Disney may have outmaneuvered DeSantis in ongoing feud over Central Florida property governance

The ongoing feud between Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and media giant Disney has taken a new turn, with the revelation that Disney may have outmaneuvered DeSantis to strip authority from a board he appointed to govern the company’s Central Florida property. The new board, renamed the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District in legislation DeSantis pushed through the GOP-led state Legislature, threatened a prolonged legal fight after revealing that the company had quietly reached an agreement with the outgoing board that turned over most of its governing powers to Disney.[0] According to the new board members, Disney is allowed the maximum possible density and building heights inside Walt Disney World.[1] If any property owners within the district wish to expand or make aesthetic changes to their properties, they will require Disney’s authorization. Additionally, Reedy Creek leaders will also need to seek Disney’s approval for any alterations made within the district.[1] As per its declaration, the preceding committee had also consented to bestowing extensive power to Disney over its own structures.[2] As per the agreement, Disney is required to examine all alterations made to the buildings in the district’s exterior to ensure they align with the overall “theming” of Disney World.[2]

After the Parental Rights in Education Act, which has been criticized as the “Don’t Say Gay Bill,” was passed by DeSantis last year, he took aim at Disney for publicly opposing the legislation. In order to grant the state control over Disney’s properties in Central Florida, the governor summoned lawmakers for a special session to pass a bill.[3] Disney responded with a statement arguing its agreements were “appropriate and were discussed and approved in open, noticed public forums,” in compliance with state laws. According to the agreement’s terms, it shall be in force indefinitely. However, if it is found to breach the “Rule Against Perpetuities,” it will continue to be valid until 21 years after the passing of the final surviving descendant of King Charles III, who is the current monarch of Britain.

The revelation that Disney may have outmaneuvered DeSantis to strip authority from a board he appointed to govern the company’s Central Florida property is another setback for a governor whose momentum has slowed considerably in recent weeks, fueling questions about his ability to take on former President Donald Trump. The declaration stated that the agreement will remain valid until 21 years after the demise of the final descendant of King Charles III of England, unless it is found to breach the regulations against perpetuity.

DeSantis had called on Republican lawmakers in the state Legislature to revoke Disney’s special district status in Orlando last year. This move came after the company spoke out against the “Don’t Say Gay” law, which has faced criticism from opponents. DeSantis’ anti-Disney crusade may have garnered him praise in conservative circles, but the plan largely unraveled, and he was ultimately forced to settle for a compromise punishment.[4] Last year, DeSantis attempted to completely eliminate Disney’s unique tax status after the company expressed its opposition to a Florida education bill known as “Don’t Say Gay.” He was compelled to retreat from that decision as it was deemed unfeasible.[5] This year, he orchestrated a board takeover of the Disney development oversight committee, previously recognized as the Reedy Creek Improvement District.[5] Currently, the governor has appointed a board comprising of five members.[5]

The new board, known as the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, hired outside legal counsel as it weighs its options to claw back its authority.[6] “We’re going to have to deal with it and correct it,” board member Brian Aungst said, according to a statement from the district.[7] By circumventing the authority of this board, it subverts the will of the voters, the Legislature, and the governor, thus undermining the governing process.[7]

The governing entity for Disney’s properties underwent a name change through legislation. It was formerly known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which was under Disney’s control. The new name is the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.[8] By granting DeSantis the power to appoint the board members of the new district, the company in Florida came under his jurisdiction to a certain extent.[8] However, it looks like Disney has nullified DeSantis’ power.[8] The governor’s track record of effectively redirecting the frustration of the GOP base towards consequential policy reforms may suffer a setback, as well as his capacity to boast about triumphing over Disney during his campaign.[8] The district and former board members received a records request from Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office, seeking documents and communications linked to the February 8 vote.[9] Moody’s office cautioned the former board members in a letter about facing “civil and criminal penalties” if they fail to produce relevant documents.[6]

Disney told Insider in a statement that the agreement was “appropriate, and were discussed and approved in open, noticed public forums in compliance with Florida’s Government in the Sunshine law.” “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.

0. “Disney tied the hands of new DeSantis-picked Disney World district board” The Week, 30 Mar. 2023, https://theweek.com/disney/1022229/disney-quietly-tied-the-hands-of-new-desantis-picked-disney-world-district-board-for

1. “Power play: Disney handicapped new Reedy Creek board before handing over control” WFTV Orlando, 30 Mar. 2023, https://www.wftv.com/news/local/power-play-disney-handicapped-new-reedy-creek-board-before-handing-over-control/P5XHTWXIZZCCXFYXTOFKKQMLXY/

2. “DeSantis’ Reedy Creek board says Disney stripped its power” Orlando Sentinel, 29 Mar. 2023, https://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/os-ne-disney-new-reedy-creek-board-powerless-20230329-qalagcs4wjfe3iwkpzjsz2v4qm-story.html

3. “DeSantis’ board overseeing Disney district may be powerless” Business Insider, 29 Mar. 2023, https://www.businessinsider.com/desantis-board-overseeing-disney-district-may-be-powerless-2023-3

4. “DeSantis’ Disney fail is a reality check. Authoritarianism is hard.” MSNBC, 30 Mar. 2023, https://www.msnbc.com/the-reidout/reidout-blog/desantis-disney-fail-reality-check-authoritarianism-hard-rcna77421

5. “How DeSantis’ dispute with the Disney board could affect 2024 race” The Washington Post, 30 Mar. 2023, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2023/03/30/disneys-move-may-rob-desantis-2024-calling-card/

6. “DeSantis teases ‘more to come’ on latest twist in Disney battle: ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet'” CNN, 30 Mar. 2023, https://www.cnn.com/2023/03/30/politics/desantis-disney-battle/index.html

7. “How Disney won the latest battle in Florida governor DeSantis’s culture war” Vox.com, 30 Mar. 2023, https://www.vox.com/politics/2023/3/30/23663345/disney-desantis-florida-board-reedy-creek

8. “Battered by Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis stumbles again on Disney” Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 31 Mar. 2023, https://www.heraldtribune.com/story/news/politics/2023/03/31/florida-governor-ron-desantis-disney-battle-embarrassment-dims-presidential-hopes-setback-trump/70064699007/

9. “Attorney General Ashley Moody steps into Disney fight, demands Reedy Creek records” Yahoo Entertainment, 31 Mar. 2023, https://www.yahoo.com/entertainment/florida-ag-steps-disney-fight-230332685.html

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