Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ attempt to take control of Walt Disney World’s governing board may have failed because of a previous murky arrangement, which the newly appointed board members claim deprived them of their authority.
The problematic arrangement is the most recent development in what appears to be a conflict between the governor and the business. It was quietly approved a day before DeSantis acquired additional authority over Disney’s land.
Additionally, Disney specified the agreement’s termination date as “twenty one (21) years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles IIII, King of England, living as of the date of this Declaration,” invoking an obscure property law known as the Rule Against Perpetuities.
In essence, Disney is now the government, said board member Ron Peri during a meeting on Wednesday. The majority of this board’s power to do anything other than maintain the roads and the essential infrastructure is effectively lost.
Disney has run its sizable theme park and resort in Florida under a specially defined area that is located between two counties for nearly 60 years. A board, formerly known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District, managed the region and had complete control over infrastructure and zoning decisions as well as control over its own fire service, thus acting as a separate municipal government. Disney had the power to choose district board members as well.
Its unique status was put in jeopardy when Disney officially opposed Florida’s plan to restrict the subject of sexual orientation in K–3 public classrooms, joining DeSantis’ culture war last year.
DeSantis, a possible candidate for the GOP nomination in 2024, made an attempt to dissolve the Reedy Creek district as a show of political muscle. But, the split would have forced Orange and Osceola County taxpayers to shoulder the cost of supporting a fire department and maintaining roads, among other things. Also, the $1 billion debt owed by the district would have been borne by the locals.
Instead, a plan to eliminate “Disney’s self-governing status” and grant the governor the power to select new board members to the district was approved by Florida lawmakers in February. The Central Florida Tourist Oversight District was renamed from Reedy Creek, and DeSantis nominated five supervisors, including a supporter of parental rights and three GOP donors.
The new supervisors, however, are now asserting that the prior board members signed a contract that effectively deprived them of their authority.
In a meeting on Wednesday, board member Brian Aungst said, “We’re going to have to deal with it and remedy it. “It utterly subverts the authority of this board to rule. It is a perversion of the will of the voters, the Legislature, and the governor.”
On Wednesday, Bridget Ziegler, a different board member, tweeted that “if illegal actions were committed, this development agreement would be annulled.”
The deal document states that Disney was granted a wide range of rights, including the ability to approve any architectural upgrades and development rights for the following 30 years, or until 2053.
A “statement of restrictive covenants” prohibits the district from utilizing any other Disney-owned intellectual property, including the company’s name, logos, and characters.
Although it’s unclear how they would be able to accomplish it, DeSantis has already stated that his new board members will have the ability to customize the kind of entertainment offered at the park.
As he signed the legislation giving him control over the district in February, DeSantis said, “When you lose your way, you have have folks that are going to tell you the truth.” All of these board members sincerely hope to see entertainment that all families may enjoy.
The agreement that the DeSantis-appointed members are currently contesting was signed on February 8—the day before the Florida House decided to alter the current governing body.
The materials for Wednesday’s agenda state that the new district is looking for legal advice from four firms. One of those firms, Cooper & Kirk, has received more than $2.8 million in legal fees and contracts from the DeSantis administration, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
“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,” Disney said in a statement to Insider.
The executive office of the governor is aware of Disney’s last-ditch efforts to execute contracts just before ratifying the new law that transfers rights and authorities from the former Reedy Creek Improvement District to Disney, according to Taryn Fenske, DeSantis’ communications director, in an email statement to Insider.
Fenske noted that “an first analysis reveals that these agreements may have material legal flaws that would render the contracts unenforceable as a matter of law.” “The new Governor-appointed board recruited a number of financial and legal firms to carry out audits and look into Disney’s prior activities,” reads the press release.