The plans of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to take over control of Walt Disney World’s self-governing district near Orlando appears to have been thwarted by a little mousetrap.
Five board members hand-picked by DeSantis to oversee the special governing and taxing district encompassing Walt Disney World admitted Wednesday that their Disney-controlled predecessors pulled a fast one on them by passing restrictive covenants that strip the new board of many of its powers, according to The Associated Press.
During a meeting of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, the current supervisors announced that the previous board members had signed an agreement with the company that gave Disney maximum development power over the theme park resort’s 27,000 acres.
DeSantis appointed the five supervisors to the board after the Florida Legislature retaliated for Disney’s public opposition to the state’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” law, which bars classroom discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.
The previous board had been controlled by Disney for 55 years and was known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District.
The agreement allows Disney the maximum possible density and building heights inside Walt Disney World while other property owners will need the corporation’s permission to expand within the district and to make any aesthetic changes to their properties.
“We lose control over everything other than to maintain the roads and maintain the infrastructure,” one board member said, according to WFTV-TV in Orlando.
One especially bizarre detail: The agreement reportedly lasts until 21 years after the death of the last survivor of Britain’s King Charles III, who is scheduled to be coronated in May, according to ClickOrlando.com.
The new board members said they found out about the agreement after their appointments.
“We’re going to have to deal with it and correct it,” board member Brian Aungst said Wednesday, according to AP. “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.”
Sources at the governor’s office admitted to WFTV that they had been caught a little off-guard by Disney’s willingness to comply with handing the district over but weren’t surprised the company had made an under-the-radar move.
Meanwhile, DeSantis’ communication director, Taryn Fenske, issued the follow statement:
“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. An initial review suggests these agreements may have significant legal infirmities that would render the contracts void as a matter of law. We are pleased the new Governor-appointed board retained multiple financial and legal firms to conduct audits and investigate Disney’s past behavior.”
In a statement Wednesday to HuffPost, Walt Disney World insisted that “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.”