TALLAHASSEE – On the eve of a board meeting to settle his fate, the controversial and currently suspended head of the state’s affordable housing corporation abruptly resigned Thursday.
Michael DiNapoli, an ally of Gov. Ron DeSantis and executive director of the Florida Housing Finance Corp., submitted his resignation to the public corporation’s board of directors.
The board was set to meet Friday to consider his future with the multi-billion-dollar organization. DiNapoli was earning $185,000-a-year.
“It is with a heavy heart that I tender my resignation,” DiNapoli began his letter to the board, whose members have twice placed him on administrative leave, with pay, amid an investigation into his performance and a possible hostile work environment.
The organization has been rattled by a host of staff resignations since DiNapoli was nominated to the post in February by DeSantis.
Fifteen employees, including two general counsels, resigned during DiNapoli’s first six months on the job, representing more than 10% of the corporation’s 131 employees.
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DiNapoli, in his two-page resignation letter, portrayed himself as a victim.
“The vicious attacks against me began when I attempted to implement modest but necessary ethical reforms that any public organization must adopt,” DiNapoli wrote. “I have always been committed to accountability to the taxpayers, and this is what Gov. DeSantis demands from his administration.”
He also accused the FHFC board of inappropriately communicating with staff and for having weak financial oversight. He said there were “entangled relationships among certain board members aligned with special interests and career bureaucrats that have been in control of the organization for many years.”
DiNapoli was placed on administrative leave in July by Board Chair Mario Facella during an inspector general’s investigation. The probe later concluded that DiNapoli had created a hostile work environment by threatening and yelling at employees, frequently aiming his harshest abuse at women staffers.
But before the investigation was completed, DeSantis stepped in and nullified DiNapoli’s suspension in August, putting him back on the job.
DeSantis’ authority to take such action appeared legally suspect. But it stood until the board met in September to review the then-completed findings of the inspector general.
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After hearing more details of the abuse leveled on employees by DiNapoli, the full board voted to put DiNapoli again on leave. DeSantis’ spokesman, Jeremy Redfern railed at the second suspension, saying, “If anyone wonders what the deep state looks like, this is it.”
But the governor didn’t attempt to bring DiNapoli back a second time. DeSantis has been focused mostly on running his now longshot campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.
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The board, scheduled to meet Friday in Coral Gables, was expected to consider recommending that J. Alex Kelly, the Florida Commerce Secretary and DeSantis’ acting chief-of-staff, use his authority to fire DiNapoli.
Still, given the DeSantis administration’s support for DiNapoli, any such recommendation could have been ignored.
DiNapoli’s resignation, however, appears to end his tenure with the corporation.
DiNapoli was brought on to replace executive director Trey Price, who had resigned after six years leading the organization, which promotes home ownership and affordable rental housing in a state becoming prohibitively expensive for many Floridians.
FHFC uses close to $2 billion of state and federal funding to create almost $6 billion in economic activity, according to a 2021 study of the agency by Florida State University.
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 since June by Kelly.
FHFC also has gained more prominence amid a Sunshine State affordable housing crunch and as the lead organization for the “Live Local Act,” signed into law in March by DeSantis. The measure steers $711 million toward housing and rental programs, providing incentives for investment in lower-cost housing and encouraging more mixed-use developments in declining commercial areas across the state.
Live Local was a signature legislative proposal of Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples. But it has drawn fire in some areas for allowing developers to override local zoning laws if 40% of units are priced as affordable to lower-to-middle income residents.
John Kennedy is part of USA TODAY Network’s Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at [email protected], or on Twitter at @JKennedyReport.