Sunday, December 17, 2017
News Roundup

Hillsborough's acting Head Start chief quits after being accused of giving sex advice

TAMPA — A department director who supervised children's programs has resigned from Hillsborough County government after an investigation found she gave unsolicited sexual advice to co-workers, including subordinates.

Erica Moore, interim director of the county's Head Start program, stepped down Nov. 1 after the investigation. The Tampa Bay Times obtained a summary of the report Friday.

The report found that in multiple instances and in the presence of five different women, Moore counseled them to be sexually attentive to their husbands to keep them from straying. One of the comments was made in the presence of county human resources director Lori Krieck, as advice to one of Krieck's newlywed subordinates.

In another part of the report, prepared by the private firm Kalwary Investigations, Moore admitted giving her administrative assistant a copy of the book The Good Girl's Guide to Bad Girl Sex as a marital aid.

Two of the women claimed Moore made indirect sexual passes at them as well.

Her aide told investigators that Moore remarked on the "sexy jeans" she was wearing, adding, "I may have to start hitting on you." The other employee said Moore made a sexually suggestive comment and said, "Maybe you can be converted," meaning from straight to gay.

Moore did not return a phone call seeking comments.

In the report, the investigator wrote that Moore generally denied making sexually suggestive comments or hitting on other employees. She acknowledged talking to her aide about personal family matters but said the relationship was more "sisterly."

She suggests the aide may be motivated by a poor evaluation and that one of the other women may have been lashing out due to expected changes to her job responsibilities.

County Administrator Mike Merrill said he farmed out the investigation to an outside firm due to the sensitivity of some of the allegations. Moore's departure after less than a year on the job is the latest spate of troubling news involving directors hired on his watch.

He recently had to dismiss the head of an agency that provides financial assistance to homeless people because some of the people ended up in slumlike housing that the county was not inspecting. His animal services director is under fire from some animal welfare advocates, shelter volunteers and some commissioners for management troubles.

Merrill said the challenges are not unexpected in an organization with more than 4,500 employees. Still, he said, it is prompting him to make changes in the way he screens high-profile job applicants.

"The thing that's changed since all three of the latest were hired is I have decided it's time to use recruiters for those high-level positions and that there be assessments of the candidates before they are hired," Merrill said. "Not that that guarantees anything."

He seemed particularly caught off guard by the allegations against Moore, who was paid $104,978.

She was hired in January to be the director of Children's Services and was moved to Head Start on an interim basis when its director left. In her initial role, she was singled out for praise by county commissioners for helping to turn around a long-troubled program that houses foster children.

Her work as the principal of a school for high-risk juvenile offenders in Citrus County teaching them to build computers was featured in the Times in 2004. She also served as an assistant county attorney in Hernando and St. Johns counties.

"She really has done a superb job in a lot of ways," Merrill said. "All that praise was deserved. Any time I've interacted with her, I've found her to be professional and knowledgeable. The whole thing is really sad."

None of the allegations against Moore involved her interaction with children.

Times researcher John Martin and staff writer Barbara Behrendt contributed to this report.

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