Disney quietly entered into a contract with a Florida government board that seriously thwarts Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ plans to hand-pick an oversight board to manage property that Disney has controlled for decades.
When last we left DeSantis’s battle with Disney, the governor signed a bill that took control of the 25,000-acre Reedy Creek Improvement District away from Disney and put it into the hands of five supervisors hand-picked by the governor himself. The move was DeSantis’ response to Disney’s vocal opposition to Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill, known widely as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
DeSantis touted the legislation as a much-needed end to the “unaccountable Corporate Kingdom” reigned over by the Disney empire. However, DeSantis’ new Central Florida Tourism Oversight Board (the body that replaced the Reedy Creek Improvement District) is impotent due to Disney’s forward-thinking lawyers.
At the Oversight Board’s first meeting, member Ron Peri announced that weeks before DeSantis signed HB-9 into law, Disney and Reedy Creek entered into formal contracts that handed control of the district’s development rights and privileges over to the company. As a result, Peri explained, DeSantis’s newly-created board is left with almost none of the authority it boasted it would have.
Peri lamented Disney’s legal maneuver, which stripped the Oversight Board of any power to oversee:
I cannot tell you the level of my disappointment in Disney. I thought so much better of them. This essentially makes Disney the government. This board loses, for practical purposes, the majority of its ability to do anything beyond maintaining the roads and maintaining basic infrastructure.
The agreement dictates that the district is prohibited from using the name “Disney” or any related symbols without the company’s permission or risk being sued for damages. The agreement specifies that it will remain in place “until perpetuity.”
As a side matter, agreements that extend infinitely sometimes violate an arcane legal rule called the Rule Against Perpetuities (“RAP”) — but Disney’s lawyers include an additional clause that created a backup plan in the event RAP became problematic.
The contract included this sentence: “If the agreement is deemed to violate rules against perpetuity, it will be in effect until 21 years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of England’s King Charles III.”
As a result, the agreement could survive well into the future.
Peri called the agreement “an extremely aggressive overreach” and opined that the documents are invalid from their inception.
Disney released a statement saying:
“All agreements signed between Disney and the District were appropriate, and were discussed and approved in open, noticed public forums in compliance with Florida Government in the Sunshine law.”
DeSantis, meanwhile, reacted to Disney’s maneuver by saying, “The 11th-hour effort to undercut the will of Florida voters and that the contracts that were shoved through at the last minute are very likely void as a matter of law.”
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