The battle between Disney and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis may not be over.
The new council, handpicked by Republican governors to oversee Disney’s special tax district, said Wednesday it was considering legal action over the decades-long settlement reached between the entertainment giant and the exiting board in the days before last month’s hostile takeover of the state. have met.
Under the agreement, quietly approved on February 8 when Florida lawmakers met in a special session to give DeSantis control of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, Disney will have control of the Reedy Creek Improvement District for 30 years and, in some cases, one retains much of its footprint. Large in Central Florida, The Board of Directors may not take any material action without first obtaining Company approval.
“This is making Disney the government,” board member Ron Perry told a meeting Wednesday, according to a video posted by the Orlando television station. “This agency lost most of its ability to do anything other than maintain roads and basic infrastructure for practical reasons.”
The episode is the latest twist in a year-long saga between Disney and DeSantis, who have been battling the company trying to tally a conservative win ahead of a possible 2024 GOP nomination bid.
Wednesday, the board “authorized several financial and legal firms to conduct audits and investigate Disney’s past behavior,” said DeSantis spokeswoman Taryn Fenske. According to meeting documents, the board has agreed with four companies to consult on this matter.
“The Governor’s Executive Office was made aware of Disney’s recent attempts to enforce the contract shortly before the ratification of a new law that transfers rights and powers from the former Reedy Creek Improvement District to Disney,” Fekse said. “Initial review indicates that this agreement may have significant legal defects that would render the contract null and void.”
“All agreements between Disney and the District are reasonable and have been discussed and approved in an open, respected public forum pursuant to the Florida government’s Sunshine Act,” the company said. Documents for the February 8 meeting show it was recorded in the Orlando Sentinel, as the law requires.
Several board members did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Sentinel first reported Wednesday’s vote to hire a lawyer.
According to a statement late Wednesday from the newly hired acting district attorney and legal counsel, the agreement grants Disney development rights across the county and “not just on Disney property”, requiring the county to borrow and spend on projects that benefit the company. . and gave Disney veto power over any public projects in the area.
“Lack of deliberation, a delegation of legislative powers to private bodies, limits on the power of councils to make legislative decisions, and granting of public rights for private interests without compensation justify, among other things, new council actions. And guidelines for assessing this redundant document and determining how the new board can best protect the public interest under Florida law,” said Fishback Dominick LLP, Cooper & Kirk PLLC, Lawson Huck Gonzalez PLLC, Waugh Grant PLLC and Nardella & Nardella PLLC in his statement.
The dispute between Disney and the governor stems from the company’s opposition to a Florida law that prohibits teaching sexual orientation and gender identity up to third grade and only in an “age-appropriate” manner in higher rates. In March last year, as outrage over the law spread across the country, Disney issued a statement pledging to help repeal the law or ask a court to repeal it.
DeSantis and Florida GOP lawmakers retaliated by eliminating the Reedy Creek Improvement District. This particular tax agency effectively gave Disney control of land in and around the sprawling Orlando area theme parks. But Republicans, who control the state legislature, reversed course this year, voting instead to fire the council overseeing the district and giving DeSantis the power to name his five successors. It also renamed Reedy Creek the Central Florida Tourism Control Center and removed some of its capabilities.
DeSantis stacked the board with political allies, including Tampa attorney Martin Garcia, a prominent GOP donor; Bridget Ziegler, the wife of the leader of the new Florida Republican Party; and Perry, a former priest who once said that tap water could make people gay.
The controversy is at the heart of DeSantis’ political narrative about a leader who isn’t afraid to take on giant corporations, even ones as iconic and vital to Florida as Disney. It’s a story that features prominently in her new book, and she frequently tells it at events across the country while laying the groundwork for a possible national campaign.
At a signing ceremony for the law last month giving him control of the board of directors of Reedy Creek, DeSantis declared, “The corporate empire is finally coming to an end.”
“There’s a new sheriff in town,” he added.
However, it may be a while before the new power structure takes hold if Disney is successful. An agreement signed by the outgoing council that prevents new boards from using any of Disney’s “fantasy characters” lasts until “21 years after the death of the last surviving descendant of King Charles III, King of England.” a copy of the agreement included in the 8 February meeting package.
Disney’s covert move has led an ally of DeSantis’ main political rival, former President Donald Trump, to believe the governor has been tricked.
“President Trump wrote ‘The Art of the Deal’ and brokered peace in the Middle East,” said Taylor Budovitch, a spokesman for the Trump-affiliated PAC Make America Great Again. “Ron DeSantis is very happy with Mickey Mouse.”
DeSantis’ political operatives insist that those appointed by the governor hold Disney accountable.
“Governor DeSantis’ new board of directors did not and will not allow Disney to seize unprecedented power over land (some of which it didn’t even own!) for over 30 years,” Christina Pushow of the DeSantis Rapid Response Team wrote on Twitter.