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“Abusive Behavior by Director Supported by DeSantis Exposed in Florida Housing Finance Corp. Audit”

Jacksonville — Two weeks after Governor Ron DeSantis reinstated the chief director of Florida’s reasonably priced housing organization, the corporation’s board is considering disciplinary motion and can resolve if it’ll fire the governor’s ally. An internal inspector general’s report found sufficient evidence that Michael DiNapoli, executive director of the Florida Housing Finance Corp., engaged in inappropriate behavior in keeping with the organization’s standards. This included yelling at employees, interrupting them, and threatening their job security. About 10% of the corporation’s staff, 15 employees, have left or been fired during DiNapoli’s six-month tenure, however the inspector general couldn’t confirm if all exits were attributable to the boss’ behavior.

The report was presented to the FHFC board’s audit committee on Thursday during its meeting in Jacksonville. The total board reviewed the findings on Friday and voted to put DiNapoli back on paid leave because it considers further disciplinary motion at a subsequent meeting. DiNapoli earns $185,000 per 12 months in his position.

“The Office of Inspector General checked out each of the examples objectively in light of the policy and concluded that the interruptions of conversations and comments made by [DiNapoli] were reasonably perceived by the witnesses as disrespectful, humiliating, or offensive,” said Chris Hirst, inspector general of the publicly funded corporation, which handles greater than $2 billion in state and federal housing dollars.

DiNapoli reinstated: Florida Housing chief reinstated by DeSantis after ‘unsanctioned’ suspension

DiNapoli suspended: DeSantis ally placed on leave, under investigation at state housing organization

The corporation’s audit committee voted to just accept the report and its findings on Thursday, pushing it forward to the total board, which also accepted the report. The report, not yet released to the general public, moreover recommends that the board review and define the strategy of hiring any latest staff after failing to follow the corporation’s own guidelines when hiring DiNapoli.

The Florida Housing Finance Corporation is the lead organization in implementing the recently passed “Live Local Act” that may allocate $711 million toward reasonably priced housing and rental programs. In total, the organization generates almost $6 billion in economic activity in Florida’s housing sector, in keeping with its annual report.

DiNapoli began working as FHFC executive director in February after DeSantis beneficial him for the job. Lower than six months later, board Chair Mario Facella suspended him with pay after allegations arose of inappropriate workplace behavior. DeSantis reinstated him in August, stating “the inquiry into FHFC up to now has found nothing to justify the position of Mr. DiNapoli on administrative leave. Furthermore, it is obvious that FHFC’s administrative actions were unsanctioned…”

A spokesperson for DeSantis deepened the battle lines over DiNapoli following Thursday’s meeting. Although board members are appointed by DeSantis and confirmed by the state Senate, the governor’s press secretary, Jeremy Redfern, went on the attack.

“If anyone wonders what the deep state looks like, that is it. It’s clear to us that no less than some members of this Board imagine they’ll wield unchecked power to recklessly disparage a public official and tarnish his popularity without basic fairness and due process,” Redfern said. “The Board is clearly incapable of exercising prudent judgment.” He added, “We’ll explore every available tool to make sure proper management and oversight of the board and its staff, including the Inspector General, and to make sure further that this agency ultimately stays accountable to the people of Florida.”

The board doesn’t have the only authority to rent or fire an executive director. Within the Friday meeting, it could resolve to disregard the report, explore disciplinary motion, or recommend his dismissal to the Secretary of Commerce, J. Alex Kelly, who also serves as DeSantis’ interim chief-of-staff. DeSantis’ previous chief-of-staff, James Uthmeier, has taken a leave to function campaign manager of the governor’s struggling bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

What were the allegations against DiNapoli? Allegations centered around two provisions – a FHFC policy regarding appropriate workplace behavior and a portion of the Civil Rights Act protecting women and minorities from harassment. The report found that the allegations supported a violation of the housing policy but didn’t find enough evidence to support allegations that DiNapoli specifically targeted women, Hirst said. The investigation spanned from July 5 to Aug. 29, during which period the Office of Inspector General interviewed 22 current and former members of staff, in addition to two outside individuals. Florida Housing Policy 6.01 is supposed to broadly protect staff, Hirst said. Complainants alleged that DiNapoli yelled at and interrupted employees, made “sexist or misogynistic” comments, made “inappropriate comments on weight,” and threatened staff members’ jobs, Hirst said. “Staff stated they didn’t feel valued, trusted, or respected. The topic doesn’t hearken to them and his expectations for them are unknown,” Hirst said. “Staff also voiced their fear over interactions with the topic and fear over being fired for doing their job.” Based on the variety of witnesses and the “pervasive nature of the allegation,” the inspector general found enough evidence to support a violation of the policy. The second allegation handled Title XII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Complainants alleged that DiNapoli created a “hostile work environment through harassment of female staff,” but Hirst said the office didn’t find sufficient evidence to support the claim. The behavior described met three of the 4 requirements under the act, Hirst said. “The office of the inspector general was unable to find out that the conduct by [DiNapoli] was discriminatory against a protected class. Nevertheless, the conduct is severe and pervasive enough to create a piece environment that an affordable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.” The report finds the corporation didn’t follow the hiring procedure The inspector general’s office report outlined latest findings regarding DiNapoli’s potential appearances of conflicts of interest, but it surely also found that the corporation didn’t follow its own hiring procedures when accepting DiNapoli for the position. The corporation didn’t receive a resume or application, interview other candidates, or check previous employment references – all of that are required under its employment selection policy, Hirst said. Candidates went through a vetting process when the corporation hired the previous executive director, Trey Price, Hirst said. Board members in attendance said they assumed the checks had already been done due to DiNapoli’s previous position with the Department of Economic Opportunity. Facella, the board chairman, said the initial “ask” was for the board to vote on the governor’s suggestion at the following available meeting, but he delayed it to ensure that each member to fulfill with DiNapoli personally. “It’s unlucky that the belief was that other things by way of vetting were being done or were done, so that basically the last key piece was each of you to fulfill him, interview him, and clearly ask whatever questions you had,” Facella said at Thursday’s meeting. “…It’s definitely a giant miss for us.” The report recommends that for future hires, the corporation align its practices with other financial corporations, Hirst said. “The totality of knowledge received in the course of the course of this investigation reveals a pattern of behavior and/or management form of the topic which has elevated Florida housing’s overall risk and increased potential threats of corporate instability.”

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