TAMPA — It's been part of Jim Norman's biography since he entered public office 18 years ago.
He came to Tampa as a young man to work for the Salvation Army. After he joined the Hillsborough County Commission, he continued his full-time job for the Christian charity.
"They are more of a family," said Norman, 56, a Republican candidate for state Senate. "Working with the Salvation Army is a calling — no, that sounds weird. But it is so rewarding."
But exactly what Norman does as a community liaison for the Salvation Army, which paid him $95,000 last year, is not entirely clear.
Asked about his duties, Norman described himself largely as a weekend troubleshooter who traverses the state in his Salvation Army-issued Toyota Camry.
"If there is a children's home or alcohol rehabilitation center that has a problem, I get in the car and go," he said.
"It's relationship building. Things like, typically, something might flare up concerning a homeless shelter, people get fired up in the neighborhood or city. I try to explain the mission of the Army."
He would not cite specific examples; nor would anyone in the Salvation Army. A written statement issued by the charity this week described Norman's work in general terms.
Norman's reluctance to provide specifics about his job comes on the heels of reports that his wife purchased a $435,000 home in Arkansas in 2006 with cash. He said his wife bought the house with investors, but he would not name them.
As with the house, Norman said he considers his employment a personal matter.
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The Salvation Army, a worldwide relief agency, has missions that counsel drug addicts, assist disaster victims and fight human trafficking. Its work became largely intertwined with government in the late 1970s, when states including Florida privatized probation services.
Today the Salvation Army's correctional division handles misdemeanor probation cases in Florida, typically through contracts with counties.
Norman said he was involved in the probation area early in his career.
"Sometimes there are hiccups that occur," he said. He sometimes met with judges. The sensitivity of these matters is one reason he is reluctant to describe specific cases, he said.
Still, followers of his contentious primary campaign against state Rep. Kevin Ambler for the District 12 state Senate seat are asking questions, especially about the $95,000 in pay from the Salvation Army that Norman listed in his campaign disclosure form.
Norman said the amount includes use of the car, but would not say how much is salary and how much is car.
At the organization's state headquarters in Lutz, Maj. Larry Broome said that any details about Norman would have to come from Lt. Col. Vern Jewett, who was out of town until after the weekend.
Calls to other Salvation Army offices, including an Atlanta media relations office and dating back a week, were not returned.
Broome said he has known Norman for a year.
"My impression is that he is a dedicated servant who likes to help people," Broome said. "He has given his life to the Salvation Army, even before he entered politics. He wants to help people. And I assume that his political motivation is to help people as well."
While Norman acknowledged the Salvation Army benefits from his experience in government, he said he is not a lobbyist, and state records do not list him as one.
But his work invariably touches matters of legislation and public spending.
Broome said Norman "identifies contracts that come up" around the state.
Lt. Col. Donald Faulkner, now retired and living in Clearwater, said that, as he remembers it, Norman's job between 1997 and 2004 included efforts to hold onto probation contracts.
Locally, Faulkner said, "Jim kept us up to date on issues where the Army might be able to assist," such as homelessness.
Years before he joined county government, then-Sen. Pat Frank said Norman lobbied her.
"He was definitely lobbying for legislation to continue the misdemeanor probation program in the Salvation Army," said Frank, a Democrat and now Hillsborough clerk of court.
Ambler said Norman advocated for the Salvation Army far more recently. "I had always assumed he was a registered lobbyist, because I had been lobbied (by Norman)," Ambler said. He recalls being contacted by Norman in 2005 or 2006, who wanted him to support appropriations for Salvation Army facilities.
"We did those, and I was happy to do it," Ambler said. "I'm a strong supporter of the Salvation Army."
Ambler said Norman also lobbied Republican Sen. Victor Crist, but Crist said he neither remembers nor has any record of such an event.
"Jim Norman's focus has always been on the County Commission or legislative delegation matters," Crist said. While in Tallahassee, "he was usually in the company of a county lobbyist."
Frank said she wishes Norman would be more open about both his Salvation Army job and the Arkansas house. "I think it would serve Jim well if he disclosed all of the details," she said.
She said he appears to be lobbying, even if not at the state level. And if he enters state government, she said, it will be hard to keep his job without running into a conflict. "In my opinion, it would present a problem."
Reach Marlene Sokol at email@example.com or (813) 624-2739. Times staff writers Janet Zink and Jeff Testerman and researcher John Martin contributed to this report.