Speed Reads

Simply Mad About the Mouse

Disney quietly tied the hands of new DeSantis-picked Disney World district board for decades, board complains

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' (R) culture war against the Walt Disney Co. took another surprising turn Wednesday. Point: Mouse.

Weeks before a group of Republicans handpicked by DeSantis took over the board of the special administrative district surrounding Walt Disney World, the Disney-appointed board approved a raft of binding agreements that ties the hands of the board for the next 30 years, the DeSantis-appointed board said at a public hearing Wednesday. The new board, renamed the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District in legislation DeSantis pushed through the GOP-led state Legislature, threatened a prolonged legal fight.

The former board, called the Reedy Creek Improvement District, unanimously approved the "declaration of restrictive covenants" on Feb. 8, at a public meeting held the day before the Legislature approved the bill giving DeSantis control of the board. The 151-page agreement gives Disney final say over many building projects and development rights in the district, and bars the new board from using the Disney name or any "fanciful characters" owned by Disney, including Mickey Mouse, the Orlando Sentinel reports

The package of agreements is valid until "21 years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles III, king of England living as of the date of this declaration," the document states. "Such so-called royal lives clauses have been inserted into legal documentation since the late 17th Century, and they are still found in some contracts in the U.K., though rarely in the U.S," BBC News notes.

"This essentially makes Disney the government," new GOP board member Ron Peri said Wednesday. "This board loses, for practical purposes, the majority of its ability to do anything beyond maintain the roads and maintain basic infrastructure."

"We're going to have to deal with it and correct it," said board member Brian Aungst Jr. He said he hopes Disney will work with the board to correct the agreement in a "very collaborative manner." But the board also approved hiring four law firms, including high-powered conservative D.C. firm Cooper & Kirk — which has already earned $2.8 million from the DeSantis administration and will bill $795 an hour in this case, the Sentinel reports — to try and void the agreements. 

DeSantis engineered the takeover of the Reedy Creek district in retaliation for Disney's opposition to his law restricting gender and sex ed in schools. In a statement, DeSantis spokeswoman Taryn Fenske said "an initial review suggests these agreements may have significant legal infirmities that would render the contracts void as a matter of law." 

Disney disagreed. "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 a statement.