TAMPA — Gordon Gillette has resigned as head of the Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough County, a nonprofit that distributes federal money for childcare centers and voluntary preschools.
Gillette, 62, announced his resignation as chief executive officer in an email sent Monday to the agency’s board members, saying he was retiring. He was hired in 2018 after working 36 years for Tampa Electric, where he was also chief executive officer.
Under his watch, the coalition eliminated a waitlist for childcare placements that once was several thousand strong, according to a release sent out by the agency. During the pandemic, he raised per-child reimbursement rates for childcare centers, which were struggling as parents and their children stayed home.
“With 90% of brain development occurring before age 5, this work is of paramount importance for every child,” Gillette said in a statement. “We have made great progress in early learning in our county, and I am proud to have led the Coalition during this time.”
Gillette’s departure comes during a tumultuous period. In May, he fired Lorinda Gamson, the agency’s chief operating officer. It came after a provider complained about the tone of an email Gamson sent to her, according to a recent board meeting. At the same meeting, two childcare providers also accused current agency staff of being racially insensitive. The claims prompted Gillette to hold a special board meeting in July, when some members called for staff to receive racial sensitivity training.
The agency in June also hired an outside attorney for $250 per hour to investigate a manager’s claims that he was dismissed because he was Black. The attorney found the agency had legitimate grounds to fire him, according to a letter Gillette sent to the board.
The agency is accepting bids for a firm to assess its culture, with focuses that include “intercultural communications,” and to provide training and planning, according to the bid document. It’s unclear if this would violate the Stop Woke Act, which was signed into law in April and limits how race-related issues are taught as part of workplace training.
Gillette, who earns $203,700 a year, is no stranger to controversy. His tenure as TECO chief executive officer ended five months after a 2017 explosion and leak of molten slag killed five workers at its Apollo Beach power plant. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined the company $130,000, saying it ignored its own rules.
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The nonprofit plans to hire a recruitment firm to find a new leader, said board Chairman Aakash Patel, who praised Gillette’s guidance over the past four years.
Patel said Gillette made major changes at the nonprofit, including restructuring its leadership, improving its ability to raise private funds and raising its profile among lawmakers.
“I think he’s done a tremendous job,” said Patel. “I’m sad to see him go.”
Patel said he did not know why Gillette had resigned but said he did not think it was linked to the upheaval at the nonprofit. He wants Gillette to stay on until a search firm has been selected.
“He has always led the organization with its best interest at heart.”