Friday, June 30, 2017

Attleboro "BudgetGate" A Government Failure

Gouveia: A lot of blame to go around on "BudgetGate"

Now a full week removed from Attleboro’s “BudgetGate” incident, reaction throughout the city is trending in a fairly predictable manner.
Some opponents in the upcoming mayoral election, as well as a fair number of citizens, are blaming the mayor and his administration. A lot of experienced observers are blaming the budget director. Virtually everyone is blaming the city councilors.
And to various degrees, they are all correct.
Let’s start with the obvious. Without exception, every single individual involved in any way with the annual budget process should have known about the 45-day deadline for acting on the mayor’s proposed spending plan. There is no valid excuse for not knowing.
It is akin to running off third base and directly into the dugout in the bottom of the 9th inning of a baseball game with your team down a run, after the batter flew out to the outfield – for the second out. Maybe no one specifically told you there are three outs in every inning, but you should know it. It is part of your job.
Was this a bonehead play to end all bonehead plays, or was it an effort to throw the game? Did someone have a bet on the outcome, and stage the whole thing for their personal advantage? Conspiracy theories are always popular.
When the owner comes in after that monstrosity, he or she may have trouble deciding who to fire first. The runner who screwed up? The third-base coach? The manager? Or maybe he/she just sells the whole team and looks for one that can actually count?
As someone with decades of municipal budget and political experience (though thankfully not in Attleboro), I have a pretty straightforward take on all this I’d like to share with you.
I absolutely believe this was a total systematic failure of city government. I do not think it was the result of any plan, conspiracy, or political scheme. Quite frankly, to believe otherwise would be giving those involved too much credit for their political acumen.
The fact absolutely no current city councilor says they knew this basic rule is disgraceful, but ultimately believable. If they wanted to take a pass on this year’s budget, there are a lot simpler ways to do it that would not make them all look ignorantly uniformed — which is exactly what they look like right now.
Council President Frank Cook did not equivocate in accepting blame, taking responsibility for not being aware of the rule. As well he should. More than anyone else in this sad scenario, Cook bears the responsibility for this huge error. It is not totally his fault, but when he accepted the position he accepted the responsibility.
As a result, Cook should immediately resign as council president. No other action can adequately reflect the lack of informed leadership that led to this situation.
Every other councilor is just one small notch down the blame marker. This is their failure, and any attempt to shift blame or responsibility in any way just makes it worse. There is no political advantage for them to gain here.
The budget director certainly should have known, and as a well-paid city employee had a responsibility to stay on top of the situation. His slice of the blame pie is plenty large.
The mayor also gets a heaping portion, although it is nowhere near as big as that belonging to the council members. Dumas should have known this rule, but his responsibility for it is slightly less than the legislative body. Remember, he fulfilled his part of the budget process by submitting it on time. But in the earlier analogy, he is the baseball manager – ultimately responsible for everything.
In the long run, this is far from the end of the world.
The budget submitted is not greatly different from the last one.
The damage to the city’s finances will be far, far less than the serious blow dealt to the credibility, competence, and commitment of city government.
This is not a conspiracy, but merely incompetence. That certainly doesn’t make it any easier for voters to accept.
But given most of those involved were elected by those same voters – who really made the bigger mistake?
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Annual Trip With Grandsons is Special

