After three decades serving on Scituate's Board of Selectmen, Joseph Norton said he will not seek reelection.
Norton made the announcement during a selectmen meeting on Jan. 22, and in a phone conversation said the decision was bittersweet.
“It wasn’t an easy decision to make, when you’ve done something you’ve enjoyed for a long period of time, it’s not easy to make a decision not to continue…but it was a decision I felt was wise,” said Norton, who is the current chairman of the Board of Selectmen.
Norton has served 10 terms, or 30 years, as a selectman for Scituate, and in his time, has overseen steady increases in the town’s population, massive storms that have pummeled the coast, a bitter fight over the Greenbush line, and the surge of economic prosperity to the downtown and beyond.
But beyond navigating the - at times - uneasy growth, town officials say Norton has been stable leader at the helm of town government.
“He brings a lot of knowledge and a lot of experience,” said Selectman Tony Vegnani. “He’s been such a great leader of the town for the past 30 years. It’s going to be very difficult to fill his shoes.”
Looking back, Norton said that as much as Scituate has changed, some things have remained the same.
“I’d like to think the town has changed for the better,” he said. “I think we have a town that’s proven itself during times of adversity to stick together … We have a town that has a harbor that is second to none in the state, we have a town that is now a destination spot for people looking for fine restaurants. Scituate Harbor is vibrant today, whereas 30 years ago it wasn’t quite as busy.
“Basically, the people haven’t changed, the number of people has increased a little bit, but the desire of people to have a good town to live in hasn’t changed.”
Norton struggled to list off his biggest accomplishment throughout his 30-year tenure, but said the revitalization of Front Street, the strong financial footing of the town, and the excellent school system were successes.
“I would like to think a lot of people had a big part in all the accomplishments,” Norton said.
The town has also doubled its sewer capacity, though when Norton came on board, the town was skeptical of adding any more.
Yet there is still more to be done.
“There’s always something else that you’d like to be able to see finished or complete, but that’s always there,” Norton said. “If you served as selectmen for 100 years, there would always be something you’d want to do.”
It’s a job Norton will leave to his colleagues in government and to a yet unannounced new candidate for the empty seat.
The announcement came as a shock to some of Norton’s colleagues on the board, who will be looking at a new face after the April elections.
“He’s been talking about it for a while, but I was hoping it wasn’t true. So I’m a little bit sad that he’s leaving,” Vegnani said.
Vegnani said Norton’s negotiator skills would be missed, as would his perspective on many issues.
“He’s seen so much in the past that he’s helped guide us on issues with a calmness and a knowledge base that can make a difficult task considerably easier,” Vegnani said. “There’s all the personalities in town, and just all the years of having done this, there is not a lot he hasn’t seen before, so he tends to be a bit more even-keeled through sometimes emotional or rocky [discussions].”
Though Norton will be stepping down from his role, he will not be entirely absent. He said he plans to serve the town in some capacity, as cutting all ties just doesn’t seem realistic.
Meanwhile, the town will have to transition through another job switch, following the retirement of Town Clerk Bernice Brown in mid-2012, and the retirement of longtime Library Director Kathy Meeker in late 2012.
“I think certainly the town will suffer to some extent because of the number of years people have put in these positions … but I guess they say change creates opportunity,” Vegnani said. “I’m not worried.”
In the meantime, Norton said the town’s reaction to his announcement has been heartwarming.
“I’m very humbled. The reaction has been very, very complimentary, and sometimes you think people aren’t noticing, I guess they really are,” Norton said. “Extremely complimentary emails, phone calls, Facebook notification from people. People have been stopping me in the streets just to say, 'thank you.' People are very kind.”