“Out-negotiated by Mickey Mouse”: DeSantis’ board reveals Disney quietly stripped them of power

The group of conservatives handpicked by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to oversee Disney World’s government services is now preparing for a legal battle over a 30-year development agreement that they say will leave the board powerless in managing Disney’s future in Central Florida. 

The five-person Central Florida Tourism Oversight District was introduced by DeSantis in February, replacing the Reedy Creek Improvement District — a board that allowed Disney to run as a self-governing authority in Florida for more than 50 years. 

The Republican governor lashed out at Disney after the company opposed his so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, which banned the discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in elementary school classrooms. 

The board members on Wednesday revealed that their predecessors signed an agreement leaving them effectively powerless. Disney and Reedy Creek struck an agreement on Feb. 8 that gave away control of the district’s developmental rights and special privileges to the company. This was just before DeSantis set up his new oversight organization on Feb. 27. 

That agreement means that the new board members chosen by the Republican governor cannot take any significant action without getting approval from the media conglomerate first. 

“I cannot tell you the level of my disappointment in Disney. I thought so much better of them,” said board member Ron Peri on Wednesday, according to WKMG.

“This essentially makes Disney the government. This board loses, for practical purposes, the majority of its ability to do anything beyond maintain the roads and maintain basic infrastructure,” he continued.

The board members were not aware of the agreement before being appointed and say they will be hiring counsel to challenge it. 

“We’re going to have to deal with it and correct it,” board member Brian Aungst said. “It’s a subversion of the will of the voters and the legislature and the governor. It completely circumvents the authority of this board to govern.”

The agreement also states in a “declaration of restrictive covenants” that the district is banned from using the Disney name or “fanciful characters such as Mickey Mouse,” on anything without gaining the company’s approval. 

It also allows Disney to build projects at the highest density, with the board unable to regulate the height of buildings — as the agreement spells out that this is under the Federal Aviation Administration’s authority. 

Disney and their affiliates own the vast majority of the land in Central Florida, and other companies can only operate there with their permission.

The corporation has the right to sell or assign developmental rights to other district landowners without the board’s approval, a presentation by the district’s new special legal counsel confirmed.

The board’s predecessors even agreed to let Disney have authority over their own buildings, according to the declaration which states Disney must review any exterior changes to the district’s buildings to ensure consistent “theming” with Disney World.

The pact between Reedy Creek and Disney could potentially last for decades because of the inclusion of a rare royal lives clause. The deal would therefore remain valid until “21 years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants” of King Charles III.

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Bridget Ziegler, the co-founder of the conservative advocacy group “Moms for Liberty,” and a board member slammed the company on Twitter for their “arrogance.”

“From ignoring parents and allowing radicals to sexualize our children, to now ignoring Florida taxpayers by sneaking in a last minute sweetheart development agreement, Disney has once again overplayed their hand in Florida,” Ziegler wrote.

“We won’t stand for this and we won’t back down,” she continued. “If unlawful actions were taken, this development agreement will be nullified.”

However, Disney World maintains that it did nothing wrong by signing the agreement with Reedy Creek.

“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 said in an unsigned statement obtained by the Orlando Sentinel.

The governor’s office said in a statement that they would be supportive of the board’s attempt to challenge the agreement.

“The Executive Office of the Governor is aware of Disney’s last-ditch efforts to execute contracts just before ratifying the new law that transfers rights and authorities from the former Reedy Creek Improvement District to Disney,” said DeSantis spokeswoman Taryn Fenske.

“An initial review suggests these agreements may have significant legal infirmities that would render the contracts void as a matter of law,” she said. “We are pleased the new governor-appointed board retained multiple financial and legal firms to conduct audits and investigate Disney’s past behavior.”

According to the Orlando Sentinel, board members have now approved the hiring of four outside law firms with the chairman, Martin Garcia, stating that they need “lawyers that have extensive experience in dealing with protracted litigation against Fortune 500 companies.”

One of the firms they have signed with is Cooper & Kirk, a Washington D.C.-based law firm that has received more than $2.8 million in legal fees and contracts from the DeSantis administration. The governor has sought their help in the past to defend a controversial social media law, a ban on “vaccine passports” for cruise ships, and restrictions on felons seeking to vote. 

Some of Cooper & Kirk’s lawyers include failed Senate candidate Adam Laxalt, a former roommate of DeSantis at the Naval Justice School in 2005. Senators Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., have also worked at the boutique law firm. 

Garcia says they are seeking outside legal help to fight the vast resources that Disney has at their disposal. 

“What it looks like to me [is that] because Disney has the Magic Kingdom, they thought they could be king for a day,” he said in a statement obtained by the Orlando Sentinel.

Former Florida lawmaker Carlos Guillermo Smith, the first openly LGBTQ+ Latino to be elected to the state legislature, wrote in a Twitter thread that DeSantis has officially lost his “woke” war with Disney. 

“Ron DeSantis’ entire political brand is centered around his story of how he took on ‘woke’ Disney and won!” Smith wrote. “The ‘corporate kingdom has come to an end,’ he bragged. Turns out, that story was a fairytale — Ronnie lost and was just stunningly outmaneuvered by the Mouse.”

“Ron DeSantis invested nearly everything into promoting his narrative of how he stuck it to Disney for having the temerity to oppose his agenda,” Smith continued. “He wrote op-ed’s about it, bragged on Fox News, and made it a central focus of his new book. That House of Cards is now collapsing…”

DeSantis’ anti-LGBTQ+ push came ahead of a potential 2024 matchup against former President Donald Trump. The Trump campaign quickly dunked on DeSantis over the news.

 added that former President Donald Trump, who DeSantis is predicted to run against in the 2024 election, is likely scrambling to  off of this news.

“President Trump wrote ‘Art of the Deal’ and brokered Middle East peace,” a Trump campaign staffer told Florida Politics publisher Peter Schorsch. “Ron DeSantis just got out-negotiated by Mickey Mouse.”

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about DeSantis’ feud with Disney


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