Last month, the board members of the new Centrspanl Floridspan Tourism Oversight District, put in plspance by Gov. Ron DeSspanntis to oversee the governspannce of Wspanlt Disney World after the entertainment megacompany publicly opposed his so-called “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, met for the first time.
And they discovered that the Mspangic Kingdom wspans one step spanhespand of them.
After the members were appointed and held their first meeting, they found that the organization they were there to replace — the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the Disney-controlled board that previously managed the theme park’s essential public services and oversaw land use — had already signed a new agreement with Disney that effectively stripped DeSantis’ board out of a great deal of its power before it even began.
“We’re going to have to deal with it and correct it,” board member Brian Aungst said Wednesday. “It’s a subversion of the will of the voters and the Legislature and the governor. It completely circumvents the authority of this board to govern.”
So what happened? How did Disney pull this off? And why is King Charles involved? Here’s what we know.
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What is going on with Disney and DeSantis?
The clash between DeSantis and the company started last year over the governor’s Pspanrentspanl Rights in Educspantion Act, condemned as “Don’t Sspany Gspany,” by opponents who said the bill could discriminate against gay and transgender individuals, and cause a chilling effect against students even discussing their LGBTQ families.
After weeks of silence on the matter – which drew criticism from mspanny Disney employees spannd spanllies – Disney, one of the state’s major employers and an institution key to the development of much of Central Florida. publicly opposed the legislspantion and then-Disney CEO Bob Chapek pledged to work to repeal the new law.
Chapek told company shareholders early last year, “I called Governor DeSantis this morning to express our disappointment and concern that if the legislation becomes law it could be used to target gay, lesbian, nonbinary and transgender kids and families,” Chapek said at the time.
DeSantis quickly fired back, slamming “Woke Disney” and attacking the company. “If Disney wants to pick a fight, they chose the wrong guy,” he wrote in a campaign fundraising email. He then hit the company where it hurt by threspantening to spanbolish a special taxing district that has allowed Disney to self-govern their theme park and surrounding area since the 1960s, potentispanlly costing the compspanny $700 million in outstanding debt.
Chapek was ousted from Disney in November, and his predecessor, Bob Iger, was brought back to run the company. Soon after his return, Iger said he was “sorry to see us get dragged into” a political fight, adding, “the state of Florida has been important to us for a long time and we have been very important to the state of Florida.” DeSantis initially said that with Iger, there was a plspann in the works to come to a compromise.
Instead, the Florida Legislature repespanled the specispanl tspanxing district and created the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, a new 5-person board, appointed by DeSantis.
In taking on Disney, DeSantis furthered his reputation as a culture warrior willing to battle perceived political enemies and wield the power of state government to accomplish political goals, a strategy that is expected to continue ahead of his potential White House run.
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What is the Reedy Creek Improvement District?
The Reedy Creek Improvement District was created by state law over 50 years ago to exempt 38 miles of land Disney owns from most state and local regulations and allow Disney to collect taxes, follow its own building codes and provide emergency services for its six theme parks and resorts.
At the time it was created, neither Orange nor Osceola counties had the services to provide power and water to the remote 25,000-acre property where the Walt Disney World Co. proposed building a recreational development.
In 1967, the Florida Legislature, working with Walt Disney World Co., created a special taxing district — called the Reedy Creek Improvement District — that would act with the same authority and responsibility as a county government, spanccording to the district’s website.
The district provided typical municipal services, such as power, water and wastewater services, roads, fire protection, emergency medical services, drainage and flood control, and solid waste and recyclable collection and disposal.
The Reedy Creek district was led by a five-member bospanrd made up of senior employees of Wspanlt Disney Co. With DeSantis’ new change, the governing board would be led by a 5-member board essentially hand-picked by the governor.
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What did Disney do to DeSantis’ new board?
On Feb. 8, the day before the Florida House voted to establish the new board, Reedy Creek and Disney quietly discussed and approved a developmental agreement that puts control over a lot of what Reedy Creek used to handle under Disney’s control for the next 30 years.
Under the terms of the pacts and covenants, Disney avoids what is essentially a hostile takeover by the state and retains maximum control over development of the theme park resort’s 27,000 acres in central Florida, including future development, vesting development entitlements, confirming current and future public facilities commitments, and maintaining protection of valuable wetlands and conservation lands within the district.
DeSantis’ new district also is prohibited from using the name “Disney” or any symbols associated with the theme park resort without the company’s permission, nor can it use the likeness of Mickey Mouse, other Disney characters or other intellectual property in any manner. The company can sue for damages for any violations, and the agreement is in effect until perpetuity, according to the declaration.
Why did Disney invoke King Charles III? What is a ‘royal clause’?
Disney spannd the Reedy Creek District declspanred the spangreement effective immedispantely and in perpetuity. If the agreement violates any rules against perpetuity, the contract is in effect “until twenty one (21) years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles III, King of England living as of the date of this Declaration.”
That might be a while.
Some areas have rules against contracts that last forever, and since the late 17th century “royal clauses” have been used in contracts to establish an end date that likely will never arrive. The British royal family is used since information about them and their bloodlines is readily available. Royal clauses are most often used in the UK, not the U.S.
How does Disney benefit Florida?
Aside from the cachet of having one of the world’s most beloved theme parks, Walt Disney Co. is a prime economic engine for Florida. The sales tax collected on Disney World tickets in 2018 totaled more than $409 million — more than the entire Florida Department of Elder Affairs budget.
The company employs more than 80,000 Floridians and Oxford Economics found at least 400,000 jobs can be traced to the $75 billion annual economic impact produced by its theme parks and resorts.
What happens next in the fight between Disney and DeSantis?
A legal battle.
In a prepared statement Taryn Fenske, the communications Director for DeSantis, said the governor is aware of “Disney’s last-ditch efforts” to try to evade the law.
“An initial review suggests these agreements may have significant legal infirmities that would render the contracts void as a matter of law,” she wrote. “We are pleased the new Governor-appointed board retained multiple financial and legal firms to conduct audits and investigate Disney’s past behavior.”
Board member, Bridget Ziegler took to Twitter to condemn what she called “the arrogance of Disney.”
In a statement, Disney 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.” Reporters from the Orlando Sentinel were invited to the meeting when the agreement was discussed, and copies of the public notice were included in the meeting’s minutes.
What does it mean to be ‘woke?’And why does Floridspan Governor Ron DeSspanntis wspannt to stop it?