TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The new board controlling the special district that oversees Walt Disney World was stripped of nearly all its powers through an agreement made before the state took control of the district, lawyers for the new board said Wednesday.
In February, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law stripping the entertainment giant of its control over the special taxing district, the Reedy Creek Improvement District. The law changed the district’s name to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District and gave the governor power to appoint a new Board of Supervisors.
The state’s takeover came months after the governor clashed with Disney executives over the company’s opposition to Florida’s Parental Rights In Education legislation, the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill that later became law.
DeSantis picked five allies, including a donor, an evangelical minister and Bridget Ziegler, a Sarasota school board member and co-founder of Moms for Liberty, to oversee operations at Disney’s properties.
At the time, Jeff Vahle, the president of Walt Disney World Resort, said the company intended to “work within this new framework.”
During a legal presentation on Wednesday, the board was informed by its special counsel that before the state’s takeover, the previous board had approved a series of agreements to transfer nearly all the district’s powers to Disney for the next 30 years.
“I’ve never seen anything like this. The timing, circumstances and terms of the deal show me the intent was to circumvent the enabling act of this district and to bind the hands of this board and future boards,” said special counsel Daniel Langley.
The board voted Wednesday to hire two new law firms to help them challenge the agreements.
Chairman Martin Garcia suggested the legal challenge will face an uphill battle and could go before the Supreme Court.
This story is developing and will be updated.