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Jim Norman leaving Salvation Army after criticism

TAMPA — Facing criticism as the holiday giving season begins, the Salvation Army said Tuesday it has ended its relationship with state Sen.-elect Jim Norman.

The outgoing Hillsborough County commissioner earned $95,000 a year, plus use of a company car, as statewide community liaison for the faith-based charity.

It was a job he held for 31 years, but it also became a campaign issue. Norman described himself as a troubleshooter who worked largely on weekends, but Republican opponent Kevin Ambler accused him of lobbying without registering.

While denying that Norman was a lobbyist, the charity's leaders acknowledged he used his experience and familiarity with government to help the Salvation Army compete for and hold onto millions of dollars in contracts. He abstained from votes involving Hillsborough matters, including a long-standing contract to provide probation services.

The charity's officials hinted that Norman's days might be numbered when, during the heated Senate campaign, they got calls from donors who threatened to stop giving. Development director Steve Dick said that although Norman retired voluntarily, "the Salvation Army initiated the issue."

Donors who had complained were pleased at the news.

"I think this was long overdue," retired corporate executive Charles Luthin said. "Justice prevails once in awhile."

In a brief statement, the Salvation Army said the organization felt that as a senator, Norman would be too busy to fulfill his job responsibilities.

When reminded that Norman held the job while he served on the County Commission — and during his political campaigns — Dick stuck to that position.

"We believe his responsibilities as a state senator will take more time and he won't be able fulfill his obligations to the army," he said.

Norman, who leaves office next week, was paid $92,000 a year as a county commissioner. As a senator, he will earn just under $30,000. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Dick said Norman will receive a retirement package, but he would not elaborate. The disclosure form that Norman filed to run for the Senate lists a retirement account from the Salvation Army with a value of $161,000.

Longtime employees are eligible for pension benefits when they turn 65, said Murray Flagg, a human resources director at the Salvation Army's territorial office in Atlanta. No one in the organization would provide any details.

Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy, said he finds that lack of disclosure infuriating. One can only guess how much Norman is receiving, he said.

"They could have made it so sweet that it could have been an obvious decision. Had they not done that, maybe he would have stayed."

Norman's job at the Salvation Army was one of several issues that dogged him during the campaign season. After losing to Norman in the Aug. 24 Republican primary, Ambler sued to have Norman disqualified as a candidate in the Nov. 2 election.

Ambler alleged that Norman failed to disclose a $500,000 gift from influential Hillsborough businessman Ralph Hughes, which Norman's wife used to buy a lakefront Arkansas home. A circuit court judge in Tallahassee removed Norman from the ballot, but that decision was reversed on appeal.

In a race with no Democrat to represent the north Hillsborough and central Pasco district, Norman captured slightly more than half of the votes when undervotes and write-in ballots were considered.

Separately, Norman is the subject of an FBI investigation into his relationship with Hughes, who died in 2008 while undergoing a multimillion-dollar tax inquiry. Hughes, who was in the construction materials business, was an opponent of taxes and business regulations who appeared frequently before the commission.

Dick said Tuesday that none of those controversies entered into the organization's decision about Norman. Critics of the charity were skeptical.

"They clearly were getting heat," said Luthin, who called the Salvation Army weeks ago to express his dissatisfaction.

"I think he was pressured to leave," said Tim Williams of Clair-Mel in east Hillsborough.

Borochoff of the watchdog group said the Salvation Army risks its credibility by maintaining secrecy about Norman's retirement package.

"This is prime time for them," he said. "There are people in need. They should err on the side of accountability. They need to have people's trust."

At the United Way of Tampa Bay, vice president Douglas Arnold said the organization might not fare too badly.

"The Salvation Army has a tremendous record of doing good things," he said. "I believe they will be able to move beyond this."

Times staff writers Sue Carlton and Janet Zink contributed to this report. Marlene Sokol can be reached at sokol@sptimes.com or (813) 624-2739.

Jim Norman leaving Salvation Army after criticism 11/09/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 9, 2010 10:59pm]
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