Norby as County Clerk-Recorder? Hang On — First, Let’s See That Police Report

Weird things are still happening in the wake of Chris Norby’s upset defeat by Fullerton Mayor Sharon Quirk-Silva in the 65th Assembly District race in the Nov. 6 general election.  Specifically, County Supervisor Shawn Nelson is apparently trying to get Chris Norby appointed to replace newly elected Assemblyman Tom Daly as County Clerk-Recorder.  (Word is that he’s doing this to benefit Norby’s deputy, Fullerton Council member Bruce Whitaker.)

In Clerk-Recorder archives Norby's face superimposed over Daly's

Yeah, um, before you finish phasing in that new face in the Clerk-Recorder’s office, I have a simple small request to make….

I’ve been holding off on discussing this prospect — yes, my concern is what you’d probably expect — so far, watching while the Voice of OC introduced the subject with confirmation of Norby’s interest:

[As his defeat became more clear], Norby apparently began quietly seeking support to take over the job of clerk-recorder.  … “There’s names all over the place,” said Supervisor Janet Nguyen, confirming that Norby had called her last week to seek her support for the clerk-recorder job.  Norby did not return a call seeking comment.

While Moorlach and Nelson also agree they want a professional manager in the clerk-recorder’s office, Nelson admits there’s a political lens over the whole process.  Nelson confirmed he has been helpful to Norby, advising him to lobby for the post. “He would do a decent job if we decide to go with a political angle,” Nelson said. … “I don’t know if I see Chris as a manager,” Moorlach said. “I see him more as a policy guy, a communicator.”

Then the Liberal OC weighed in with a bit more editorial fire and some concrete suggestions:

Our sources tell us that the man who replaced Norby on BoS, Shawn Nelson, has been particularly active not so much to help Norby but to find Norby aide Bruce Whitaker, the top vote getter for Fullerton City Council, a job. Whitaker will be unemployed when Norby steps down. …

Norby really isn’t qualified for the Clerk Recorder’s position although it appeared that he and Tom Daly were going to run for each other’s seats in county government back in 2010, when Norby suddenly went rogue and ran for assembly endorsing Nelson.  Norby frankly lacks the management experience needed by the clerk-recorder’s position.  As an elected official, Norby has tendencies of showing up late, saying something for the record, and leaving early.  The Clerk Recorder’s position is more hands on management which simply isn’t Norby’s background or experience.

Lib OC also states that the OC GOP and Board of Supes can “get it right” by appointing Tom Daly’s Assistant Clerk Recorder Renee Ramierez, a conservative Latina with experienced within the office, or Hugh Nguyen, a Vietnamese Republican against whom Daly ran in 2010, or Laura Cunningham, the Latina Chief of Staff doe Bill Campbell.

Then Art Pedroza [writing as “Joe Hill,” LOL – VN]  comes along and is nastier to Norby than I think I’ve ever been:

We wonder if Norby’s ever had a job as an adult that wasn’t on a government payroll.  He’s got quite a personal and political resume:

[Skipping a part about Norby’s brother Eric.  Go ahead and give Art the click].

It’s NOT impressive that Norby’s friend, Supervisor Shawn Nelson is aggressively pushing him for the Clerk-Recorder appointment.  Nelson’s otherwise having a good run in his Supervisor’s position.  He ran a great campaign and as far as we can tell, he’s made all the right decisions so far.  He’s well positioned if he desires Ed Royce’s job in Congress when he decides to retire.  But this obvious pandering to a failed friend is nonsense.  It will damage his career and will certainly be seen as blatant political patronage that would be admired even in Chicago.

To say this is the “ol’ boy network” at work is an insult to the fine art of understatement.  Norby’s a lifetime political hack going after a job he can’t do and doesn’t deserve.

Yowch!  Backing away from that a little, had I skipped one line from the Lib OC  story, though, that seems to ask a critical question:

What is it about these anti-public employee labor union Republicans that they have to turn to the public sector for continued employment?

Yeah, there is that.  It’s not my primary concern here, but let’s give it its due.

The prospective appointment of Norby to Clerk-Recorder, of course, spikes the irony meter deeply into the red zone.  The people who hate government and especially government waste and funneling of money to supporters now want to see government positions go not the most qualified but to the most politically connected?  These are our “small government libertarians”?  I suppose that they might make the case that whomever gets appointed will be suckling at the public teat — but that overlooks the fact that one can do a public job either well or badly — and that how well one does it matters!  Take a look at how well Neal Kelley runs the Registrar of Voters office — that refutes the (sometimes bipartisan) nihilist cynicism that good management and specialized skills in public administration don’t much matter.

I don’t begrudge Nelson’s human desire to help out both Whitaker and Norby — who, after all, is supporting a family — at a time of need.  Hell, extend that desire beyond one’s circle of personal friends and political allies and one becomes a Democrat.  But wanting to help out a buddy who has been spurned by voters is not supposed to be a consideration for a public official.  This is the kind of thing that a casual observer might describe as “corrupt” — especially given that Chris Norby (unlike at least two other possible appointees being discussed) does not appear to have relevant qualifications for the position.  Is it too much to ask of County officials that they take governance seriously?

