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HomeEntertainmentWhile Disney outsmarts DeSantis, the Florida governor calls for special district investigations

While Disney outsmarts DeSantis, the Florida governor calls for special district investigations


Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is calling for an investigation into an agreement that transferred powers from Disney’s now-dissolved special district back to the company before the state took control of the board.

In a letter to Superintendent General Melinda Miguel, DeSantis says the deal has “serious legal flaws” and questions whether it is valid under “Florida civil and criminal laws and ethics requirements.” He points to “insufficient notice” before the deal was closed, “improper delegation of powers” and “ethical violations, such as conflicts of interest and self-dealing”.

The letter was sent in response to DeSantis and his allies on the board learning that Disney quietly pushed through an agreement in February that essentially renders the new board installed by the governor powerless beyond the ability to build roads and other basic infrastructure. to maintain. The 30-year pact includes approval to build another theme park and restrictions preventing the DeSantis-controlled oversight board from making changes to Disney’s sprawling property without obtaining the company’s approval.

The feud began last year when Disney froze political donations in the state in response to the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, which bans discussion of common identity and sexual orientation in the classroom for young students. DeSantis retaliated by signing legislation dissolving independent special districts created before 1968. The privileges conferred by special tax district status give Disney privileges of self-government, including borrowing money for infrastructure projects by issuing bonds, host exemption, or regulations and fees associated with emergency services and development planning. The district was kept in place with a board handpicked by DeSantis, in part because terminating it could have had huge ripple effects on the neighboring counties of Orange and Osceola, which would inherit more than $1 billion in Disney debt.

But before the governor took office, the former board of trustees in public meetings approved an agreement transferring control of Disney’s future development planning to the company. At its first meeting on Wednesday, the new board voted to hire outside legal counsel to examine the agreement.

“These collusive and self-acting arrangements are designed to overturn recently passed legislation, undermine Florida’s legislative process, and defy the will of the Floridians,” Mr. DeSantis Monday in the letter. “Any legal or ethical violations must be referred to the appropriate authorities.”

DeSantis says there should be a “thorough review and investigation” of the former board’s qualifications, as well as any “involvement of Walt Disney World employees and agents” or “financial gain or advantage obtained by” the company in adopting the pact. He states that any violation should be “referred to appropriate authorities”.

Disney has maintained the deal has a solid legal basis. It said in a statement last week, “All agreements signed between Disney and the district were appropriate and were discussed and approved in open, noted public forums consistent with the Florida government’s Sunshine Act.” While a deal with Disney was discussed at the meeting last week, the board is likely to challenge the agreement in court.

Asked at an annual shareholder meeting Monday about steps being taken to protect shareholders from the looming legal battle, CEO Bob Iger emphasized the economic importance of the company’s operations in the state. He revealed plans to invest more than $17 billion in Walt Disney World over the next ten years.

“Those investments, we estimate, will create 13,000 new Disney jobs and thousands of other indirect jobs, and they will also attract more people to the state and generate more taxes,” Iger said. “And so our point on this is that any action that supports these efforts simply to retaliate against a position the company has taken sounds not only anti-business, but anti-Florida, and I’ll leave it at that.”

The statements were the first from Iger or the company to directly address Disney’s feud with DeSantis. Disney has about 75,000 employees in the state. It appears the company is willing to use its position as the state’s largest taxpayer and driver of big tourist dollars to defend the theme park’s autonomy.

Iger also supported Disney’s decision to criticize Florida’s passage of the controversial education bill. He said it was in the company’s best interest to take a position because it “directly affects[ed] our company and our people” in a nod to former CEO Bob Chapek’s slow and muted response to the law, which led workers to go on strike.

“Those who remain silent still bear the taint of indifference in some ways,” Iger said, pointing to companies that remained silent on human rights issues during the Civil War and World War II. “So as long as I’m working, I’ll continue to be guided by a sense of decency and respect and trust our instinct that when we factor in, we factor in because the issue is really relevant to our business and the people who matter to us. to work.”

Disney did not respond to a request for comment.

Caitlin Huston contributed to this report.

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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