A short time ago, the entire Norton Recreation Committee resigned.
It was not sudden. It was not unexpected. In fact, they told people well in advance it could happen. Yet somehow, in a weird kind of reverse logic, many are blaming them for “abandoning” the program and the community most of them had worked tirelessly for many years to serve, without compensation.
To put it bluntly – that criticism is a giant load of crap.
As with most things governmental in Norton, the politics of this goes back to the dreaded “O” word – the failed overrides of the last two years. Norton is one of the few towns across the state that has never passed a general override of Proposition 2 1/2. And not surprisingly, that has resulted in cuts across the broad spectrum of municipal services.
Norton has no municipal trash pick-up. It has the same number of police officers it did in 1991. It has gone from five fire stations to one. And the recreation budget has been slashed so often and so deeply that the department itself virtually does not exist outside the small core of volunteers that selflessly kept it going with an embarrassingly small amount of financial support from the town.
For years, they gave of their time and themselves to provide programs for kids and adults. In addition to the recreation department, many of them became guiding forces behind the town’s Tricentennial celebration. That eventually turned into the annual Founder’s Day event. And boy, does everyone love Founder’s Day.
That’s when the town celebrates as a community. We have picnics. We have fireworks. We eat pies and cotton candy and sing lovely songs. It’s nice. It’s comfortable. It’s reflective of a community coming together.
But there was no Founder’s Day this year. That’s because before the last override, after years of waiting for the town to step up and take some of the burden it should rightfully bear, these volunteers warned residents and officials they were not going to keep doing it.
They helped get behind an override effort that supported schools, police, fire, senior citizens, and recreation. They believed in it, they fought for it. And they told people plainly, clearly, and without malice – if this plan failed, they were going back to their families. They were not going to continue enabling the town to run a professional program without professionals.
The override failed. They were disappointed. But they accepted the decision of the townspeople, and fully expected their decision would be extended the same courtesy. They stepped down.
And the whispering started. It turned into newspaper articles, letters to the editor, and postings on Facebook pages. And the blame for canceled programs and celebrations was pinned on them.
There was an attempt to save Founder’s Day this year. Ralph Stefanelli, the self-proclaimed “spokesman for voting No”, leader of the anti-override efforts, and part of the original Tri-Centennial planning group, volunteered to help oversee the new organizing effort. That is to his credit. But time and resources were scarce, and now the focus has shifted to next year.
In a video presentation on local cable access earlier this year, Mr. Stefanelli made a statement revealing his general philosophy on local government, and explaining in part why he opposed the override seeking to provide improved local services, stating:
“Because most of us don’t believe in community, we believe in individualism.”
Founder’s Day is great. It is a wonderful, fun celebration of community. And it is a shame it got canceled this year.
Of course, community is more than a single celebration. It is good schools, good public safety, good services and yes – a properly-funded recreation department. Fighting for those things is not always fun. It is not glamorous. It is not easy.
The recreation and Founder’s Day volunteers who stopped volunteering were not punishing the town. They were not sore losers concerning the override. They did not abandon their community.
They merely tired of enabling the town to claim it provided recreational services without paying its share for them. They sacrificed their individualism without getting much community support in return. They just wish the value of the Recreation Department was deemed as important as keeping Founder’s Day. Because to them, true community is important.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime Norton official. He can be emailed at billsinsidelook@gmail.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook