Disney’s “Backroom Deal” For Florida Special District Control DOA, Ron DeSantis’ Handpicked Board Declares In Countersuit
Disney’s seemingly successful efforts to outfox Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ power grab to control the area around Disney World are “not even worth the paper they were printed on,” according to a countersuit filed Monday by the GOP presidential aspirant’s replacement board.
“The District is entitled to a declaration that: (1) the Development Agreement is void, unenforceable, and/or invalid, and (2) the Restrictive Covenants are void, unenforceable, and/or invalid,” said the complaint placed in a Sunshine State court by the DeSantis handpicked Central Florida Tourism Oversight District against the House of Mouse. “The District is further entitled to an order enjoining Disney from enforcing the Development Agreement and the Restrictive Covenants,” the 188-page document (only 35 pages are the actual lawsuit, the rest is exhibits) declares (read it here).
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Promised by the five-member board after a vote earlier Monday, the countersuit seeks to volley back against Disney’s initial suit of April 26 alleging retaliation from the combative governorand the board. Representatives for Disney could not be reached for comment on the countersuit, which they had been expecting.
In an already pitched battle that started last year with the then Bob Chapek-run Disney’s fumbled opposition to Florida’s openly discriminatory “Don’t Say Gay” law, the company now led by Bob Iger would be hard-pressed to top the surreptitious hyperbole of today’s action if they did eventually produce a comment:
Earlier this year, …the Florida Legislature took steps to restore the people’s sovereignty and established an independent Board to govern the District. In an effort to stymie Florida’s elected representatives, Disney covertly cobbled together a series of eleventh hour deals with its soon-to-be-replaced puppet government. Disney hoped to tie the hands of the new, independent Board and to preserve Disney’s special status as its own government in the District for at least the next thirty years. These agreements reek of a backroom deal—drafted by Disney with the acquiescence a lawyer who represented both Disney and the District, set for hearing without proper notice, and hustled through a compliant Disney-controlled Board that Disney knew would not dwell long on the issue. But perhaps out of haste or arrogance, Disney’s deals violate basic principles of Florida constitutional, statutory, and common law. As a result, they are null and void—not even worth the paper they were printed on.
Seeking to gain some traction with MAGA supporters in his White House bid, DeSantis has repeatedly branded Disney as a “woke” corporation.
The escalation of matters in the courts was spurred by a vengeful DeSantis’ desire to strip Disney of its long hold over the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the entity established in 1967 in no small part by Walt Disney himself to enshrine the company a self-governing role over its vast Florida property – much of which became the 1971-opening Disney World. The district has oversight over such things as infrastructure, roads and development and also has powers of taxation and the ability to take on bond debt.
After months of swinging widely and installing his own board, the recently reelected governor last month began tossing around threats against Disney after it became public that he had missed the administrative moves the company made in plain sight to retain control of the more than 50-year-old special district.
Mocked by former mentor and now rival Donald Trump for being outplayed, a clearly agitated DeSantis announced three weeks ago that the Florida government was now considering putting his state’s largest private employer in its place with increased oversight of ride safety, boosting assessment valuations of its properties and even new tolls on the Mickey Mouse-branded roads leading into the nearby resorts and theme parks. With apparent disregard for the huge numbers of tourists and money that Disney World attracts for Florida, DeSantis openly suggested a state prison could be built nearby the theme parks.
It was that kind of talk and tone that Disney identified in its suit late last month when it referred to “a targeted campaign of government retaliation — orchestrated at every step by Governor DeSantis as punishment for Disney’s protected speech — now threatens Disney’s business operations, jeopardizes its economic future in the region, and violates its constitutional rights.” The federal action by Disney added: “Because the Legislative Declaration retaliates against Disney for its protected speech, Disney is entitled to a declaratory judgment that the Legislative Declaration is unconstitutional and an order enjoining Defendants from enforcing it.”
Now with today’s countersuit everyone involved is about to get on a whole new ride as Disney will undoubtedly move fast to have the state suit shifted to federal court.
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