Over 30 Employees Leave DeSantis’ Central Florida Tourism Oversight District Due to ‘Toxic Workplace,’ ‘Bridge Burning,’ and ‘Incompetent’ Leadership

Shannen Ace

Ron DeSantis in front of Cinderella Castle at Walt Disney World

Over 30 Employees Leave DeSantis’ Central Florida Tourism Oversight District Due to ‘Toxic Workplace,’ ‘Bridge Burning,’ and ‘Incompetent’ Leadership

Shannen Ace

Ron DeSantis in front of Cinderella Castle at Walt Disney World

Over 30 Employees Leave DeSantis’ Central Florida Tourism Oversight District Due to ‘Toxic Workplace,’ ‘Bridge Burning,’ and ‘Incompetent’ Leadership

More than 30 employees have resigned from Governor Ron DeSantis’ Central Florida Tourism Oversight District due to an “uncomfortable,” “stressful,” and “toxic” work environment, according to a report by Jason Garcia for Seeking Rents. Garcia interviewed former employees and obtained several exit surveys that paint a bleak picture of the behind-the-scenes operations of the current District.

Employees Leaving CFTOD in Droves

rcid reedy creek improvement district 2

Governor DeSantis took control of what was previously known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID) after The Walt Disney Company publicly denounced the controversial Parental Rights in Education law, colloquially called the “Don’t Say Gay” law, which suppresses classroom instruction and discussion about sexual orientation and gender identity. RCID became the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (CFTOD) with a new board of supervisors appointed by DeSantis.

Central Florida Tourism Oversight District logo

In the nine months since Governor DeSantis took control, more than 30 employees with a combined 350 years of experience have quit. These employees include nearly half of the RCID senior leadership team, District Administrator John Classe, the chief financial officer, building official, district clerk, and Fire Department Chief Richard LePere. Public works, procurement, and facilities department heads are gone, as well as key managers who were involved with employee training, fleet maintenance, and fisheries management.

“It is a toxic workplace right now,” Eulabel Vargas Maldonado said in an interview with Garcia. Maldonado was an accountant with RCID for almost three years before quitting in September.

cftod exit survey

Exit surveys obtained by Seeking Rents in a public records request say things like, “Since the new board has been in place and John Classe has been replaced, the morale and overall feeling of the district has taken a turn. Not a good one.” That survey by a former executive assistant goes on to say, “The legacy of this special district is being destroyed by those who have been placed in power here,” and adds that the Board and new District Administrator Glen Gilzean are “bridge burning” rather than bridge building.

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Another exit survey reads, “With the departure of more than 3 dozen employees the district is no longer functional. Honesty and integrity are core values that no longer exist in the district.”

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A former manager who worked with Reedy Creek for more than 30 years wrote that the Board of Supervisors “show a severe lack of trust for employees” and made his work “uncomfortable,” “stressful,” and “demoralizing.”

A manager who spent more than 20 years with the District said that the transition has been “very negative.”

A department director called the new leadership “unqualified and incompetent.”

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Some former employees note their good experiences with RCID before it became CFTOD. “My experience with RCID was amazing,” writes one employee. “This has been the best place to work. There was an amazing culture and you could see the employees really, really happy. This changed when the new board and administration was appointed.”

ron peri
Source: CNN

The Board of Supervisors appointed by Governor DeSantis includes chairman Martin Garcia, vice chair Charbel Barakat, Briant Aungst Jr., Ron Peri, and Bridget Ziegler. Peri made headlines upon his appointment after CNN KFile uncovered him calling homosexuality “evil” and claiming it was caused by tap water. Ziegler is a co-founder of the right-wing Moms for Liberty.

Glen Gilzean, Jr.

District Administrator Glen Gilzean, Jr. replaced John Classe. DeSantis had appointed Gilzean to the Florida Commission on Ethics in 2019, then again in 2020 and in 2022. Gilzean remained a chairperson of the ethics commission after he was hired as District Administrator — until it was discovered having both positions violated the rules of the commission. He ultimately resigned from the Florida Commission on Ethics, choosing to keep his District salary of $400,000 per year.

Other new hires include Chief of Staff Paula Hoisington, who previously worked with Gilzean on the Central Florida Urban League and was a member of DeSantis’ transition team when he was elected governor in 2018. Ronald “Rocky” Hagg was hired as Gilzean’s executive assistant. He was previously the legislative aide to Representative Fred Hawkins (R-St. Cloud), who sponsored the legislation for DeSantis to take over the District. DeSantis recently positioned Hawkins as president of South Florida State College. New Director of External Affairs Brandy Brown was previously the director of strategic initiatives for Governor DeSantis.

The District has also contracted various DeSantis allies. We recently shared news of the District making a deal with Freddie Figgers for a new system to improve 911 calls. Figgers is another DeSantis appointee to the Florida Commission on Ethics.

In March, the Board hired a law firm whose partners include Adam Laxalt — DeSantis’ former roommate and chair of the Never Back Down Super PAC, which supports DeSantis’ presidential campaign. The Board also contracted Leonard Leo’s Tallahassee firm. Leo, a Federalist Society organizer, has previously advised DeSantis on judicial appointments.

No CFTOD leaders responded to Seeking Rent’s request for comment.

The District replaced the Walt Disney World Annual Pass benefit for their employees with an annual stipend, calling the benefits a “scheme” and “handouts.” District firefighters said the decision was a “low blow” against them.

According to Jason Garcia, the District recently posted five job openings on LinkedIn for its facilities department. Current openings are for an elevator inspector and construction project manager.

Magic Kingdom cinderella castle featured stock 8336 HDR

Garcia writes that Reedy Creek “used to be the best-run government in central Florida,” citing his experience attending Reedy Creek board meetings when reporting on Disney for the Orlando Sentinel.

“There was plenty that was problematic about the old Reedy Creek,” Garcia writes, “which was essentially a one-of-its-kind economic development incentive that Walt Disney himself demanded from the state of Florida. […] But Reedy Creek also did its job really well. Though Disney dictated their elections, board members still scrutinized projects in greater detail and asked deeper and more probing questions than the vast majority of city councilors, county commissioners and state legislators I’ve covered over the years.”

Garcia points out just how much people loved working at RCID.

“This was the best place I’d ever worked,” Maldonado told him. But “things were getting worse as the months passed by.” She added that leaving “made me sad.”

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