Disney Has a Big Surprise for DeSantis

Surprise language in 11th-hour deal effectively wrests power away from Florida governor's board
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 30, 2023 6:31 AM CDT
Disney Has a Big Surprise for DeSantis
People visit the Magic Kingdom theme park at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, on April 18.   (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey, File)

Last month, Ron DeSantis declared himself the "new sheriff in town" at Disney World, after he hand-picked members for a board that oversees what was formerly known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the special tax district for Disney's Orlando-area theme parks. His move came amid a contentious battle between himself and the company, which has pushed back against the Florida governor's signing of what's now known as the Don't Say Gay bill. Now, just days after Disney doubled down on its support for gay rights by announcing it would be hosting a major LGBTQ+ summit there in September, a second, quieter surprise from the entertainment giant: It looks as though it has stripped the DeSantis-controlled board of most of its powers over Disney.

In the 11th hour before the DeSantis' board hostile takeover in February, the outgoing board signed a 30-year development agreement with Disney that "effectively ties [the new board's] hands and limits their ability to do their jobs" for decades, notes Reuters. "This essentially makes Disney the government," board member Ron Peri railed during a Wednesday meeting, per Insider. "This board loses, for practical purposes, the majority of its ability to do anything beyond maintain the roads and maintain basic infrastructure." Of particular interest in the deal is a declaration that bars the district from using the Disney name unless it gets Disney's OK, or any of the company's "fanciful characters," such as Mickey Mouse, per the Orlando Sentinel.

Even more interesting is the wording on when that declaration, invoked under an arcane property law known as the rule against perpetuities, expires: The agreement approved Feb. 8 is valid until "21 years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles III, king of England." The new board isn't happy at the "happiest place on Earth." "It completely circumvents the authority of this board to govern," board member Brian Aungst Jr. said Wednesday. Meanwhile, a rep for DeSantis, who got married at Disney World, threatened possible legal action over the "last-ditch" move. For Disney's part, it's standing by its actions, per CNN. "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," the company says in a statement. (More Disney stories.)

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