‘Corporate Kingdom comes to an end:’ Florida Gov. DeSantis eliminates Disney control over special district

DeSantis appoints 5 in new board for Disney’s Reedy Creek

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Control over Disney’s special district officially went to the hands of Florida as Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill renaming and remaking Reedy Creek.

The governor signed HB-9B during a news conference Monday at Reedy Creek Fire Station No. 4. The bill was approved during a special session last month to give DeSantis full authority to appoint the district’s five-member Board of Supervisors and change the name to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.

“Since the 1960s. they’ve enjoyed privileges unlike any company or individual in the state of Florida has ever enjoyed. They, of course, control their own government right here in Central Florida. They had exemptions from laws that everybody else had to follow, and they were able to get huge amounts of benefits without paying their fair share of taxes and even racked up $700 million worth of municipal debt,” the governor said.

The Disney district takeover was initiated last year when Disney publicly opposed the Parental Rights in Education bill, which bars instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade and lessons deemed not age-appropriate. DeSantis moved to penalize the company, directing lawmakers to dissolve the district during a special legislative session in April, beginning a closely watched restructuring process.

However, the governor said the company’s stance against the bill, dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by opponents, was not the only reason for the move to end its self-governing status.

“That was only a mild annoyance. I think that what we came to realize after that dust settled on that was you clearly had a movement within the corporation itself, of course, Burbank, California-based elements of it that said it’s their job or it’s their goal to inject a lot of this sexuality into the programming for young kids,” DeSantis said.

Along with the end of Disney’s self-governing status, the new law will end Disney’s exemption from the Florida building code and Florida fire prevention code, Disney’s exemption from state and regulatory reviews and approval, ensure Disney pays “its fair share of taxes,” and prevent the situation from raising local taxes, according to the governor.

“This bill will also impose Florida law on this area, just like it’s imposed on Universal Studios and SeaWorld and all these other places. And this bill and the structure we’ve created in this bill will ensure that the municipal debt that’s been racked up will be paid by Disney, not by Florida taxpayers,” DeSantis said. " And so this is what accountability looks like. This is what standing up for Florida taxpayers in the rule of law looks like and I’m really happy that the legislature was able to do this.”

As part of the bill, the governor was given the power to name five members for the Board of Supervisors. DeSantis named the following people:

  • Martin Garcia, chair of the board
  • Bridget Ziegler, Sarasota County school board member and co-founder and former co-director of Moms for Liberty.
  • Brian Aungst Jr., attorney in Clearwater
  • Mike Sasso, attorney in Seminole County
  • Ron Peri, chairman and CEO of The Gathering USA

“The state of Florida is the new sheriff in town. You know, I got a lot on my plate. I can’t be running this, you know from the governor’s office. So we’ve created a state control board that is going to be responsible for governing this area,” he said of the five-member board.

The revamped district would be continued under a new name on June 1 and still have wide-ranging authority to levy property taxes, oversee water and sewer systems, roads, parking, a fire department and other infrastructure and issue bonds to pay for projects.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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About the Author:

Brenda Argueta is a digital journalist who joined ClickOrlando.com in March 2021. She graduated from UCF and returned to Central Florida after working in Colorado.