Sunday, July 31, 2016

Schools Should Teach Local Government


As July comes to a close, about a month remains in the vacations of schoolchildren across our area. It's been a great summer with lots of beach weather. Let's hope our young people are enjoying it.

When they come back to school in September, they will be faced with the burden of being pupils in our modern world. There is a lot to learn, and things change faster than ever before. It's tough for our school systems to keep up with the latest in education, and hard for students to absorb the ever-increasing amount of knowledge available for their consumption.

But I believe there is one major area where our educational system tends to fail its students regularly. I believe our schools are lacking when it comes to teaching kids about something that affects them nearly every day. 

I'm talking about local government and how it works.
We regularly include our federal governmental structure in our lessons for young people. They learn about the presidency, about Congress, about how a bill becomes law. They are taught that House seats are elected every two years, and Senate terms are six-year stints. They are taught how our government was formed, how it has changed, and what role the various parts of it play.

But with relatively few exceptions, local government is virtually ignored. There may be many reasons why, but none seem to carry much validity. And a strong argument can be made that our local governments are paying a heavy price today for generations of neglect in this area.

When I first started in school, it was referred to as "civics." You learned about government in general, but it was always the "upper levels" as opposed to local government. After all, there is just one federal government. It was easy for textbooks to outline that confounding entity for all school districts, no matter where they may be located.

But local governments are different animals. Even in our small area, they are all unique in some ways. We have city councils, RTMs, Open Town Meetings, and even a town council a short distance up the highway in Franklin. They are all governed by different rules and work in different ways. Each town has various committees that perform basic functions, and depend on volunteer efforts to operate.

Yet there are few classes that teach local government. Sure, there might be certain assemblies and events that pay homage to the local organizations and expose kids to a small part of it. But in most cases, there is no requirement that demands kids learn about the very entity that primarily makes their education possible.

Many people think that's OK. After all, won't most kids move away after they graduate from high school? They go to college, they get jobs in other states or towns - why should they learn the system of government in a community they are most likely leaving?

The answer is - because it's important. Because it helps them understand the value of their community and the importance of both being informed and involved. Because if our schools don't teach them - who will?

Frankly, parents are not a reliable source for this type of education. Most of them didn't get it taught to them when they were younger. And the turnout at our local elections and town meetings clearly shows their interest is often limited at best. They struggle to explain what they themselves don't understand.

Make local government part of the curriculum. Make students take a test on it at some point in high school. Involve your town officials, bring them into the schools. If your school does some of this now - expand it. It is important.

These future taxpayers need to understand how they are represented locally. When they grow up and own a home, they need to know how their local planners play a role in their future. If we don't make it important to them now, it won't be later.

When your school budget is in trouble, or your police and fire departments need your support, voters and citizens need to be familiar with the system that can solve the problems. Town Government 101 should be a required course for all local school systems.