(If Nelson’s concern is Whitaker rather than Norby, he could actually make a better case to appoint Whitaker to the seat and let him hire Norby as a flunky if he so chooses.  Whitaker’s managerial skills may be more similar to what to what the Clerk-Recorder does than what Norby has been doing as a Supervisor and legislator.  Then again, maybe that would be a little too blatant.)

But aside from the irony of libertarians stacking public office with buddies, and aside from the corruption and competence aspects of the situation, there’s another concern I have about a Norby appointment: and if you’ve been following my writing this year, you’ll know what it is even without the help of this post’s title.

I don’t want to see Norby suffer.  Far more importantly, I don’t want to see his wife, the child they share, and his stepkids and suffer.  Lots of people are suffering these days, and Norby might find a little joblessness instructive to his understanding of his own “anti-help” ideology, but that’s not enough for my to wish that fate upon him.  I would like to see him take his skills and move into the private sector with them.  But, if he were to remain in public service, I don’t have any special objection to it other than the grounds expressed above, except for one thing: the prospect that he engaged in domestic violence and cover it up.

As a political matter, it’s even stupider for me to bring this up now than it was to try to find out the truth about it in the first place, or to allow myself to be goaded by people at Friends for Fullerton’s Future and the OC Weekly to explain why I had felt the need to do so.  I mean, wouldn’t it be better to convince people that all of that was just my throwing a particularly vicious elbow in hopes of aiding Quirk-Silva’s Assembly campaign?  That act would, in the twisted world of electoral politics, be reprehensible but respectable — like Dave Gilliard’s crew race-baiting Jay Chen so as to benefit Ed Royce in CA-39.  “Doesn’t make him a racist — just a winner,” is how the story goes.

In this twisted world of politics, what is weird is for someone to continue to care about an issue like this beyond its apparent use in an election.  That’s OK with me, though, because for me it was never about politics.  I actually do want to know whether the hearsay allegations I heard from various sources did have a basis in fact: specifically, whether there was a police report filed in the first week of September 2010 that would include the names of witnesses who claimed to see Chris Norby physically attack Martha Norby and photographs of resulting abdominal (or other, if so) bruising and damage.  I want to know if he did have this character problem — and, if so, whether he covered it up and who helped him.  (I’m not yearning to attack Bruce Whitaker, for example — but if he knew that the stories had a substantial basis in fact and helped try to bury them, then HELL YES I want to know about it.)

I can accept the possibility that Norby’s actions may not, with some corrective actions including admission of fault, disqualify him from public office.  (Others may disagree about that.)  The same goes for others who may have kept any such secret.  But what I can’t accept is the notion that his defeat — as his victory would have also done — renders the matter closed.  That’s just wrong.  If Norby goes into private rather than public life, then I guess I have little or no standing as a citizen to continue to call for openness (although standing down does allow anyone who may have helped him to get away with having done it), but if he remains in public life then he should remain subject to calls for public scrutiny.  The only thing worse than an attempted cover-up is an attempted cover-up than succeeds.

I would like to think, by the way, that I would do the same if Norby were a Democrat or other political ally.  (I would continue to be interested in how Miguel Pulido has gotten so wealthy over his years as Mayor of Santa Ana, and at what cost to the city, even if he had lost his re-election attempt this year.  I am confident that many county Democrats would disagree with me there.)  I would prefer to be thought of as someone not to be trusted to cover up wrongful acts, even if it keeps me out of certain core political positions.  (What matters to me is the seriousness of the underlying crime.  I would had had no trouble telling people to piss off when it came to the matter of whether Bill Clinton had had a legally acceptable extramarital affair with an adult intern, for example, because he had the right to divert the investigation into his private life with cleverly constructed answers to deposition questions.  If you can’t tell the difference between that and domestic violence, then I urge you to study up on it.)

So: I renew my call for Chris and Martha Norby to authorize the Fullerton Police Department (and any other agencies having confidential material if applicable) to release the information related to the events that led the police to be called to their home on Sept. 2, 2010, as well as to its aftermath.  If this leads to disgrace for Norby, I’m sorry for that, but it’s better (for him and for the rest of us) to address it openly.  If it leads to disgrace for me for having sought the file, and for the various people who assured me based on confidential communications that there was indeed something to the story, then so be that as well.  If people lied to me, I definitely want to know about it.

If raising the issue of Norby’s potential misconduct had simply been a maneuver for political gain, then I’d feel satisfied at this point to leave it alone.  But it wasn’t that for me — and I don’t think it was for others either.  It hasn’t “served its purpose” because its purpose wasn’t to defeat Norby — it was to get at the truth about corruption within local government and, yes, the Fullerton Police department under former Chief Sellers.  Like it or not, and I’m sure that many won’t, I’m not leaving it alone — and, if our Supervisors appoint someone with this sort of cloud hanging over his head to a high public office, I expect that I’ll have plenty of company in that.

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)