According to the Orlando Sentinel, the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (previously known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District) found that “no records exist” regarding a public records request made on March 30 by Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody. An additional request from the Sentinel itself produced the same results.
The Attorney General requested the release of any “documents discussing an intention or goal of circumventing, avoiding, frustrating, mitigating or otherwise attempting to avoid the effects of anticipated actions by the Florida governor and the Florida Legislature.”
This inquiry revolves around a February 8 agreement between Disney and the former Reedy Creek Board before Governor DeSantis placed the special administrative district under his own direct control. The deal, approved at meetings publicly announced in accordance with state law, essentially ensured an additional 30 years of relative status quo, allowing Disney similar guarantees the corporation had before the Governor signed the Reedy Creek takeover bill into law.
‘You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet’
Tensions have continued to escalate as the new Board, appointed exclusively and entirely at the Governor’s whim, accuses the last-minute deal as one done with nefarious, malicious, or unethical intent. It’s worth noting no concrete reasoning or cohesive evidence to support this has been cited or offered by the critical parties thus far. Disney itself has also avoided entering details or providing a response to the accusations, other than a statement issued March 29:
“All agreements signed between Disney and the District were appropriate, and were discussed and approved in open, noticed public forums in compliance with Florida Government in the Sunshine law.”
Nevertheless, the new Board has announced retaliatory plans for a new resolution of “Superior Authority” over the district (including the cities of Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista) that covers an area similar in size to the City of San Francisco. A meeting of the Board on April 19 is set to be the forum of discussion for this proposed resolution, along with a new criminal investigation demanded by DeSantis.
The Governor is seeking to probe Disney and the old Board through the Chief Inspector General — appointed by and serving at the Governor’s pleasure, per Florida law. Along with the suggested criminal inquiry, he has not been shy thus far about his intent to reverse the February 8 deal. At a book tour event in Smyrna, Georgia, DeSantis noted: “There’s a lot of little back-and-forths going on now with the state taking control, but rest assured, you know, you ain’t seen nothing yet. There’s more to come in that regard.”
The Origin of the Disney-DeSantis Squabble
Governor DeSantis and The Walt Disney Company initially clashed over the corporation’s opposition to a much-debated and controversial Florida law regarding classroom instruction and discussion on sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools, alongside various other recent state laws and proposals in a similar vein.
Bob Chapek was Chief Executive Officer of Disney at the time, and initially remained silent and passive on the issue — until massive internal criticisms from cast members and controversy over Disney’s practice of making hefty political contributions to campaigns and individuals allegedly against their own stated human principles came into focus.
In an apparent act of retribution over this expression of dissent, the Governor moved forward with various verbal and legal assaults on Disney, including the dissolution of Reedy Creek and transfer of power directly under his control. DeSantis argues he is attacking a rather vague perception of something he calls “woke politics,” invading the state. He further says he aims to put the people of Florida first through his actions: “Disney has gotten away with special deals from the state of Florida for way too long. It took a look under the hood to see what Disney has become to truly understand their inappropriate influence.”
Conversely, at this month’s annual Disney shareholder meeting, current CEO Bob Iger accused Gov. DeSantis of punishing Disney for exercising their right to free speech. “We love the state of Florida,” he said, citing the company’s various investments in the community over the years and expressing gratitude for various times the state and resort mutually supported and impacted each other in their history together. “Any action that thwarts these efforts simply to retaliate is anti-business and anti-Florida.” Iger also announced the company’s plan to invest an additional $17 billion and create over 13,000 jobs in the State of Florida over the next decade.
The Governor insists he will double down on efforts to punish Disney through methods both in the Legislature and the Central Florida Tourism Oversight Board. Notably, he promised to hike Disney’s hotel taxes and institute tolls on the roads around Walt Disney World Resort property now administered by the CFTOB.
The upcoming meeting of the new CFTOB on April 19 will likely provide new developments, insights, and clashes.
What are your thoughts on this evolving feud? Let us know in the comments.