Friday, December 7, 2007

That Political Town

This column appeared int he Attleboro Sun Chronicle on November 24th, 2007.

By Bill Gouveia

Tell people from outside this area you are from Norton, you generally get a slightly quizzical smile. Until you mention either Wheaton College or the Great Woods PGA golf course, they usually have no idea where you live.

Mention Norton to people from this area, you get a different reaction. You can see a knowing, almost sympathetic look come over their faces as they prepare to cut you some slack due to your obviously disadvantaged background.

Norton is known as a political hotbed of a town. We are recognized far and wide for our tightness with a tax dollar. But primarily, Norton is known for wild politics, colorful characters, and a penchant for fighting amongst ourselves.

For most of the last 50 years, Norton has entertained its neighbors with politics startling in both directness and openness. If it happens in Norton, it seems everyone knows about it.

If there has been an official sport in town, it has been assessing blame. And we are good at it.

As former selectman Raymond Patenaude once noted in a light-hearted moment, “If Norton had a town physician, it would be Dr. Kevorkian.”

But I’m here to tell you Norton is a very misunderstood community. The truth is Norton and its leaders have set an example over the years of just how to keep local government open and transparent.

Our people aren’t anymore ornery than those in any surrounding town. They just feel comfortable expressing themselves within the framework of the local government.

In Norton, there is no such thing as dirty laundry – only laundry. While other towns discreetly hang their political unmentionables out to dry in private, Norton puts its right out in the backyard for everyone to see.

Norton has few well-known attractions within its borders. Unlike its neighbors, Norton has no shopping mall, no movie theater, no big public park. Many believe unless you live in town, there is almost never a reason to go there.

But they are wrong.

Norton has changed over the years. It is no longer the sleepy little suburb to Attleboro. Norton is an eclectic collection of families and individuals, professionals and blue-collar workers, who live there for the simplest of reasons: They like it.

Despite financial problems, Norton’s schools remain among the areas best. The town’s fire and rescue department has long been an innovative leader in the state.

In the last decade or so Norton has enticed such prestigious companies as General Motors and Bodek & Rhodes to settle within its borders. The PGA course in town has made Norton the golfing capital of New England.

You haven’t lived until you have had a Downtown CafĂ© pizza, a great dinner at the Chateau Restaurant, a hot dog at the Hot Dog Stand, or walked the trails through the Great Woods. Norton is home to one of the finest over-55 housing developments in the country, and the relatively low tax rate (natives will scoff at that description) continues to make it a desirable place to own a home.

While Norton folks know how to fight and argue, they have an even greater capacity for coming together in a crisis. You need look no further than the recent tragedy concerning the Cann family for an example of how generous, loving and caring the people of Norton truly are. We take care of our own.

Norton has indoor plumbing, we don’t marry our cousins, we aren’t all stuck in the past, and we’re not so tight we squeak. Maybe we’re a bit more politically boisterous than some, but is that really so bad?

Ok, so our Planning Board approved permits for chickens in residential zones but won’t allow the Dunkin Donuts in the center of town a drive-thru. And it is true there is only one traffic light in the entire town. And yes, there was a McDonald’s in Moscow before we got one in Norton. Hey, nobody’s perfect.

But Norton is a great place to live and raise a family. And if being known as “that political town” is the price we pay to be that, we can live with it.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and a third generation Nortonian (is that a word?). He can be reached at