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Disney’s last-minute deal to strip power from DeSantis-appointed board looks to King Charles

The governor’s attempted state takeover of Walt Disney’s sprawling Florida park campus hits a roadblock after the previous board approved an 11th hour ‘royal clause’

Alex Woodward
New York
Thursday 30 March 2023 16:01 BST
White House condemns 'utterly wrong' expansion of Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' law

Disney World may have blocked a board appointed by Ron DeSantis from making major changes to its sprawling Florida parks thanks to a last-minute clause invoking King Charles III.

Before a governing board was filled with hand-picked DeSantis loyalists, the previous board members approved an 11th-hour change that gives Disney the final say “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”.

The clause follows an all-out political attack on the entertainment giant by the Florida governor following the company’s public opposition to what opponents have called the “Don’t Say Gay” law, which LGBT+ advocates warn will have a discriminatory and chilling effect in state schools.

Following weeks of pressure from advocates and Disney employees urging company leadership to publicly lobby against it, then-CEO Bob Chapek announced last year that the company would oppose the bill and suspend its political donations, after giving tens of thousands of dollars to GOP officials.

After Disney’s public objection, Governor DeSantis and members of his administration lashed out at the company, igniting a feud that escalated to Republican threats to punish Disney’s operations in the state and ultimately resulted in his administration taking control of them.

Last month, the governor signed a bill that amounts to a state takeover of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, now the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, made up of conservative activists and DeSantis loyalists.

But the last-minute clause before the new board took effect hands a bulk of the board’s power to Disney.

So-called “royal clauses” have often been used to circumvent rules against contracts that last in perpetuity.

Any changes will be “subject to [Disney’s] prior review and comment” to “ensure consistency with the overall design and theming” of the company’s park, according to the document, first reported by the Orlando Sentinel.

“This board loses, for practical purposes, the majority of its ability to do anything beyond maintain the roads and maintain basic infrastructure,” according to DeSantis-appointed board member Ron Peri, a right-wing Christian pastor with a history of anti-LGBT+ remarks.

The Reedy Creek Improvement District was first created in 1967 to give Disney control of its land use and zoning rules and operate its own public services, including water, sanitation, emergency services and infrastructure maintenance.

With Disney as the primary landowner for the district, the company is largely responsible for all costs of those municipal services that otherwise would fall under the jurisdiction of county and local governments, including the taxpayers who live within them, an arrangement that essentially eases the burden from neighbouring counties and places it on one of the largest companies in the world. In effect, Disney taxes itself to foot the district’s bill for all of its municipal needs.

“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 in the Sunshine’ law,” according to a statement from Disney.

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