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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis vowed that he will be taking action against Disney after attorneys for his newly appointed board that oversees the governance of Walt Disney World discovered this week that the old board quietly signed an agreement that transferred its power to Disney.
The old board signed the agreement to transfer its power to the company on February 8, and the agreement was recorded with the Orange County Comptroller on February 9 — the same day that the Florida House passed legislation that renamed the Reedy Creek Improvement District to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District and removed Disney’s self-appointed board and replaced it with a board appointed by the governor.
“There’s a lot of little back-and-forth going on now with the state control,” DeSantis said during a book stop tour in Smyrna, Georgia, late this week. “But rest assured — you ain’t seen nothing yet. There’s more to come in that regard.”
News 6 WKMG reported that the discovery was made by attorneys who were hired by the new board. The special counsel also discovered that the old board used a common law property rule known as the “rule against perpetuities” to extend how long Disney has control of the powers.
The rule “states that no interest in land is good unless it must vest, if at all, not later than twenty-one years after some life in being at the creation of the interest,” according to Cornell Law School.
Disney then invoked a “Royal lives clause,” which tried to extend the length of the contract for as long as possible by tying it to the lineage of the Royal family.
The document signed by the old board and Disney said, “[T]his Declaration shall continue in effect until twenty one (21) years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles III, King of England living as of the date of this Declaration.”
“I cannot tell you the level of my disappointment in Disney. I thought so much better of them,” said board member Ron Peri. “This essentially makes Disney the government. This board loses, for practical purposes, the majority of its ability to do anything beyond maintain the roads and maintain basic infrastructure.”
“I mean, I don’t know what else to say,” Peri added. “I think these documents are void ab initio, I think they were an extremely aggressive overreach, and I’m very disappointed that they’re here.”
The new board has retained legal counsel as they prepare to fight Disney in court over the matter.
“On the day that the legislation was passed by the Florida House, the former board and Disney entered into a development agreement and deed restrictions that essentially stripped most of the governing authority of the district and also made certain promises and concessions to Disney for many, many years out into the future,” said board member Brian Aungst, Jr. “They have tried to take that away from this board, the ability to provide that oversight, and we’re not gonna let that stand.”
Disney claimed in a statement that their actions were in full compliance with Florida law.
“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,” DeSantis’ office said in a statement. “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.”
The Florida Attorney General’s Office ordered Thursday that former members of the Reedy Creek Improvement District must turn over communications they had with The Walt Disney Company regarding the agreement that was made.
The Attorney General’s office sent the following letter to the former members of the Disney-appointed board:
I write to advise you of the attached public records request, which the Office of the Attorney General submitted to the entity formerly known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District (the “District”) under Chapter 119 of the Florida Statutes. It is likely, if not certain, that you possess records responsive to this request, which would include emails and text messages sent on personal devices or accounts if they were “made or received pursuant to law or ordinance or in connection with the transaction of official business by” the District. See § 119.011(12), Fla. Stat.
To the extent you possess responsive records that are not in the custody or control of the District, this letter advises you of your legal obligation to retain copies and to provide the records to the District as soon as possible. See § 119.10, Fla. Stat. (discussing applicable civil and criminal penalties for violations of Chapter 119).
The Attorney General’s office sent an email to the targeted individuals instructing them to “provide copies of all emails, text messages, and other correspondence from or to employees, board members, or other affiliates of the Reedy Creek Improvement District regarding the following topic: Documents discussing agreements, covenants, or similar documents approved or considered by the Board of Supervisors on February 8, 2023.”
“Please limit your search to documents discussing an intention or goal of circumventing, avoiding, frustrating, mitigating, or otherwise attempting to avoid the effects of anticipated actions by the Florida Governor and Florida Legislature,” the email continued. “If you believe that individuals no longer affiliated with the Reedy Creek Improvement District may possess responsive public records that are not in your custody or control, please advise how the Attorney General’s Office may be of assistance.”
The email said that the records needed to be turned over at the fastest speed possible.
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