Disney Quietly Stripped Incoming Florida Gov.-Approved Board of All Power

Newly-appointed members discovered during their first meeting that they were essentially hamstrung, as strategically circumscribed measures had been passed

The self-governing organization at Disney World in Orlando quietly stripped the incoming, Gov. Ron DeSantis-appointed Board members of any real power in the roles just before the five-person body strode in to manage the Florida park, the governor claims. 

Members of the new Board of Directors of the freshly-named Central Florida Tourism Oversight District discovered during their first meeting in February that they were essentially hamstrung to actually accomplish anything. This is because their outgoing predecessors—that would be the folks at Disney—passed strategically circumscribed measures before their forced exit on the orders of the governor, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

The taking of Reedy Creek—the former name of the until-recently self-governing parcel of land in question—represents the biggest loss for the House of Mouse in a culture war between DeSantis and Disney; this battle was created by DeSantis, who stoked the flames back in March after Disney CEO Bob Chapek spoke out against the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill following employee protests. That bill is now a Florida law that prevents discussion of sexual identity in the classroom for children ages kindergarten through third grade. 

Then, DeSantis passed revenge legislation that bypassed the state legislature where he could essentially put Reedy Creek into state control; the move was his victory lap in the closely-watched spat. And he’s ready to keep fighting.

DeSantis spokeswoman Taryn Fenske said this week that Disney’s quiet moves were “last-ditch efforts” to transfer “rights and authorities” from the district to the company.

“An initial review suggests these agreements may have significant legal infirmities that would render the contracts void as a matter of law,” Fenske said in a prepared statement. “We are pleased the new governor-appointed Board retained multiple financial and legal firms to conduct audits and investigate Disney’s past behavior.”

For now, there’s the matter of how the new guys will wrest back control of it after Disney left behind a little legal present to untie.

“We’re going to have to deal with it and correct it,” Disney Board member Brian Aungst said Wednesday. “It’s a subversion of the will of the voters and the legislature and the governor. It completely circumvents the authority of this Board to govern.”

Among other elements, last-minute rules decided by Disney before the parcel changed hands were: the Board would have to get corporate approval to use the name “Mickey Mouse,” and similar corporate logos. Other new rules will allow Disney to build on the former Reedy Creek land without needing permission—hardly what DeSantis and his Board members seemingly envisioned. And a development deal will let Disney build projects and give them the right to sell or entrust the development rights to other landowners without the Board getting a vote, according to the Sentinel.

For its part, Disney said it followed the rules. 

“All agreements signed between Disney and the District were appropriate, and were discussed and approved in open, noticed public forums in compliance with Florida’s government in the Sunshine law,” the House of Mouse said in a statement.

The Board plans on taking legal action to repeal the agreement.

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