Governor Ron DeSantis, seeking to gain an upper hand in his battle with The Walt Disney Co., on Monday ordered an investigation into the company’s move to retain extensive control over its sprawling Florida theme park property.
DeSantis requested an investigation from the state’s inspector general into whether the Disney-controlled board of the Reedy Creek Improvement District adhered to “civil and criminal laws and ethics requirements” in entering into a long-term development agreement with the company before the state legislature took control.
“These collusive and self-dealing arrangements aim to nullify the recently passed legislation, undercut Florida’s legislative process, and defy the will of Floridians,” DeSantis wrote in a letter to chief inspector general Melinda Miguel.
Disney had said little earlier this year as DeSantis, upset over the company’s opposition last year to a parental rights bill dubbed by detractors as the “don’t say gay” law, championed a legislative effort to strip the company of control over the Reedy Creek district. That is the self-governing entity that was set up in 1967, essentially allowing the company to control development, infrastructure and bond financing on its property.
After the state passed a bill and DeSantis signed, he quickly moved to install a new five member board to the district, newly named the Central Florida Tourism Oversight Board. “There’s a new sheriff in town,” said DeSantis, who is expected to run for president in 2024.
But last week, at a public meeting, new board members said that they discovered that the previous board’s development agreement with Disney neutralizes them from doing anything “beyond maintain the roads and maintain basic infrastructure,” Ron Peri, one of the district’s new board members, told the Orlando Sentinel.
Disney did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The company last week issued a statement saying, “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.”
Disney also is having its annual shareholder meeting on Monday. In a pre-recorded video kicking off the event, CEO Bob Iger said, “We are so proud of our legacy here in central Florida,” in what appeared to be an indirect reference to the standoff with DeSantis. The company is touting the expansion of attractions as well as a new Tron ride.
DeSantis also called for an investigation of whether the previous Reedy Creek board were qualified for their posts, the involvement of Disney employees in their actions, and any financial gain by Walt Disney World, among other things. The governor’s office also has said that additional legislative options are possible.