TAMPA (WFLA) – A battle between Walt Disney World and Gov. Ron DeSantis has been brewing for a while.
Disney spoke out against Gov. DeSantis’ Parental Rights in Education Act. Shortly thereafter, the governor dissolved Disney’s special governing privileges.
It seemed like a done deal, but now a last-minute legal maneuver could allow Disney to hold on to power.
For decades, Disney had a special status in Florida. It was allowed to largely self-regulate.
But after clashing with Gov. DeSantois publicly opposing his Parental Rights in Education Act, Gov. DeSantis said Disney lost those privileges, for good.
“Today, the corp kingdom comes to an end, there’s a new sheriff in town,” said Gov. DeSantis on February 27.
Gov. DeSantis signed House Bill 9B into law, in February.
With the creation of his new oversight board, known as the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, Gov. DeSantis effectively got control of Disney’s self-governing district, or so it seemed.
“I cannot tell you the level of my disappointment in Disney,” said Ron Peri, a member of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.
On Wednesday, members of the DeSantis oversight board revealed that weeks before, on February 8, Disney had stripped them of power, quietly.
Just before the state takeover, Disney entered into an agreement with the former board, known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District, (RCID) to keep its power.
“This board loses for practical purposes, the majority of its ability to do anything beyond maintaining the roads and maintaining basic infrastructure,” said Peri.
The four other DeSantis appointed board members agreed.
“I cannot think of a more naked attempt to circumvent the will of the voters, the will of the legislature, and the will of the governor. This development agreement, which in my opinion is void as a legal nullity, was passed the same day the Florida House passed the bill, creating this board, and it was done to prevent us from doing our job,” said Brian Aungst Jr.
Board member Bridget Ziegler said the board should consider legal action.
“I do strongly encourage that we follow up with an investigation.”
But Disney is defending the move.
In a statement, the company said, “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.”
Meantime, Gov. DeSantis’ office says they’ve looked at the agreements and the contracts may be void as a matter of law.
“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. An initial review suggests these agreements may have significant legal infirmities that would render the contracts void as a matter of law. We are pleased the new Governor-appointed board retained multiple financial and legal firms to conduct audits and investigate Disney’s past behavior.”
Late Thursday, WFLA learned Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody is looking into this, as well.
Her office sent a letter to the former board, RCID, demanding to see all texts, emails, and other public records related to the Feb. 8 agreement.