A day after its controversial executive director resigned, the Florida Housing Finance Corporation’s board of directors formally closed an inspector general’s investigation into his tumultuous leadership of the organization.
During the action Friday at its board meeting in Coral Gables, members only made passing reference to Michael DiNapoli, who had been nominated by Gov. Ron DeSantis to head the affordable housing corporation.
Instead, they voted unanimously to accept and close the probe by FHFC Inspector General Chris Hirst, who concluded DiNapoli had created a toxic work environment at the corporation.
The board also approved keeping Angie Sellers, the corporation’s longtime chief financial officer, as acting executive director. She’s held the post mostly since July when DiNapoli was first suspended by Board Chair Mario Facella with the launch of the inspector general’s probe.
DiNapoli earned $185,000 as executive director. He’d been hired in February.
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But his term has been chaotic. After being placed on paid administrative leave, DiNapoli was reinstated in August by DeSantis, who claimed Facella’s move was “unsanctioned.”
More than 10% of the corporation’s 131 employees had left during DiNapoli’s first six months leading FHFC. The inspector general’s report released in September concluded that DiNapoli had threatened and yelled at employees, bullying them by citing that he had the power to fire them.
Much of the harshest abuse was aimed at women employees, according to those interviewed by the inspector general. At its September meeting, the full board of the FHFC voted to put him back on suspension.
This time, the DeSantis administration let it stand.
While Friday’s meeting was to decide his fate, and potentially set up another clash with DeSantis, DiNapoli short-circuited any further drama by resigning Thursday. His two-page letter was critical of the board for inappropriately communicating with staff and for having weak financial oversight.
He also said that the “vicious attacks against me began when I attempted to implement modest but necessary ethical reforms that any public organization must adopt.”
J. Alex Kelly, the Florida Commerce Secretary and DeSantis’ acting chief-of-staff, is authorized to hire FHFC’s next executive director, with consent of the board of directors. The governor’s office did not respond immediately to a request for a timeline on a replacement.
DiNapoli had caught the eye of the governor’s office after working five years for the Department of Economic Opportunity, which is now incorporated into the state’s newly created Department of Commerce, led by Kelly.
FHFC oversees close to $2 billion in state and federal funding used to promote home ownership and develop rental housing in Florida. The organization has gained more prominence with approval of the “Live Local Act,” which steers $711 million toward housing and rental programs, with incentives for lower-cost housing and mixed-used developments.
‘Live Local’ was the brainchild of Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, who refuted some of the criticism leveled toward FHFC by DiNapoli in his resignation letter.
“Over more than two decades working on affordable housing issues as a private citizen, attorney and since 2010 as a member of the Legislature, I have found the staff of the corporation to be highly talented, dedicated and professional,” Passidomo said in a statement.
“These are people who have spent their careers working to identify and facilitate affording housing opportunities for families in communities across the state,” she said, adding she was “grateful for their dedication.”
John Kennedy is part of USA TODAY Network’s Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at [email protected], or on Twitter at @JKennedyReport.