Gov. Ron DeSantis is initiating an investigation by the state inspector general into Disney’s recent move to limit the authority of a DeSantis-appointed board over the company’s properties in Central Florida.
DeSantis sent a letter to Inspector General Melinda Miguel Monday asking for the investigation into whether the Disney-controlled Reedy Creek Improvement District violated any civil or criminal laws, or state ethics rules.
“All legal or ethical violations should be referred to the appropriate authorities,” the governor wrote.
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The move by DeSantis is another escalation in his feud with Disney, which begspann when the compspanny opposed the Pspanrentspanl Rights in Educspantion Act, which has been derided by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay Bill.” The governor called lawmakers into special sessions to pass a bill that was intended to give the state oversight over Disney’s properties in Central Florida.
The legislation renamed the governing entity for Disney’s properties, changing it from the Reedy Creek Improvement District to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. It allowed DeSantis to appoint the new district’s board members, giving him a measure of authority over the company in Florida.
But last week it came to light that Disney had pushed through a development agreement with restrictive covenants before the state legislation went into effect. The new board members appointed by DeSantis say that the agreement limits their authority over Disney.
DeSantis wrote in his letter to Miguel that the development agreement and restrictive covenants were “designed to usurp the authority” of the new board.
“These collusive and self-dealing arrangements aim to to nullify the recently passed legislation, undercut Florida’s legislative process, and defy the will of Floridians,” DeSantis wrote.
In the company’s most expansive comments to date on the feud, Disney CEO Bob Iger called DeSantis’ moves “anti-business” and “anti-Florida” during the annual shareholder meeting Monday.
“A year ago, the company took a position on pending Florida legislation,” Iger noted according to CNBC. “And while the company may have not handled the position that it took very well, a company has a right to freedom of speech just like individuals do.”
Iger added that: “The governor got very angry about the position Disney took and seems like he’s decided to retaliate against us, including the naming of a new board to oversee the property and the business. In effect, to seek to punish a company for its exercise of a constitutional right. And that just seems really wrong to me.”
During the shareholders’ meeting, Iger declared the company’s love for the state of Florida, noting it was the largest taxpayer in the state and employed around 75,000 workers. The company has plans to make $17 billion in investments at Disney World over the next 10 years that will create an additional 13,000 jobs, he said.
Disney did not respond to a request for comment on DeSantis’ call for an inspector general investigation.
The governor’s announcement Monday seems to be part of a renewed push by state leaders to put pressure on Disney.
State House Speaker Paul Renner tweeted Monday that “all legislative options are now back on the table.”
“Having played by its own rules for decades, (Disney) has doubled down to keep it that way, in an attempt to evade a newly created board that would bring public accountability similar to every other business,” Renner wrote.