Mike DiNapoli, the Gov. Ron DeSantis-appointed affordable housing director, has been suspended again. It marks an inflection point in the battle between DeSantis and his officials, and the team responsible for Florida’s multibillion-dollar housing fund. 

After an investigation into DiNapoli’s conduct determined he created a hostile work environment inside the Florida Housing Finance Corporation, the organization’s board voted to place him on administrative leave on Friday, the Tampa Bay Times reported. This is DiNapoli’s second suspension in two months. He started as FHFC’s executive director in February.

“The conduct is severe and pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile or abusive,” Inspector General Chris Hirst told the publication.

In the seven months since DiNapoli took the corporation’s top job, employee turnover has surged at the FHFC. DiNapoli fired longtime general counsel and chief ethics officer Sheila Freaney. After DeSantis reinstated DiNapoli last month, FHFC’s human resources director quit, crediting “the abuse and trauma of the last six months,” the publication reported. 

The turnover worries board members. The FHFC, effectively a bank whose sole purpose is to dole out affordable housing dollars set aside by Florida legislation every year, was allotted a record $711 million to distribute earlier this year. Board members are concerned the chaos could impede the corporation’s ability to administer funding, the outlet reported. 

Hirst started investigating DiNapoli in July, when he was first placed on administrative leave. The inspector general spoke to two dozen current and former employees, who said DiNapoli screamed at staff, and made sexist comments, remarks about their weight and threats to their jobs, according to the outlet. 

Aside from the hostility employees say they faced, Hirst’s investigation found DiNapoli’s appointment and financial decisions seemingly breached FHFC’s ethics policies. This included his personal financial background, his order to sell Disney bonds earlier this year, and the fact that DiNapoli was hired without a background check, work references, an application or a resume. 

The DeSantis camp’s backlash to the inspector general’s report and DiNapoli’s suspension has been swift and harsh. 

“If anyone wonders what the deep state looks like, this is it,” DeSantis’ Press Secretary Jeremy Redfern told the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday. 

“It is clear to us that this board can barely function, has no grasp or understanding of basic laws, including due process, and has no ability to sort fact from fiction,” he told the outlet following the board’s vote. A lawyer for the FHFC board said state law does not allow the governor to reinstate DiNapoli, as the corporation is not an organization within the state government. 

–– Kate Hinsche


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