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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Walt Disney World and a special tax district are making headlines again, but this time, it’s with a new cast member: England’s King Charles III.
In a quiet move that captivated the Internet, the former Reedy Creek Development Board signed its authority back to Disney before leaving office, which will not expire until the end of England’s monarchy.
That means the five DeSantis allies who promised to rule over one of Florida’s largest employers have no ability to do anything, at least until they take legal action.
Here’s a look at what’s happening and what might be coming next.
First, a quick update on the Disney-DeSantis feud
In 2020, things started to heat up when Disney implemented Covid-19 cover-up measures and later vaccination mandates. Tensions came to a head when Disney sided with Florida’s Parents’ Right to Education Act, known by its critics as the Don’t Say Bill.
Last month, in a move widely seen as retaliation, DeSantis signed a bill that took control of a special tax zone that includes Walt Disney World. The Reedy Creek Development District has allowed Disney to operate and expand with much autonomy over the past 50 years.
The governor gave it a new name, the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, and appointed five of his allies to the board, including a prominent parental rights activist, a Christian nationalist and a lawyer who donated $50,000.
On paper, the new board will oversee municipal services and development for the land surrounding Disney World. In practice, DeSantis says, the board also acts as a moral arbiter for a company that has gone astray.
One of the board members told NPR in early March that its first step would be to conduct a major financial and legal audit of Disney’s conduct.
But unbeknownst to the governor, Disney had already cut the board’s powers
As the newly appointed board sat down for its second official meeting on Wednesday, it announced it had made a discovery: It may not be able to carry out its planned agenda.
Nineteen days before DeSantis signed the final bill, the former board signed contracts with Disney.
This step, called a declaration of restrictive covenants, allows Disney to have the final say on changes to the property.
Basically, as board member Ron Perry put it, the board is losing “most of its ability to do anything beyond maintaining roads and maintaining basic infrastructure.” Local news outlet Click Orlando.
And, one more detail That the Internet is eatingThe duration of the contract is set using the “anti-perpetuity clause” – which states that a policy continues until the death of a particular person.
In this case, the proclamation will continue “twenty-one (21) years after the death of the last surviving descendant of King Charles III”. DeSantis, after all, often refers to Walt Disney World as a “corporate kingdom.”
Avid social media users also pointed out this tactic Similar to what the Republicans used Following the recent electoral defeats. In places like Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina and Wisconsin, GOP-led legislatures Amended state election lawsIncreasing their party power before handing over power to an incoming democratic majority.
Disney did not respond to NPR’s requests for comment on the move and strategy, but, according to other outlets, said This action is “appropriate”. and “approved in open, observed public forums consistent with the government of Florida.”
After all, no one noticed this public phenomenon
As far as power moves go, this one appears to be above board. A detailed reference to the restrictive covenant clause was recorded in the February 8 Reedy Creek agenda and meeting minutes. A day later, the agreement was registered Orange County Comptroller.
All of those documents are available online, and are still available, without requiring a public records request. Anyone can attend the old board meeting on February 8. (There were no public comments on the measure, which the board approved unanimously.)
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And yet, no one seems to notice — or if they do, they don’t raise the alarm. Not the new board, not the governor, the legislators or the reporters actively monitoring the developments (the culprits).
When news outlets, including NPR, asked Disney for comment on the various steps involved in the DeSantis acquisition throughout February, the company played it straight. They will not fight against capture.
“For more than 50 years, the Reedy Creek Improvement District has operated at the highest standards, and we appreciate everything the district has done to grow our destination,” Walt Disney World Resort President Jeff Wahle said in a statement. “We are focused on the future and ready to work within this new framework.”
So what happens next? Can the board take back power?
The control agreement is binding, which means Disney can easily sue the board for legal damages if it tries to violate its powers.
And it is severable only if “any clause or provision” is “unlawful, void or unenforceable under applicable present or future laws.”
DeSantis’ office thinks it can overturn the deal on legal grounds alone.
“The governor’s executive office is aware of Disney’s last-ditch effort to get the contracts passed before approving the new law,” he said. Communications Director Taryn Fenske In a statement shared with other outlets. “A preliminary review suggests that these contracts may contain significant legal defects that would render the contracts void as a matter of law.”
DeSantis’ office did not immediately respond to NPR’s request for comment and clarification.
At worst, could DeSantis pass a new law? Perhaps, but any legislation that takes broad action against restrictive covenants or special districts could have the kind of broader consequences that DeSantis wants to avoid.
One of the governor’s earlier plans to dissolve all special tax districts in the state fell through after analysts pointed out it could eventually raise taxes for districts next to Reedy Creek, leaving local residents disappointed.
The arrogance of @Disney Continued… From ignoring parents and allowing extremists to sexualize our children, to sneaking in a last-minute sweetheart development deal and now ignoring Florida taxpayers, Disney has once again overplayed their hand in Florida.
We will not stop…
— Bridget Ziegler (@BridgetAZiegler) March 30, 2023
Ultimately, the board may be left to pursue a legal challenge to the agreement, which could take months to resolve in the courts.
NPR reached out to members of the group for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication. Bridget ZieglerOne of the most senior members said on Twitter that the board “will not stand for this” and “will not back down”.