DeSantis-appointed board votes to invalidate Disney’s effort to thwart state takeover of its special taxing district – KESQ

By Eric Bradner and Steve Contorno, CNN

The board appointed by the Governor of Florida. ron desantis to oversee Disney’s special tax district on Wednesday sought to reclaim his power from the entertainment giant, voting to invalidate an agreement between Disney and the previous board in February, just prior to that board’s dissolution.

“What they created is an absolute legal mess, okay? It won’t work,” said Martin Garcia, president of the DeSantis-picked Central Florida Tourism Supervisory District. board of supervisors.

The move is the latest escalation in the fight between DeSantis and Disney, one that could spark a legal battle as DeSantis moves toward a 2024 presidential bid.

The year-long fight has strained what had long been a cozy relationship between the Florida government and the state’s best-known employer and attraction of tourist dollars. DeSantis earlier this month suggested the state could build a competing prison or theme park on what had been Disney-controlled property for decades.

The Florida governor’s battle with Disney has become a flash point in the early stages of the 2024 Republican presidential primary. Former President Donald Trump and a host of other candidates and potential rivals, including former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie , have criticized DeSantis for his actions, calling them anti-business.

After a hearing in which several business owners, including those who run restaurants and bars at Disney World locations, urged the board to work with Disney, Garcia said the board would seek to raise taxes to pay his legal fees to the evaluate and combat what he calls “last minute agreements”.

“Because that is going to cost us money, we are going to have to raise taxes to pay for it,” Garcia said.

The board of supervisors of the Central Florida Tourism Supervisory District, the board appointed by DeSantis and packed with his allies earlier this year, took over the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the special taxing district that for half a century gave Disney control of the land around its Power Plant. Florida theme parks.

But before the DeSantis-picked board was in place, Disney in February struck a deal with the outgoing board that appeared to leave the body powerless to control the entertainment giant. The DeSantis administration was unaware of the agreement for a month and vowed to retaliate after it was made public.

The agreements Disney signed with the previous board secured the company’s development rights throughout the district for the next 30 years and, in some cases, prevented the board from taking significant action without first obtaining company approval. One provision restricted the new board from using any of Disney’s “fantastic characters” until “21 years after the death of the last surviving descendant of King Charles III, King of England.”

Their development deal was approved over the course of two public meetings held two weeks apart earlier this year, both noted in the local Orlando newspaper and attended by about a dozen residents and members of the media. . No one from the governor’s office was present at any of the meetings, according to the minutes of the meeting.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the board’s special general counsel, Daniel Langley, discussed his legal argument for voiding the agreement between Disney and the previous board.

He said the board had failed to provide the required public notice of its meetings, saying the agreement was not duly approved by two municipalities within the district, the cities of Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista.

It also argued that previous amendments to Disney’s comprehensive long-range plan were not properly vetted and approved by those two municipalities.

“The bottom line is that a development deal has to be approved by the governing body of a jurisdiction, and that didn’t happen with cities that have jurisdiction,” Langley said.

Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Alan Lawson, an attorney retained by the district, said “the old board attempted to act without the legal authority to do so.”

“It is essentially about what it means to live and work in a country governed by the rule of law. Everyone has to play by the same rules,” he said. “Disney was openly and legally granted a unique and special privilege: the privilege to run his own government for a time. That era is over.”

The end of a decades-long deal

The state legislature created the Reedy Creek Improvement District in 1967 and effectively gave Disney the power to control municipal services like power, water, roads, and fire protection around its Central Florida theme parks that did not exist before they arrived. Walt Disney and his builders. But the special district also freed Disney from red tape and made borrowing cheaper to finance infrastructure projects around its theme parks, among other significant advantages.

That special arrangement, while criticized at times, was largely protected by state politicians, as both Disney and Florida benefited from the tourism boom.

The unlikely break in Florida’s relationship with its most iconic business began during last year’s contentious debate over state legislation to restrict certain classroom instruction on sexuality and gender identity. Then-Disney CEO Bob Chapek, under pressure from his employees, reluctantly opposed the bill, prompting DeSantis to criticize the company. When DeSantis signed the legislation into law, Disney announced that it would push for its repeal. DeSantis then took aim at Disney’s special governance powers.

For DeSantis, who has built a political brand by going toe-to-toe with companies he identifies as “woke,” the latest twist threatens to undermine a central pillar of his story as he lays the groundwork for a likely presidential campaign. An entire chapter of his new autobiography is devoted to Disney, and the saga is prominently featured in the campaign speech he’s delivered across the country in recent weeks.

This story has been updated with additional reports.

The CNN Wire
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