Gouveia: Trips are for kids, and grown-ups

As you read this, my wife and I will just be returning from our annual trip to New Hampshire with two of our grandsons. You’ll be able to pick us out -- we are the ones smiling while we limp and desperately gasp for breath.
To be accurate, this was the eighth straight year we have taken 9-year-old grandson Will (did I mention his name is William?) up to the North Conway area to visit StoryLand and all the other great attractions for kids up north. It is the second year his younger brother Sammy has been old enough to make the trip, and we are looking forward to adding our youngest grandson Tommy next year (our granddaughters live some distance away, so we are still working on a plan for them). That’s assuming we are still mobile at that time, of course.
Will is an old pro at this now, and handled the pre-trip anticipation with ease. Sammy? Not so much. He has a conceptual problem with time, as do most 3-year-olds. When you tell him the trip is coming up in a few months, you might as well be talking about an eternity as far as he is concerned.
“Are we going to StoryLand today?” that hopeful little voice has asked us virtually every time he has seen us since last summer (and he sees us a lot). We tried each time to explain that it was still a bit into the future, but stress how much fun we would have when we did go. Sammy pretty much heard nothing after “not yet”, and the look of disappointment was like a constant dagger through our hearts each time.
When it was only three days away, we figured he would be happy and thrilled the time was so near. Silly us -- when we told him it was three days away, he looked at us like we had just postponed Christmas by six months.
“Three whole days?” he asked, his voice cracking a bit. We worked intensely to change the subject. We won’t make that mistake again.
As grandparents, it is so wonderful to be able to have this tradition with our grandkids. My grandparents took me to New Hampshire and StoryLand when I was just a boy, and the memories are among the fondest of my childhood.
Of course, they include the time my younger brother managed to drive one of the self-propelled “antique cars” off the rail and up a nearby hill, making it necessary for the man running the ride to wildly chase after it. That was just before he went on the slow-moving boat ride and steered his ship head-first into the side of a bridge, then urged my younger sister riding with him to save herself and jump into the knee-deep water.
More than the rides and attractions have changed since I was a kid. I remember one of the biggest deals was begging my grandmother for quarters to put in the vibrating bed inside the motel where we were staying. That was all the rage back then, and I was sure we would soon see them in every home in America.
The kids love the natural beauty of the area, much as I did when I was younger. We can’t show them the “Old Man of the Mountain” anymore, since it disappeared a few years back. But we make many stops along the Kancamagus Highway, watching the water flow over the rocks and letting the kids climb out onto them. At least, a little bit -- I have to keep Sammy within reasonable reach.
A lot of our time is spent at a nearby water park, and where the boys have a blast. Will loves the water slides, which involves several flights of stairs that have to be climbed for each trip. Until they get an elevator, he does many of those solo. Grandpa prefers the wave pool.
We tell ourselves these annual trips are for the kids, but in truth they are for us. We love spend timing with the boys, and know the time when they want to be spending days with their old grandparents are limited.
So the limping and the soreness today is a small price to pay for the best time we have all year.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Rules For Father's Day 2017

GOUVEIA: Rules of the Father's Day road

Sunday is Father’s Day, which (back when you paid for long-distance) was the single biggest day of the year for collect phone calls. It’s the weekend for ugly ties, power tools, useless handkerchiefs, and terrible breakfasts made by wonderful kids.
For most males, Father’s Day is the annual mile-marker in a long, winding ride through childhood, adulthood, fatherhood, and eventually the wonderful land of grandparenting. There are always lots of twists and turns, some unexpected side trips, and you don’t always arrive at exactly the destination you intended.
But it is an amazing trip, complete with some basic “Rules of the Road” that wise fathers would do well to follow. As someone closer to the end of the journey than the beginning, I’ve taken many a wrong turn along the route. But I usually manage to find my way back onto the main avenue and still enjoy the experience.
As we head into the national holiday honoring dads, I thought it might be something of a public service to highlight and share the most basic and important rules and guidelines for fathers young and old. You certainly don’t have to follow them all, or any of them for that matter. But take it from a well-traveled dad – these can save you from piling up miles in the wrong direction.
  • Don’t expect brunch. I know, on Mother’s Day last month you couldn’t drive a mile from your house without running into a Mother’s Day brunch. And most of them were absolutely full of families celebrating the real authority figures. But you have to really search to find a Father’s Day brunch. It’s sort of like looking for a Red Sox-Yankee Unity breakfast.
  • Make sure you eat the “breakfast in bed” the kids make. You might think a bite or two of that green pancake and burnt toast will convince them you thoroughly enjoyed the meal they created with their very own hands while your domestic partner watched gleefully. But as they get older, they get harder to fool. And if you don’t choke down those culinary concoctions in full, hurt feelings will occur and grudges will be held. Trust me on this.
  • Treasure those special gifts. In the past I have written about how on my desk I have two decorated rocks – one from each son – given to me for Father’s Day back in their early school years. The painted colors have faded, a few pasted-on eyes have fallen off, and there might even be a chip or two gone from them. But for over 30 years they have been among my most prized possessions, and their value is incalculable.
  • When your sons become dads, it stops being about you. That’s neither whining nor pity, it’s just a simple acknowledgment of the truth. You love the fact they are enjoying Fatherhood, and it gives you a thrill you didn’t understand until it happened. Give them their day, let their kids treat them to all the things you enjoyed so much. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t expect them to call or send a card, but their experience is an integral part of your own.
  • Make sure you call or send a card (see last paragraph). Despite the stereotypical image given to dads over the years, we are a sensitive bunch. We might say it is OK, we understand – but we don’t. We now need you more than you need us.
  • Never complain about a gift. I am a big violator of this one. My wife once got me a toilet seat as a Father’s Day present. I have ridiculed her for decades now over that. But as she pointed out then and still says now, we needed a toilet seat back then. She’s right. And that gift has become a part of our family lore, entertaining friends and relatives. It has become one of my favorite gifts of all time.
Lastly, don’t let your pride rule. I didn’t talk to my own dad for many years, and I missed more than one Father’s Day. He’s now gone, and neither of us will ever get those back. There are no more second chances.
Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there. And safe travels.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist, proud dad of two, and prouder grandfather of five. He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Missing Gavel - An Unsolved Mystery

