Former Reedy Creek Administrator John Classe Officially Leaves Central Florida Tourism Oversight District

Jonathan D

John Classe

Former Reedy Creek Administrator John Classe Officially Leaves Central Florida Tourism Oversight District

According to the Orlando Sentinel, special advisor John Classe has officially ceased all work with the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (CFTOD).

John Classe Departs

john classe
Source: Orlando Sentinel

Formerly an administrator of the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID) for almost a decade, Classe was asked to stay behind and help organize the transition of the RCID into its newest iteration, consisting of leaders hand-picked by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. In a statement to the Sentinel, the CFTOD gave a brief explanation:

Mr. Classe was offered a consulting contract to assist with the transition to the new leadership. That transition is now complete. The district thanks him for his service.

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It’s still uncertain if the advising contract was terminated by Classe or the CFTOD Board. As a special advisor, he was required to assist in legal action against Disney and prohibited from working for the company. Primarily, he was also tasked with advising Glen Gilzean, the new administrator of the district.

Classe was previously named in Disney’s ongoing lawsuit against the Governor and District Board, but has since been removed from the list and replaced with Gilzean. His departure may indicate this period of transition is over in the eyes of the new district, now making decisions without involvement from previous leaders.

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This isn’t the first major departure in the brief history of the CFTOD. Board member Michael Sasso resigned from his position only a few months into a term that was supposed to last until 2027. Governor DeSantis ultimately named Charbel Barakat as a replacement. A reason or explanation was not given by Sasso or the CFTOD, but it is worth noting his wife was recently appointed by DeSantis to serve on the Florida Supreme Court.

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The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District recently made some major changes to the area in and around Walt Disney World, approving property tax cuts and a new Reedy Creek Fire Department contract.

A History of the Disney-DeSantis Feud

Litigation between Disney, the CFTOD, and the State of Florida is still pending.

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, the LGBTQ+ community, 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.

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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 dissolution of the Reedy Creek Improvement District and eventual transfer of power directly under his control. DeSantis argues he is attacking an incredibly vague perception of something he calls “woke politics,” allegedly invading the state — frequently stating his intention to put the people of Florida first through these actions and the newly-formed CFTOD board:

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.

Every member of this governing body has been a handpicked ally of the Governor thus far, including a Christian nationalist and lawyer who donated $50,000 to the DeSantis gubernatorial campaign, among others. In May, an administrator for the district (Glen Gilzean) was also appointed, with a significantly increased $400,000 salary directly related to ongoing DeSantis-led legal fights regarding Disney and several other issues around the state. The legal expenditures made by the Governor are being funded by Florida taxpayers.

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Critics worry the role and its new incumbent could be weaponized for further orchestrated attacks, fines, and intentionally disruptive impediments on Walt Disney World, and that Gilzean himself is essentially receiving compensation to be aligned with the Governor’s whims. Daniel Langley, special general council for the district, alternatively describes the Administrator as “another tool in the toolbox for enforcement.”

Currently, Gilzean is the Chair of Florida’s Commission on Ethics, a position Governor DeSantis appointed him to. The Commission “renders legally binding advisory opinions interpreting the ethics laws and implements the State’s financial disclosure laws.” Recently, it rejected a complaint from the MAGA Inc. Super PAC backing Donald Trump, which claimed DeSantis was violating campaign finance laws and running a “shadow” campaign for President (via AP News).

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After heated exchanges and dramatic actions taken by the Governor alleged to be intentionally harmful punishments, The Walt Disney Company sued him and his newly handpicked board not long after Bob Iger’s return as CEO, citing a “targeted campaign of government retaliation — orchestrated at every step by Governor DeSantis as punishment for Disney’s protected speech.” The plaintiff argues that this chronology of events “threatens Disney’s business operations, jeopardizes its economic future in the region, and violates its constitutional rights.”

The Walt Disney Company is suing in federal court 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.

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Conversely, the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District Board is counter-suing Disney at the state level — most recently, a judge ruled not to dismiss that case, allowing it to proceed.

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Author

  • Jonathan D

    Originally from Los Angeles and Honolulu, Jonathan is a fan of cinema and theme parks who grew up on the original California Disneyland, and nurtures a particular admiration in Orlando for EPCOT and Disney's Animal Kingdom. His favorite resort on Earth would be Disneyland Paris, which doesn't seem to get the full admiration it deserves. You can find him in the Hufflepuff Common Room by the kitchens at jonathan.doughty@wdwnt.com.