartest 3-year-old I have ever met, clearly a mirror-image of her parents. And her sister Addison is just the happiest, most content child I know. To hold her is like enjoying a moment of pure happiness and bliss.
And now, Tommy. He’s very “chill” according to his parents, and his resemblance to his siblings at that age is amazing. He has been the object of considerable affection in his household, with his brothers fighting over who gets to hold him. It is wonderful to see.
Two weekends ago, we got to experience the pure joy of having all five grandchildren at our house together for the first time. I’m not gonna lie, it was frenetic and hectic at times.
But words cannot express what I felt gazing upon these beautiful children sitting, playing, and even occasionally fighting with each other. To have them come up and ask me to play, to sit in my favorite chair and hold the little ones while having conversations they will never recall, was wonderful.
Being a grandparent truly is a reward — some say for a life well-lived, but the fact I get to enjoy it might cast some doubt on that view. Still, there is little I can imagine that could top it.
So I’d like to officially welcome young Thomas Gouveia to our little family. You have a lot to look forward to Tommy, and I’m hoping to hang around long enough to show you a whole bunch of it.
Still to come is your first overnight stay with grandma and grandpa. Your first trip to the “petting zoo” (Will’s code name for going to the toy store) so we can get you a treat. Your first trip out to eat with all of us.
Prepare to be spoiled rotten Tommy. We have one job to do these days, and we are getting pretty damn good at it.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and proud grandfather of five. He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Hypocrisy On Medicial Marijuana In Foxboro

My latest Sun Chronicle column:

GOUVEIA: A sad display of hypocrisy in Foxboro

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Posted: Thursday, October 15, 2015 10:30 pm
The concept of medical marijuana has slowly gained acceptance throughout Massachusetts and much of the country. But allowing medical marijuana dispensaries to operate in suburban communities? Not so much.
The latest example of this was in Foxboro, where selectmen quite unsurprisingly killed an attempt to locate a facility on the site of a long-abandoned gas station along Route 1 near Gillette Stadium. They had a lot of reasons for doing so, but the one they kept coming back to could be summed up as “We don’t want it.”
And under the convoluted and complicated new law allowing such facilities in Massachusetts, they have that right. They can simply say “No” and — with or without good and valid reason —- act as guardians of the gate. They can keep this “gateway drug” off the main street of their community and return it to the back roads, private homes and public parks where it is peddled and utilized every day.
Imagine if selectmen had such unbridled power and authority when it came to locating drug stores in their towns? Sorry CVS, we don’t think you should bring those dangerous and addictive drugs into our community where people can see them. Why don’t you go next door, or perhaps put your store in the dark corner of an industrial zone where we don’t have to look at it?
After all, you deal in dangerous and addictive prescription drugs. Depressants, stimulants, tranquilizers, and other strong medical compounds. Some argue there are more people addicted to painkillers and pills than to marijuana.
And you hand them out over a counter, not far from our schools, churches and bars — er, I mean, community gathering places. That has to be a threat to the safety of any town.
Dare we think what might happen if a marijuana dispensary were to be allowed in a visible area? Imagine all those sick cancer patients dragging their prescriptions downtown and hanging out on the street corner, hoping to score some type of pot bonus. Is that what any respectable selectman wants in their pristine community?
Sure, Foxboro residents voted overwhelmingly in favor of medical marijuana when it was on the ballot last year. But that didn’t mean they actually wanted it HERE. And as Selectman Virginia Coppola made quite clear, numbers and votes really don’t mean anything as far as she is concerned.
“You say 60 percent of the town of Foxboro voted for it? Well, say, 98 percent of the people who spoke to me are against this. That’s a little higher than 60 percent,” said Coppola. “You can make percentages say anything you want.”
So that must be how it works in Foxboro. It’s not enough to cast your vote, you also have to speak to Selectman Coppola if you really want to have an impact on the final result. Clearly, 98 percent of those who spoke about the issue to the selectman must be more than the 63 percent of those who actually cast ballots.
That’s a lot of talking.
But this is not a unique situation. What happened in Foxboro is pretty typical of most communities. Local officials, and a lot of the residents they represent, tend to be afraid of what they do not understand, of what is new and different. That is normal and predictable.
But sick people should not have to be made to feel ashamed when they turn to marijuana for pain management. Their prescription for this drug is no different from that of the person picking up their Percocet at the Walgreens pharmacy counter. The only real difference is the misguided perception of those who view it otherwise.
If you can have 20 or 30 establishments serving liquor in a community, you can certainly have a respectable place for people with chronic pain or illness to pick up their legal drugs. Allowing Rite-Aid to fill prescriptions for Oxycodone is okay, but a medical marijuana facility is a problem?
This elitist attitude prevalent in many suburban towns needs to change. A community is only as strong as its ability to serve the most vulnerable of its citizens.
This is the kind of result you get when leaders decline to actually lead. It’s a sad display of hypocrisy.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.