Being “Client 9" is surely more exotic than being “Supervisor 4,” but that doesn’t make Chris Norby any less human than former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer. To the contrary, the Orange County supervisor from the 4th District seems all too human, something he quickly acknowledges -- although not nearly in as much detail as I was hoping.
I was out of town when the story broke a week ago that Norby admitted he’d wrongly used campaign funds to pay for a week’s lodging in a Fullerton hotel last August. He did it while in the throes of marital trouble, but he made the mistake of describing it on his financial disclosure forms as a week spent in the “study of homeless and motel families.”
That’s the kind of official breach that should move any self-respecting newspaper columnist to foam at the mouth in indignation or righteous anger. The nerve! The arrogance!
And yet, I can’t do it.
Rather than wanting to hammer him, I wonder if a hug isn’t what he needs. I feel like buying him dinner and letting him do all the talking.
I know he’s got things on his mind. His third marriage is unraveling. That alone would be enough to undo a man; one failed attempt was enough for me.
So he checked out of his home last summer and, according to reports, spent a few days sleeping in his office. Then it was on to the Fullerton bed and breakfast, including an evening on which he found himself snoozing on the lawn outside the old county courthouse. He’d been reading a magazine and heading for the gym and it was a hot day, he says. Sheriff’s deputies awakened him.
You may find that disquieting. I find it poignant.
As for the disclosure form, he blew it. He has paid back the $340 for the room.
How about a troubled man crying out for help. A man who needs to fix something that’s broken.
They don’t keep records on this sort of thing, but I’m guessing Norby is the first county supervisor in history to have fallen asleep on the courthouse lawn.
Oh, the humanity of it.
That’s why I just can’t pile on. Norby sounds like the guy at the end of every bar in America, telling his troubles to the stranger next to him. Life is tough, being married is tough, a guy needs some time to sort things out.
I called Norby to see if I could be that man. I made it clear I wasn’t going to bust his chops over the disclosure form. I even told him I liked his style in public life, if only for the quirky sensibility he brings to certain moments. I even applauded his short-lived suggestion in 2004 to rename John Wayne Airport as “The O.C. Airport-John Wayne Field” to capitalize on the county’s growing national name recognition.
He didn’t feel like sharing.
When I asked if he wanted to tell me about his life, he declined. “Do you want to tell me about yours?” he said.
Uh, absolutely not. Although now I’m thinking that if I’d opened up, maybe he would too.
“Everybody’s got their challenges,” he said. “All lives are a work in progress.”
He wasn’t the least bit unpleasant in rebuffing me, but quickly changed the subject to a conference he’s moderating today at the Sheraton Anaheim Hotel on the effects on residents and county government when public entities claim private homes to make way for retail interests.
If that’s how he takes his mind off his troubles. . . .
Norby is still married, but divorce papers have been filed. That kind of stuff is never fun.
I asked him if he minded the flurry of gossip that had swirled around him in recent months.
“I’m flattered that people think I’m important enough to gossip about and care about,” he said.
He was trying to appear chipper and to give me a decent quote, but he wasn’t fooling me.
What I heard in his voice was a guy who needs a pal.
Dana Parsons’ column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. He can be reached at (714) 966-7821 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. An archive of his recent columns is at www.latimes.com/parsons.