Daniel Ruth

$530,000 is a lot of credibility to lose

Maybe in his private moments, Hillsborough County Commissioner Jim Norman gazes into his bathroom mirror and cuts a dashing profile — as dashing a profile as a big lug of a good ol' boy can cut — as he envisions himself an international man of mystery.

How did the Normans manage to buy a house in Arkansas for $435,000 in cold hard cash? Hah! Wouldn't you like to know?

And just what exactly does the commissioner, in his super secret, For Your Eyes Only, Code Name: Operation Cipher, do for the Salvation Army for a cool $95,000 a year? Why, it's none of your beeswax.

You would think these would be simple enough questions, obvious questions, for a public servant to answer, especially for someone who has been face down at the public trough as long as Jim Norman, R-Oz.

The commissioner is running for the District 12 state Senate seat against state Rep. Kevin Ambler. The race has been testy, with Norman accusing Ambler, who is so conservative he makes Ronald Reagan look like Rachel Maddow, of being a dreaded liberal.

But Norman has dropped an anvil on his head by embroiling himself in a needless controversy of his own making, of his own hubris. You know, when someone seeking a position of public trust won't even reveal what it is precisely they do for a living when they are not otherwise engaged in the busy, busy, busy government work of blowing air kisses to real estate developers, it is certainly fair to inquire — "Just what are you hiding, Bunky?"

And the answer might well be: $435,000 + $95,000 = $530,000 worth of credibility lost — and maybe an election, too.

In ducking repeated efforts to seek a specific explanation how his wife, Mearline — and some mysterious undisclosed investors — came up with $435,000 in cash to purchase a tony Arkansas spread, as well as how he earns his keep with the Salvation Army where the average worker pulls in about $30,000 a year, Norman has gotten all huffy, insisting the fancy digs in the Ozarks and his Salvation Army ATM are a personal matter and thus his constituents, the taxpayers, the electorate and the public can all go … well, fill in the blank.

But the argument by Norman, R-I Vant To Be Alone, that his personal life has no bearing on his political ambitions is sheer palaver wrapped in twaddle, enshrouded in gibber-jabber, enveloped in balderdash.

Despite his dubious claims that he was more out to lunch than Sgt. Schultz concerning the Arkansas house deal, it certainly has the odious aroma of a pol trying to hide behind his wife's hoop skirt to avoid accountability. This wasn't as if Mearline Norman had dropped $200 on some Bobbi Brown cosmetics at Nordstrom's unbeknownst to her husband.

This is far, far, far from a "personal matter." It is a very public matter. Who are the investors in the Arkansas house? Are they people who do business before the county commission? Are they potentially people who have business with the state of Florida, which could involve Norman should he be elected? And let's face it, if you are someone who has the wherewithal to come up with $435,000 in cash, the chances are more than reasonable these folks might well have a public profile themselves.

Cue the Limburger cheese meter.

As far as the Salvation Army goes, Norman was no more forthcoming than Sarah Palin trying to remember the last book she read, noting for his $95,000-a-year he does a little bit of this, a little bit of that, troubleshooting here, networking there. Perhaps he even tells hilarious jokes at the Red Cross' expense while standing around the water cooler.

How hard is this? Really now, unless you happened to be Kato Kaelin, or Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp, or Prince Charles, you certainly know what you do to earn a paycheck.

Adding to the mystery of the details surrounding Norman's Salvation Army employment is the appearance that he sorta, kinda, in a manner of speaking, maybe, sometimes acts as a lobbyist for the charity, although he is not actually registered as a lobbyist as required by law.

Or is this a case of if it walks like a lobbyist and talks like a lobbyist, it's not really a lobbyist. It's just Jim Norman, R-Now You See Me, Now You Don't.

It probably didn't help the commissioner than the Salvation Army released a tortured statement trying to explain that Norman was a full-time employee who identifies stuff, works with local boards and networks in his capacity as "Community Liaison."

Uh-oh, is that something on the order of being an Obamaesque community organizer? That probably won't go over well among the silk-stocking of harrumphs running the Republican Party.

Of course, Norman could avoid the questions being raised about the $435,000 Arkansas getaway as well as his amorphous Salvation Army job description if only he was willing to live up to his own campaign propaganda touting the need for accountability and fiscal responsibility.

The commissioner seems to prefer skirting his obligations for transparency — in more ways than one.

$530,000 is a lot of credibility to lose 08/05/10 [Last modified: Friday, August 6, 2010 7:16pm]

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