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Louis Finney, head of Hillsborough Head Start, resigns

TAMPA — The director of Hillsborough Head Start resigned Friday to pursue an undisclosed career opportunity, according to county administration.

Louis Finney had led the antipoverty program — funded by federal, state and county money — providing education and social services for preschool-age children since 2005. His tenure was marked by a series of successes detailed in a county news release sent Friday evening, but was also marred by a series of disciplinary issues. The resignation was Finney's decision, according to Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill.

"It was unexpected," Merrill said. "The program has done very well, achieved a lot of awards and a lot of recognition."

Hillsborough Head Start serves more than 3,400 children each year. Under Finney's direction, Hillsborough Head Start has won 27 local, state and national awards for excellence, according to the county, including recognition from First Lady Michelle Obama for efforts to reduce obesity in low-income children. It also won the largest Head Start funding increase in the southeast region, earned through a competitive federal grant award process and resulting in an additional $40 million and 103 new jobs for Hillsborough County since 2009.

Finney's tenure was not without controversy, though. One of Finney's fiscal managers — Michael Jimenez — was convicted by a federal jury in 2011 of fraud after he initiated Head Start's $9,000 purchase of copies of a book written by his wife. Finney signed off on the purchase, but claimed he was unaware the author was Jimenez's wife. The fraud conviction was later overturned by a federal appeals court.

Before the book sale case, Finney had received counseling and a written reprimand for allegations including renting space at almost no cost to a company run by a member of a Head Start advisory committee and driving a county vehicle without a valid Florida driver's license.

Finney was unavailable for comment Friday evening. Merrill did not know where Finney will be working, but did say it will be for a nonprofit. A current Head Start employee will serve as interim director while the county seeks a permanent replacement, Merrill said.

Louis Finney, head of Hillsborough Head Start, resigns 05/03/13 [Last modified: Saturday, May 4, 2013 12:00am]

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