Though they have already been enacting changes, the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District Board of Supervisors has only now been officially confirmed by the Florida Senate. They were appointed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, but confirmation from the Senate was required, too.
Board chair Martin Garcia and vice chair Michael Sasso will serve four-year terms until February 26, 2027. The other three members — Brian August, Bridget Ziegler, and Ron Peri — will serve two-year terms until February 26, 2025.
The CFTOD Board of Supervisors and Disney are currently suing each other.
Disney Suing DeSantis & CFTOD Board
In their lawsuit, Disney Parks & Resorts cites “a targeted campaign of government retaliation — orchestrated at every step by Governor DeSantis as punishment for Disney’s protected speech.” The plaintiff further argues that this chronology of events “threatens Disney’s business operations, jeopardizes its economic future in the region, and violates its constitutional rights.”
Among other grievances, the Governor’s threat of new tolls and taxes, and the Board’s decision to void the company’s final agreement with the Reedy Creek Improvement District Board were included in the document.
The Walt Disney Company is suing for “declaratory and injunctive relief.” Injunctive relief forces a party to act in a certain way or prevents them from doing various things. An “injunction” is sometimes known as a restraining order.
Disney regrets that it has come to this, but having exhausted efforts to seek a resolution, the Company is left with no choice but to file this lawsuit to protect its cast members, guests, and local development partners from a relentless campaign to weaponize government power against Disney in retaliation for expressing a political viewpoint unpopular with certain State officials.
The company is demanding multiple items of relief be met, including:
- A. Declare that the Legislative Declaration is unlawful and unenforceable because it abrogates Disney’s rights in violation of the Contracts Clause;
- B. Declare that the Legislative Declaration is an unlawful taking of Disney’s property rights without payment of just compensation in violation of the Takings Clause;
- C. Declare that the Legislative Declaration is unlawful and unenforceable because it was an arbitrary and irrational voiding of the Development Agreement and Restrictive Covenants in violation of the Due Process Clause;
- D. Declare that the Legislative Declaration is unlawful and unenforceable because it was enacted in retaliation for Disney’s speech in violation of the First Amendment;
- E. Declare that the Contracts remain in effect and enforceable;
- F. Declare that Senate Bill 4C and House Bill 9B are unlawful and unenforceable because they were enacted in retaliation for Disney’s political speech in violation of the First Amendment;
- G. Issue an order enjoining Defendants from enforcing the Legislative Declaration;
- H. Issue an order enjoining Defendants from enforcing Senate Bill 4C and House Bill 9B;
- I. Award Plaintiff its attorney’s fees and costs;
- J. Grant such other relief as this Court may deem just and proper.
The CFTOD Board of Supervisors voted to file their own countersuit against Disney. While Disney’s lawsuit is through federal court, the Board’s lawsuit is through state court.
In their 188-page complaint, the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District named itself as the plaintiff and Walt Disney Parks and Resorts US Inc. as the defendant. Through nearly 200 pages of legalese, the district asks the state court to render Disney’s development agreement with the Reedy Creek Improvement District as unenforceable, null, and void. They also ask the same to be done of the restrictive covenants, which notably set the benchmark for expiry at 21 years after the death of the last living descendant of King Charles III, living as of the date of the document.
The CFTOB additionally asks that all agreements cannot be enforced on Disney’s end either. Meanwhile, the Florida Legislature, which is controlled by Republicans and typically acts to rubber stamp Gov. DeSantis’ agenda, is working to pass a law that invalidates Disney’s agreement with Reedy Creek. Governor DeSantis said it was well within his power to do so.
Origins of the Feud
The Florida Governor and 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 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 Chapek’s expression of dissent, the Governor moved forward with various verbal and legal assaults on Disney, including the attempted dissolution of Reedy Creek and the eventual 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.
The Governor insists he will double down on efforts to punish the resort through methods both in the Legislature and the Central Florida Tourism Oversight Board. Notably, he promised to hike hotel taxes and institute tolls on the roads around Walt Disney World Resort property. Additionally, a bill was recently put forth that would require state inspections of the property’s Monorails.