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

Monday, July 25, 2016

Conventions Are Scaring A Lot of People

Posted: Sunday, July 24, 2016 11:45 pm | Updated: 11:51 pm, Sun Jul 24, 2016.
I watched most of the Republican National Convention last week. And I am going to watch most of the Democratic National Convention this week. I'd like to think that makes me an involved, informed, sophisticated American citizen.
But I'm also a huge fan of "The Three Stooges" and once binge-watched an entire season of the show "Alias." I guess my credentials as a discerning viewer just might be debatable.
As this is written, the Republicans (or perhaps more accurately, the Trumpicans) have completed their official nominating process. The Democrats will have their opportunity to celebrate and excoriate over the next four days, but the bar to match has been set pretty high - or low.
As a political junkie, I am fascinated by the unique and often unsavory politics playing out during this interminably long presidential campaign. While it is true that every presidential election is an experience, this one truly is different.
It's like a massive traffic accident you come upon while traveling. You hope no one is seriously hurt, but you are fascinated by the potential for disaster that has been unleashed.
Then you hit that accident scene where someone does get hurt. The awful, terrible images and sounds are burned into your brain. You can't un-see what you saw, or un-hear what you heard. And the after-effects can be traumatic and long-lasting for both you and those around you.
I have been alive now for 15 different presidential nominating convention seasons. I can't say I have watched them all, but I can - without hesitation, reservation or qualification - say the one I just watched last week was the most frightening, disappointing, and disheartening I have ever witnessed.
And yes - I'm a Democrat. So I philosophically disagree with most of the candidates and positions the Republican Party put forth at their gathering. But that had nothing to do with the fear and revulsion that swept over me as I watched what unfolded. And if the Democrats do the same things starting tonight, I will be just as horrified and disgusted.
I watched thousands of American citizens, on national television, chant for the nominee of their opposition party to be jailed. I watched alleged leaders of the party encourage and lead that activity. I watched a retired general in the United States military come dangerously close to accusing the former Secretary of State, Senator and First Lady of treason. I watched a well-educated speaker and former candidate link the opposition nominee to Lucifer. All as what could only be described as a "mob" cheered.
I watched a major party in this country nominate a candidate who has expressed a desire to ban all people of a certain religion from entering the country. A man who has derided the former nominee of his party, Sen. John McCain, saying he is not a war hero. I watched as an organized event was held to generate hatred and anger, and harness it for the purpose of gathering political power.
And for the first time in my life, I was actually frightened for the future of the country I love.
I very much hope Democrats resist the urge to act in the same irresponsible, hateful, disrespectful manner this week. If they do, they will deserve the same scorn their counterparts so richly earned in Cleveland. They have hardly been angelic in their demeanor this campaign season. But now they have an opportunity to refuse to lower the standard for political discourse in this country beyond the point where it has nearly been buried.
I remember Democrat Lyndon Johnson broadcasting a commercial of an atomic bomb exploding, intended to instill public fear in the judgment of Republican opponent Barry Goldwater. Much of the nation was outraged.
Today, that would barely be considered a "negative ad."
All conventions feature speakers attacking the opposition. Nothing new there. And the attacks are often sharp, intense, and even personal. The people who attend these things are partisans, and they are there to promote their views and run down the "other" party.
But if we continue to fuel our politics with this new kind of intense hatred, we will never be the country we think we are - or strive to be. Both parties need to grow up and act accordingly.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Must Do More Than Worry About Violence

GOUVEIA: We must do more than worry about the nation's violence

We worry a lot about violence in this country. But not in the right way.
We worry about violence against certain individuals or groups, and that is understandable. The indisputable fact that young black men are much more likely to be shot or killed by police officers is a terribly troubling thing. The stories in the headlines are merely the ones we know about.

We worry about violence against authority figures like police officers. The recent tragedy in Dallas is horribly unfathomable, and wrong in every sense of the word. The vast majority of police officers are good people who put their lives on the line every day. The very idea they would be targeted for death by those outraged over something - no matter how justified that rage might be - goes against everything this nation is supposed to stand for.
We worry about the availability of guns in America and the violence they are used to commit. Some worry there are too many guns and they are too easily obtained. Others worry it is becoming too difficult to purchase them. Some feel compelled to seek new laws to keep guns strictly regulated and out of the hands of those too unstable to own them. Others fight those efforts and claim more guns in more places will actually reduce violence by arming potential targets.
Yes - we worry. All the time. In so many ways. About so many aspects of this violence issue. About the fact we have become such a violent nation, that our murder rate is so incredibly high. About the lack of respect clearly visible across the country - respect for our institutions, for families, and for each other.
We worry. But we do little else. And that is our biggest problem.
Everyone seems to know exactly what the problem isn't. Every solution offered has no shortage of detractors who are anxious to tell you exactly why it won't work. In America today, we are experts at stopping things from happening.
It's in the area of actually doing something and solving our problems where we have become total failures. And ironically, that is the biggest problem facing us today.
Young black men and police officers tend to die for the same basic reasons. They die largely because our society has not provided a process where they and their concerns can be heard and taken seriously. They die because too many people believe only drastic action will get results today, and because we citizens have allowed that untenable situation to become the norm.
Those who say America doesn't win enough are merely making things worse. That's all America is about today. Or more accurately, we are all about making our opponents lose. Appearing powerful has become more important than doing the right thing. This has to change.
When five police officers died in Dallas, Congress observed a moment of silence. While certainly a respectful gesture, these moments are hollow and meaningless when they come from people who epitomize the paranoid paralysis that leaves us powerless against violence.
It's not our brash and arrogant words that are killing us. It's our silence when it truly matters.
Yes, I'm talking about guns again. But also about racism. About our lack of proper support for our public safety officers. About our selfishness and tunnel vision that has given this noble and generous country an "all-about-me" mentality.
What are our leaders doing to combat the violence sweeping America? We know they are not passing laws to reduce the number of destructive weapons available to the public. We know they are not setting examples of how cooperation and compromise can bring about peaceful and effective outcomes.
Does our government mirror the weaknesses of our leaders? Or are our leaders merely a reflection of the society we find ourselves in today?
We must take responsibility for those we put in power. We must demand from them a commitment to ending violence. We must force them to work together on solutions, or step aside for those who will.
We have to do more than worry about violence. We have to stop treating the symptoms and start curing the disease. We need fewer moments of silence, and more moments of clarity.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Foxboro Saved Patriots - and Vice Versa

