Disney quietly took power from DeSantis’ new team before the government takeover

(CNN) Battle between Disney and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Not done yet.

A new board chosen by a Republican governor to oversee Disney’s special taxing district said Wednesday it is facing legal action over a decades-old deal between the entertainment giant and an outbound group. Hostile takeover by government Last month.

Under the deal — quietly approved by Florida lawmakers in a special session on Feb. 8 as DeSantis handed control of the Reedy Creek Development District — Disney would control most of its sprawling footprint in Central Florida for 30 years and, in some cases, the group could not take significant action without first getting approval from the company.

“It basically makes Disney the government,” the board member said Ron Perry said during Wednesday’s meeting Video Published by Orlando Television Station. “This board, for practical purposes, loses the ability to do anything beyond maintaining roads and maintaining basic infrastructure.”

The episode is the latest twist in a year-long saga between Disney and DeSantis as they try to secure conservative victories ahead of their bid for the 2024 GOP nomination.

The board on Wednesday retained “several financial and legal firms to conduct audits and investigate Disney’s past conduct,” DeSantis spokesman Taryn Fenske said. According to the meeting documents, the board was contracting with four firms to advise on the matter.

“The Governor’s Executive Office is aware of Disney’s last-ditch effort to execute the agreements before approving new legislation transferring rights and powers from the former Reedy Creek Development District to Disney,” Fenks said. “A preliminary review suggests that these contracts may contain significant legal defects that would render the contracts void as a matter of law.”

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In a statement to CNN, Disney stood by its actions.

“All agreements signed between Disney and the District are appropriate, and have been discussed and approved in open, observed public forums in accordance with Florida’s Government in the Sunshine Act,” the company said. Documents from the Feb. 8 meeting show the Orlando Sentinel observed by law.

Several board members did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Sentinel first reported on Wednesday’s vote to hire legal counsel.

According to a statement Wednesday night from the district’s executive counsel and its newly hired legal counsel, the deal gave Disney development rights throughout the district and “not just on Disney’s property,” requiring the district to borrow money and spend on projects that benefit the company. and gives Disney veto power over any public project in the district.

“Lack of review, granting legislative power to a private entity, limiting the Board’s ability to make legislative decisions, and granting public rights without compensation for private purposes, among other issues, warrants the new Board’s actions and direction. We have evaluated these overwhelming documents and determined that the new Board is in the public interest in accordance with Florida law.” Determine how best to defend,” said the report by Fishback Dominick LLP, Cooper & Kirk PLLC, Lawson Huck Gonzalez PLLC, Waugh Grant PLLC and Nardella & Nardella PLLC.

The dispute between Disney and the governor stemmed from the company’s opposition Florida law It prohibits the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity through third grade and only in an “age-appropriate” manner in older grades. In March of last year, as outrage against the law spread across the country, Disney issued a statement pledging to help repeal the law or face being struck down by the courts.

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DeSantis and Florida GOP lawmakers responded by eliminating the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which effectively gave Disney control of its sprawling Orlando-area theme parks and surrounding land. But Republicans in control of the state Legislature reversed course this year and instead voted to eliminate the board that oversees the district, giving DeSantis the power to name five replacements. It renamed Reedy Creek the Central Florida Tourism Supervisory District and stripped it of some of its powers.

DeSantis stacked the board with political allies, including Tampa attorney Martin Garcia, a major GOP donor; Bridget Ziegler, wife of the new chairman of the Republican Party of Florida; And Peri, who is a former pastor Once recommended Tap water turns people gay.

The controversy is central to DeSantis’ political narrative of a leader unafraid to battle corporate giants, something as iconic and important to Florida as Disney. It’s a story that features prominently in her new book and one she often shares at events around the country as she lays the groundwork for a national campaign.

“The corporate empire is finally coming to an end,” DeSantis declared at a signing ceremony last month for the bill that gave him control of Reedy Creek’s board.

“There’s a new sheriff in town,” he added.

However, if Disney gets its way, it may take some time for the new power structure to gain control. An agreement signed by the exit committee — barring Disney from using any “indecent characters” — “is valid until 21 years after the death of the last surviving descendant of King Charles III of England,” according to a copy of the agreement included in the Feb. 8 meeting packet.

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Disney’s stealth move prompted allies of DeSantis’ chief political rival, former President Donald Trump, to suggest the governor was not being manipulated.

“President Trump wrote the ‘Art of the Deal’ and brokered Middle East peace,” said Taylor Pudovich, a spokesman for the Trump-affiliated Make America Great Again PAC. “Ron DeSantis Negotiated by Mickey Mouse.”

DeSantis’ political activism insisted that the governor’s appointments hold Disney accountable.

“Governor DeSantis’ new board will not, and will not, allow Disney to give more than 30 years of unprecedented power over land (some of which isn’t theirs!),” wrote Christina Pushau of DeSantis’ Rapid Response Team. on Twitter.

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