Disney Under Fire for Control Over Florida Municipal Government

Disney has come under fire for its last-minute agreements with the Reedy Creek Improvement District in Florida before a new law transferred the district’s rights and authorities to the company. The agreements, signed on 8 February, just as the Florida House passed the legislation to take control of the district, give Disney control over the district’s development rights and special privileges for 30 years.[0] The agreements also restrict the board’s rights and prevent it from taking significant action without first getting approval from the company.[1] The Florida Governor’s office has expressed concern over the legal infirmities in the agreements that may render them void as a matter of law.[0] The new Governor-appointed board has retained multiple financial and legal firms to conduct audits and investigate Disney’s past behavior.[0] Board member Ron Peri said this essentially makes Disney the government, and the board loses the majority of its ability to do anything beyond maintaining the roads and basic infrastructure.[2]

Disney has been running its vast theme park and resort in Florida for nearly sixty years within a specially designated area that falls within two counties.[3] A board, previously known as Reedy Creek Improvement District, oversaw the area and had free reign over development processes, such as zoning and infrastructure, and even control of its own fire department, essentially operating as a separate municipal government.[4] The power to appoint members of the district board was also held by Disney.[3] However, the previous Disney-controlled board was disbanded, and the new Central Florida Tourism Oversight District was brought in by the Governor in February to replace the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which had allowed Disney to run as its own self-governing authority in Florida for more than 50 years.[5]

The dispute between Disney and the Governor stems from the company’s opposition to a Florida law that prohibits the instruction of sexual orientation and gender identity through third grade and only in an “age-appropriate” manner in older grades.[6] Disney made a statement in March of the previous year, promising to aid in the repeal or legal nullification of the legislation, as public anger against it grew across the country.[1] Disney has defended its actions, stating that 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.[5]

0. “War over the corporate kingdom: DeSantis’ new board spars for control with Disney” Fox News, 29 Mar. 2023, https://www.foxnews.com/politics/war-corporate-kingdom-desantis-new-board-spars-control-disney

1. “Disney quietly took power from DeSantis’ new board before state takeover” kuna noticias y kuna radio, 30 Mar. 2023, https://kesq.com/news/national-politics/cnn-us-politics/2023/03/29/disney-quietly-took-power-from-desantis-new-board-before-state-takeover/

2. “New Reedy Creek Board Lawyers Up for Battle with Disney World” Disney Tourist Blog, 29 Mar. 2023, https://www.disneytouristblog.com/new-reedy-creek-board-lawyers-up-for-battle-with-disney-world/

3. “Ron DeSantis’ plan to take control of Disney’s land backfired spectacularly because of a loophole in the agreement that may reduce his appointees to powerless functionaries” Yahoo! Voices, 30 Mar. 2023, https://www.yahoo.com/news/ron-desantis-plan-control-disneys-025925431.html

4. “Disney sidesteps DeSantis board with royal clause” BBC, 30 Mar. 2023, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-65120369

5. “Group of ‘Disney Defenders’ Wants Reedy Creek Added to Florida Constitution” The DIS, 29 Mar. 2023, https://www.wdwinfo.com/news-stories/group-of-disney-defenders-wants-reedy-creek-added-to-florida-constitution/

6. “‘Disney Defenders’ launch ballot initiative to put Reedy Creek in Florida Constitution, restore its powers” Orlando Weekly, 23 Mar. 2023, https://www.orlandoweekly.com/news/disney-defenders-launch-ballot-initiative-to-put-reedy-creek-in-florida-constitution-restore-its-powers-33855059

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