DeSantis vs. Disney: Board members discuss efforts to take Disney's self-governing power away
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - It was a standing room only in the packed hotel ballroom where the new governing board of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District Board, formerly the Reedy Creek Improvement District, met on Wednesday.
District staff said they had never seen such interest in the board's meetings. At the meeting, the governor's handpicked board members ruled to take over any plans for building construction on Walt Disney World Resort property, and more.
It was one of several votes board member Bridget Ziegler said the board took to try seizing back power from Disney after the company took steps before this board took office to retain control of the district. "I think they're standing up for the people of Florida and making sure there's balanced scales."
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a new legislative push on Tuesday that would nullify a last-minute agreement made by the previous board. That board passed a development agreement that gave Disney control of its property for future development – the complete opposite of DeSantis' vision when he handpicked the new board after the state took over the special district.
The governor said the new amendment would give the new board development power again by disregarding any agreements signed within three months of the state takeover.
FOX 35 News took the latest development in the battle between Disney and DeSantis to a legal analyst who believes Disney is preparing to hit back.
"If this becomes actual legislation that gets all the way through and becomes a law on the books, undoubtedly I’m sure Disney, with their many lawyers, will be filing challenges to the legality of that law, and then from there it will move to the judicial branch for judges to make determinations regarding whether or not it’s legal," Attorney Whitney Boan said.
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Wednesday's meeting had some colorful moments, like when lawyers the board is working with invoked some Disney characters to make their point. "The bottom line is that Disney engaged in a caper worthy of ‘Scrooge McDuck’ to try to evade Florida law. Its efforts are illegal, and they will not stand," said lawyer David Thompson.
The state legislature voted to dissolve Disney’s special tax district after a feud between Gov. DeSantis and then-chief executive Bob Chapek, over the state's Parental Rights in Education Act, which opponents call the "Don't Say Gay" act. Board Chair Martin Garcia said other actions would be coming, like looking at affordable housing in the district.
"We're also gonna look at voting rights for future residents in that housing, developing better traffic solutions for the surrounding county, including transit. We're gonna look at reducing the carbon footprint created by the district," Garcia said.
FOX 35 News reached out to Disney for their take on the meeting, but we haven't heard back from them, yet.
Nejame Law partner Albert Yonfa said this will eventually end up in court. "The legal arguments on both sides have been really clever, well-thought-out, and nuanced. They keep upping each other with their arguments."