Posted: Friday, July 8, 2016 12:15 am | Updated: 11:10 pm, Fri Jul 8, 2016.
There was a Town of Foxboro (or Foxborough as it is officially named) long before there was a team or a franchise known as the New England Patriots. And there is no doubt the small community would continue to exist even if the local NFL entity were to move away or close its doors.
But make no mistake, things would change. Foxboro would be a different town, socially as well as financially. Frankly, those two aspects are inexorably linked.
That is something town officials should always keep in mind.
The exact amount of revenue the Kraft organization generates yearly for Foxboro is something greatly debated by town officials and residents, but it is substantial. It involves far more than just the fees the stadium pays in lieu of taxes and the charitable and civic donations that ownership generously gives the community.
There is the mega-development known as Patriot Place, and the taxes that shopping and dining venue generates: The property taxes, the meals taxes, the hotel taxes and the ancillary revenues that patrons drawn there contribute to area businesses.
In the 40-plus years the stadium has been in Foxboro, the monies paid have dramatically increased - both in total dollars and percentage of the town's total revenues. It has gone from something in the neighborhood of under $1 million per year to as much as $7 million to 12 million today (depending on which calculations and numbers you believe).
Now, you can make the argument that had the stadium and Patriot Place not come to town, something else would have taken its place. Perhaps it would have become an office park, or an industrial complex. Maybe the number of jobs and the amount of tax revenue would have rivaled what is being generated today.
But those of us old enough to remember the old Foxboro Raceway and the rather barren land surrounding it in the late 1960s would seriously doubt that. While Foxboro gets credit for saving the Patriots, the opposite is equally true.
Although it should be obvious to virtually everyone, it's worth saying clearly and unambiguously: Foxboro would not be in the excellent financial shape it enjoys today if it were not for the Kraft organization and the New England Patriots.
That is not said to extoll the virtues of the Kraft organization, or in any way diminish the hard work town officials and employees have done in creating the town's financial framework. It's not like the Patriots just showed up and, out of the goodness of their hearts, started lavishing money upon the good people of Foxboro.
The two entities have worked together for the benefit of both. There have been times both good and bad, but in the end they have helped each other become successful.
But today, the town needs the Kraft organization at least a little bit more than the Kraft organization needs the town. And town officials need to keep that in mind.
The KO is rumored to be looking to build a new, smaller venue for the Revolution soccer team, one closer to Boston. That is not because of any dissatisfaction with the community, but rather because it makes financial sense.
Still, town officials estimate it could translate into a $400,000 annual revenue loss for Foxboro. That's a big drop.
It could open up Gillette for other events such as concerts, but that has not always gone smoothly. Problems with curfews have been an issue recently. Noise and traffic concerns have been consistently raised. A concert crowd is less predictable and sometimes less manageable, depending on the artist.
When the Patriots converted some end zone seats to a new premium area, selectmen worried about a revenue loss of some $30,000 per season. If the Revs move and concerts slow down, that could be peanuts.
Selectmen and others have to worry about more than just revenue. They have to keep the town safe and minimize problems.
But if some Foxboro taxpayers think services and property taxes need to be adjusted now, they should imagine the day Tom Brady and Bill Belichick retire and the ticket sales - and revenues - plunge.
The Patriots and Foxboro are in this for the long run. Let's hope both sides always keep that in mind.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.