By Steve Contorno and Kit Maher, CNN
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday teased future, unspecified action against Disney after the entertainment giant appeared to thwart his attempts at a takeover of its special governing powers.
“There’s a lot of little back-and-forths going on now with the state taking control, but rest assured, you know, you ain’t seen nothing yet,” the Republican governor told a crowd in Smyrna, Georgia. “There’s more to come in that regard.”
The comments come a day after DeSantis allies on the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board — the body that oversees the land in and around Disney’s Orlando-area theme parks — unveiled that the company had quietly reached an agreement with the outgoing board that turned over most of its governing powers to Disney. The new board hired outside legal counsel as it weighs its options to claw back its authority.
Yet, DeSantis on Thursday continued to claim victory over Disney in a dispute that first began last year when the company vowed to help overturn a new law that limited the instruction of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools. DeSantis responded by vowing to strip the company of its longstanding power to tax, borrow and build infrastructure projects in Central Florida in an area known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District.
“I don’t know that it’s the appropriate use of shareholder resources to be shilling for gender ideology in kindergarten, but nevertheless, that’s what they decided to do,” DeSantis said.
In February, DeSantis signed a bill that removed all the Disney-aligned board members and gave him the power to name their replacements. The new board took over in early March — a month after the outgoing board had already moved to turn over oversight of development to Disney and gave the company veto authority over any public project in the district.
“They basically got everything they wanted for the many decades they’ve been operating in Florida — until now, because now there’s a new sheriff in town,” DeSantis said at Thursday’s event.
DeSantis’ office on Thursday declined to say when the governor discovered Disney maneuvered to salvage its special powers.
Despite his upbeat take on the latest developments, DeSantis on Thursday spoke less about his battle with Disney than he has in previous speeches on his recent book tour. The saga typically occupies a prominent space in his remarks — often with a lengthy tale about his Disney World wedding — and it’s the subject of an entire chapter of his new book.
Now, if Disney gets its way, it will be decades before DeSantis and his successors gain significant power over the entertainment company.
Under the agreement, quietly approved on February 8 as Florida lawmakers met in special session to hand DeSantis control of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, Disney will maintain control over much of the district for 30 years. Lawyers for the new board also said Disney has veto authority over any public project in the district.
“The lack of consideration, the delegation of legislative authority to a private corporation, restriction of the Board’s ability to make legislative decisions, and giving away public rights without compensation for a private purpose, among other issues, warrant the new Board’s actions and direction to evaluate these overreaching documents and determine how best the new Board can protect the public’s interest in compliance with Florida Law,” the board’s legal team, Fishback Dominick LLP, Cooper & Kirk PLLC, Lawson Huck Gonzalez PLLC, Waugh Grant PLLC and Nardella & Nardella PLLC, said in a statement.
Another provision prevents the new board from using any of its “fanciful characters” until “21 years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles III, king of England,” according to a copy of the deal included in the February 8 meeting packet.
“This essentially makes Disney the government,” board member Ron Peri said during a meeting of the new board on Wednesday. “This board loses, for practical purposes, the majority of its ability to do anything beyond maintaining the roads and maintaining basic infrastructure.”
On Thursday, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office sent a records request to the district and former board members asking for documents and communications related to the February 8 vote. In a letter to the former board members, Moody’s office warned of “civil and criminal penalties” for not turning over any responsive records.
Disney on Thursday did not respond to requests for details on the arrangement, but on Wednesday the company stood by its actions.
“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,” the company said.
Documents for the February 8 meeting show it was noticed in the Orlando Sentinel as required by law.
This story has been updated with additional details.
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