Disney Pulled Fast One On DeSantis, Used 'Royal Lives' Clause To Preserve Power
Weeks before Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) announced a new hand-picked board to take over Disney's long-held special taxing district in Orlando, the company enacted a new rule which stipulates that any changes to the district must be made to benefit Walt Disney World.
The agreement gives Disney development rights throughout the district, and "not just on Disney's property," and gives the company veto authority over any public project in the district.
On Wednesday, the board said it's considering legal action over the agreement, which was reached between the entertainment giant and the outgoing board days before DeSantis signed February legislation to end Disney's self-governing status and establish a state-controlled district controlled by a five-member board appointed by the governor.
The Feb. 8 document, first reported by the Orlando Sentinel, grants Disney “prior review and comment” over any changes made to properties in the district, formerly known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District and now known as the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.
That document also states that the declaration shall be enforceable "in perpetuity" or, if that is deemed unenforceable, "until 21 years after the death of the last surviving descendants of King Charles III, King of England.” -NBC News
According to the BBC, the "royal lives" clause used in the agreement date back to the 17th century but are rarely used.
"I can’t think of a more naked attempt to circumvent the will of the voters and the will of the Florida Legislature," said newly appointed board member Brian Aungst Jr. "That is offensive to me."
"This essentially makes Disney the government," said borad member Ron Peri during Wednesday's meeting.
According to the chairman of the new board, Martin Garcia, challenging the document would likely result in "protracted litigation," which could go all the way to the US Supreme Court. The board has hired two outside law firms to explore legal options.
A DeSantis rep said that his office was aware of Disney's "last-ditch efforts" to give itself "new rights and authorities" in advance of the changes in the special district.
"An initial review suggests these agreements may have significant legal infirmities that would render the contracts void as a matter of law," said DeSantis comms director Taryn Fenske. "We are pleased the new Governor-appointed board retained multiple financial and legal firms to conduct audits and investigate Disney’s past behavior."
And according to a Wednesday night statement from the district's acting counsel and newly obtained legal counsel, "The lack of consideration, the delegation of legislative authority to a private corporation, restriction of the Board’s ability to make legislative decisions, and giving away public rights without compensation for a private purpose, among other issues, warrant the new Board’s actions and direction to evaluate these overreaching documents and determine how best the new Board can protect the public’s interest in compliance with Florida Law."
Disney, meanwhile, tells CNN that it stands by its actions.
"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.
Florida's spat with Disney began after the company opposed a Florida law which prohibits the instruction of sexual orientation and gender identity until the third grade, and allows for "age appropriate" instruction in older grades. In response, DeSantis and Florida GOP lawmakers eliminated the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the special taxing authority which gave Disney control of the land surrounding its Orlando-area properties. Republican lawmakers in control of the state legislature voted to fire the board overseeing the district and gave DeSantis power to name all five replacements. The move also renamed the district as the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, and reduced its powers.
Florida Ends the Corporate Kingdom https://t.co/N7lJA1BSXb— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) February 27, 2023
Except it looks like Disney has gotten the last laugh, for now.