Little-Noticed February Vote By Walt Disney World’s Reedy Creek Board “Completely Circumvents” Authority Of New DeSantis-Chosen Overseers
“We’re going to have to deal with it and correct it,” Central Florida Tourism Oversight District Board of Supervisors member Brian Aungst Jr. said today of a vote taken by the then Disney-controlled Reedy Creek Improvement District in February. “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.”
The decision essentially gives Disney power over Walt Disney World’s 27,000 acres near Orlando, an authority that resided with the Disney-controlled Reedy Creek from 1967 until the vote last month. The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District supervisors — appointed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — were supposed to take over that duty for the state after DeSantis signed a law on February 27 transferring power to his appointees.
DeSantis championed the move to strip Disney of its control of the special district following the company’s opposition to the parental rights bill, dubbed the “don’t say gay” law, but the governor and supporters of the legislation say that it also ends special treatment for one corporation. February’s vote rolled that back.
“This essentially makes Disney the government,” board member Ron Peri said, according to the Orlando Sentinel. “This board loses, for practical purposes, the majority of its ability to do anything beyond maintain the roads and maintain basic infrastructure.”
But in a public meeting today covered by media outlets such as the Sentinel, those appointees revealed that the Reedy Creek board made an end-run around the new arrangement.
DeSantis’ appointees brought legal counsel into their meeting today to assess last month’s agreement by the District. Counsel indicated the new board only recently discovered the agreements, even though they were apparently public. The lawyer called them “unusual” and “suspect,” according to Bob Hasen at WESH 2 news in Orlando.
DeSantis spokeswoman Taryn Fenske, in s statement shared with the Sentinel, called the vote one of Disney’s “last-ditch efforts” to transfer “rights and authorities” to itself. “An initial review suggests these agreements may have significant legal infirmities that would render the contracts void as a matter of law.”
The Walt Disney World resort maintained in a statement to Deadline that “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.”
A “declaration of restrictive covenants” related to the Reedy Creek vote last month indicates the agreement is valid until “21 years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles III, king of England,” according to the document.
That declaration is known as a Royal lives clause, which is not as unusual to see as it may seem. It provides that a certain right must be exercised within (usually) the lifetime plus 21 years of the last living descendant of a British Monarch who happens to be alive at the time when the contract is made.
The agreement allows Disney to build projects at the highest density and the right to sell or assign those development rights to other district landowners without the board having any say, according to the DeSantis appointees’ legal counsel.