GOUVEIA: Council gavel stolen? Is nothing sacred!

Not with a bang, but with a…muffled thud?
That’s how it is in Attleboro as officials seek to solve one of the most brazen thefts in Massachusetts since the Gardner Museum was hit back in 1990. While the estimated value of the object stolen is a bit less than those in that daring heist almost three decades earlier, the emotional toll of this criminal act is still being inflicted upon the stunned citizens of the former “Jewelry Capital of the World.”
In case you haven’t heard about this shocking story, it appears someone — in broad daylight — walked into City Hall and stole the gavel belonging to the City Council. It was apparently kept inside a desk drawer in the council chamber, and officials believe it was taken by an unidentified bearded gentleman with bushy hair who appears on a surveillance tape.
He was apparently accompanied by a woman who was conducting business in one of the city offices. This could have been a distraction to allow for the extensive stealth it took to walk into the always-open meeting room and slip out with the symbol of council might and leadership. Police are asking for the public’s help in identifying the alleged mastermind.
Council President Frank Cook was forced to bring a rubber-headed mallet from home to try and control the councilors and crowd at the next council meeting.
Now, theft of any property — public or private — is a serious matter. The people involved in this will no doubt be apprehended, and hopefully the gavel will be recovered. While the sarcasm and lightheartedness with which the incident is discussed here is obvious, theft of any type is wrong and must be punished. In this case it appears only a gavel was taken, but it could have been something much more important or valuable.
It was only a month or two ago that an entire Town Manager mysteriously disappeared in neighboring Mansfield. Like the gavel, he was in the municipal building one day, and then suddenly gone a week or so later. No real explanation was given as to his surprising disappearance.
Rumor has it there are videotapes showing five individuals in the selectmen’s meeting room who look as though they might have knowledge connected to the abrupt departure. They are allegedly remaining mum on the topic, though it is widely assumed they know more than they are letting on.
And of course, we all remember just a few short years ago when air was somehow allegedly stolen from at least one football in nearby Foxboro. A kangaroo-style court declared that case to be closed after a lengthy and expensive investigation that proved virtually nothing. The blame was pinned on a guy in a men’s room and a certain superstar quarterback.
However, the real villain in that tale is reported to be a tall guy who answers to the name of Roger. He has not been seen in these parts since the alleged theft, leading many to believe he also knows a lot more than he is saying. Or knows nothing at all. The air was never recovered, and is still considered missing.
But back to the gavel…
As someone who has run many meetings in the past, I know the value of a good gavel. I bought my own when I first became a Town Moderator, and I have it safely hidden in my home, secure against potential gavel thieves. It has come in handy on more than one occasion.
The dull thud of a rubber mallet carries no authority. It might eventually make someone look up if you pound it enough times, but it is nothing like the sharp crack of a wooden gavel on that small, round platform they always get you to buy with it.
That definitely causes heads to snap up, and usually ends conversations going on in the background. Without a gavel, how would we ever know who is running the meeting?
In the meantime, we should be carefully watching for gavels suddenly appearing on the black market. By the time this column appears, the culprit may already have been apprehended and be facing the consequences of his actions.
Frankly — I hope they decide to drop the hammer on him.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.