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Hillsborough Head Start Director gets a pass and new job after DUI arrest

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Hillsborough County Head Start Headquarters Hillsborough County Head Start Headquarters
TAMPA, FL (WFLA) -

After serving eight sometimes turbulent years as director of Hillsborough County Head Start, Louis Finney Jr. suddenly and without public explanation left the $95,000 a year county job.

His resignation letter May 6 said only that he was leaving "to take on another challenging opportunity to continue working with children and families in the State of Florida." 

He didn't go very far.

The Wednesday after his Friday resignation, Finney started a new job as vice president for the Head Start division of Lutheran Services Florida, just a few doors away from where he ran Hillsborough County's $30 million a year Head Start program.

"We're happy to have him," said Lutheran Services Human Resources Vice President Matt Rosen. "We hired him because we are expanding Head Start. He knows more about Head Start than anyone else."

Rosen said Finney will receive $125,000 a year at Lutheran Services, $30,000 more than his county job paid. He joins a nonprofit organization whose top four executives collectively earn just under a million dollars a year to help deliver a variety of social services.

Rosen said Finney will not compete with Hillsborough Head Start in his new role with Lutheran Services. He will, however, be doing business with his former colleagues as a county services provider.

"Grants through Head Start go through counties and then different agencies like ours," Rosen said.

The Head Start office Finney headed came under fire in 2011 when its former chief financial officer, Michael Jimenez, was convicted of federal fraud charges after arranging for the office to buy copies of his wife's book. The conviction was overturned earlier this year.

Finney was not implicated in the case, but during the investigation, he did decline to testify, invoking his Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination.

Finney did receive a written scolding in another matter involving his Florida driver license. In 2010 his county bosses discovered he didn't have one even though he'd been receiving a car allowance ever since he move to Florida to become Head Start director five years earlier.

His failure to obtain a license was a criminal offense under state law and a violation of county policy. Finney received a written reprimand in his file and continued getting his car allowance after obtaining a valid Florida license.

Last October, Finney was arrested on a DUI charge in Orlando while attending a conference for the county. His blood alcohol level fell below the state standard for driver impairment but above the amount that allows an arrest. The charge was later reduced to careless driving when Finney agreed to plead no contest.

An FHP video of the arrest, reviewed by News Channel 8, showed Finney pleaded with the arresting officer, saying, "I'm a retired military police officer. I'm gonna lose my job and my veterans benefits after this." Finney went on to tell the trooper he worked for the government.

Finney's resignation came just days after News Channel 8 began asking questions about the arrest video.

His boss, county Family and Aging Services Director Venerria Thomas, said Finney told her of the arrest and she passed it up the chain of command. There is no record of Finney's arrest or of any reprimand in his personnel file.

"There was no adjudication based on that arrest," said Deputy County Administrator Sharon Subudan.

"We don't take action on employees based on arrest and our policy has been consistent."

Attorney Tom Carey who is chairman of the West Florida Chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving said Finney's comments to the trooper during his DUI arrest raise questions that someone should look into.

"Apparently he was trying to use his status as a former military police officer and a current government official to persuade the officer to do..do him a favor," Carey said. "And if that's true it certainly needs looking into."

Subudan told News Channel 8 she did not want to review the FHP video referred to by Carey or pursuing any further action related to Finney's drinking and driving arrest.

"I have really no interest in seeing it," Subudan said. As far as I'm concerned this interview is over."

Two days after that interview Finney suddenly resigned. In a press release the county wished him well.

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