TAMPA — Until now, Hillsborough County Commissioner Jim Norman has called himself a "troubleshooter" for the Salvation Army. He said his $95,000 compensation included a company car.
On Thursday, the charity said Norman's job involves public relations and fundraising. And the agency's top Florida officer said the car is in addition to the salary.
Norman is "not a political lobbyist" the Salvation Army said, and he is not registered as one. His official job title: state community liaison.
But Norman's opponent in state Senate District 12 race, state Rep. Kevin Ambler, has said that Norman lobbied him on behalf of the Salvation Army.
In issuing the statement, the Salvation Army seemed to be distancing itself from an especially bitter primary election. With no Democratic opponent, the winner on Aug. 24 will likely replace the term-limited Victor Crist in the Senate.
To critics who say Norman's $95,000 is a lot of money for charity work, the agency said: "He has worked for us full time for over 30 years in a professional position. … It goes without saying that he could make more money elsewhere."
Norman did not return phone calls seeking comment.
But his supervisor, Vern Jewett, agreed with his use of the term "troubleshooter."
He said that, among other things, Norman works with local Salvation Army advisory boards on funding issues.
He described one such situation in Pinellas County, where a board member needed advice about Children's Village, a center for foster children; and Sallie House, an emergency child care facility.
"Across the state, we have millions and millions of dollars in contracts with various levels of government agencies," Jewett said. "On occasion, we use (Norman's) experience outside the Army. It makes him aware of how government works."
The situation that Ambler described also involved state funding for two facilities in St. Petersburg.
Jewett could not estimate how much money Norman has brought into the agency, or protected it from losing.
But, he said, "probably the majority of our contracts are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, and he has been helpful in raising millions of dollars."
Jewett said it is reprehensible that the campaign has opened Norman up to criticism.
"I find it disingenuous for political forces to say he is lobbying for the Salvation Army when he is seeking to raise funds for the Salvation Army," he said.
He explained the difference this way: A lobbyist has a political agenda, and the relationship involves an exchange of favors.
There is no such exchange where Norman is concerned, he said, and "the Salvation Army is nonpolitical."
Jewett also defended the use of a company car, saying Norman does so much traveling for the organization that it makes more sense than paying his mileage.
Norman can use the car for personal trips, Jewett said, but he must report those miles and then pay for them through his income tax.
On Thursday, the St. Petersburg Times reported that Norman also takes a $233 monthly car allowance from the county. It was as high as $600 before budget cuts.
"I think, to some extent your newspaper has been victimizing us," Jewett said. "I think there's an agenda you're pursuing. It's more mischaracterization than truth."
He acknowledged that, if Norman wins the Senate seat, he could face a conflict of interest because the Legislature can influence Salvation Army programs and funding.
And his need to spend several months a year in Tallahassee might affect his status as a full-time employee.
If Norman were to win the seat representing northern Hillsborough and central Pasco counties, he said, "I would sit down and review the issues."
Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 624-2739 or [email protected]