Board transferred all its power to Disney shortly before DeSantis' appointees took over

AP Photo/Evan Agostini

So it looks like the battle between Gov. DeSantis and Disney isn’t over yet. In January a DeSantis spokesperson announced that “The corporate kingdom has come to an end.” But the new board members weren’t actually in place until the end of February after DeSantis signed a law to put them there.

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Capping a year-long feud with one of the state’s largest employers, DeSantis signed into law a bill officially granting a new state-appointed board the responsibilities of Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District and named a slate of conservative leaders.

The newly appointed members of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District include Bridget Ziegler, a vocal proponent of DeSantis’s education policies, including the Parental Rights in Education bill dubbed by critics as the “don’t say gay” law that Disney leaders opposed last year. Also named to the board: Ron Peri, who heads the Gathering USA, a Christian ministry, and three attorneys, including the president of the Federalist Society’s Orlando chapter.

And it turns out that during the interim, the old Disney-controlled board handed all its actual power over to Disney in perpetuity leaving the new DeSantis’ appointed board with almost no power.

Ahead of an expected state takeover, the Walt Disney Co. quietly pushed through the pact and restrictive covenants that would tie the hands of future board members for decades, according to a legal presentation by the district’s lawyers on Wednesday…

The previous board, which was known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District and controlled by Disney, approved the agreement on Feb. 8, the day before the Florida House voted to put the governor in charge.

Board members held a public meeting that day but spent little time discussing the document before unanimously approving it in a brief meeting.

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Disney released a statement saying, “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.” But new board member Ron Peri suggested the agreements seemed dubious.

Peri described the timetable outlined in the developer agreement between Disney and the Reedy Creek board, which was put into effect on Feb. 8.

“I’m going to read to the term of this restrictive covenant. ‘This declaration shall continue in effect until 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,’” Peri said. “So, I mean, I don’t know what else to say. I think these documents are void ab initio, I think they were an extremely aggressive overreach, and I’m very disappointed that they’re here.”

I’m not an attorney but void ab initio is a legaleze way of saying the agreement may be void from the start. Finally, the Governor’s office also released a statement:

The Executive Office of the Governor is aware of Disney’s last-ditch efforts to execute contracts just before ratifying the new law that transfers rights and authorities from the former Reedy Creek Improvement District to Disney. An initial review suggests these agreements may have significant legal infirmities that would render the contracts void as a matter of law. We are pleased the new Governor-appointed board retained multiple financial and legal firms to conduct audits and investigate Disney’s past behavior.

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So I guess this will be fought out in the courts where I suspect Disney has a small army of lawyers to make their case that this is legal. I guess we’ll have to wait and see what the courts say about it.

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David Strom 5:00 PM | May 23, 2024
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