March 31, 2023
The Disney World oversight board installed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) has accused its predecessor of passing an 11th-hour agreement in cahoots with the entertainment giant that takes away much of its administrative power over the Florida amusement park, reports The Washington Post.
In a bureaucratic coup, Disney and the previous board signed an agreement on February 8—the day before the Florida House passed the bill creating the oversight board. With that stealth move, Disney retained its power.
The new board, much to its chagrin, apparently discovered the agreement only recently.
“I’m surprised that they didn’t tell us about it as soon as we were appointed,” one of the board members, Brian Aungst Jr., told local station News 6 as the board held a meeting on Wednesday, March 29. “We had to find out about it late at night on a Friday night.”
The agreement forbids the new board from using Disney’s brand name or any of its trademarks, specifically citing “fanciful characters such as Mickey Mouse.” It also gives the company the right to prior review and comment when making changes to building exteriors.
Through a spokesperson, DeSantis pledged to review the agreement, suggesting certain “legal infirmities” could render it void.
DeSantis, an ascendant voice in the Republican Party and widely seen as a likely contender for the party’s 2024 presidential nomination, appointed a new oversight board after Disney criticized education legislation he had promoted that prohibited teachers from discussing gender and sexual orientation in early grades. Critics derided the policy as a homophobic and discriminatory “don’t say gay” bill. DeSantis signed it into law last year.
In apparent retaliation for the critique, DeSantis replaced the previous Disney-friendly oversight board known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District with a new board, the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, made up entirely of his own appointees, including religious and conservative activists. The board is responsible for approving infrastructure projects; as well as maintaining more mundane aspects of the park, such as trash collection and management of sewer systems. Disney would have been to some degree beholden to DeSantis’s board for its sign-off on major projects.
Describing the agreement as a subversion of the will of voters, Aungst said the board will “have to deal with it and correct it,” according to the Associated Press.
Ron Peri, another board member, said at the meeting that under the agreement, “this board loses, for practical purposes, the majority of its ability to do anything beyond maintain the roads and maintain basic infrastructure,” according to News 6.
Research contact: @washingtonpost