DeSantis Appoints New Member to State Disney District Board

Wim De Gent
By Wim De Gent
June 2, 2023USshare
DeSantis Appoints New Member to State Disney District Board
An aerial view of the Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., on Feb. 8, 2023. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced his nomination of Charbel Barakat to the board of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, which oversees the Walt Disney World Resort.

Barakat is a Tampa lawyer with extensive legal experience in real-estate development.

He is currently the regional vice president and chief counsel for homebuilder giant D.R. Horton Inc., in addition to serving on the Florida Development Corporation. He is also the chairman of the Volume Builders Council for the Florida Home Builders Association.

Barakat is vice president of the Tampa Bay chapter of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group. He also works as a commissioner for the Judicial Nominating Commission of the Second District Court of Appeal.

Barakat said he was “honored” by the nomination.

“I’m honored to be asked by Gov. DeSantis to serve the people of Florida,” Barakat said in a press release.

“I hope to help bring additional efficiency, safety, and accountability to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District so that it may better serve the common good,” he added.

Barakat’s appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate. He will be replacing Michael Sasso, an Orlando attorney who resigned last week, the day before his wife, Meredith Sasso, was appointed by DeSantis to the Florida Supreme Court.

Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board Chairman Martin Garcia was excited to have Barakat join the board.

“We are thrilled to have Charbel join the district board,” Garcia said in a statement. “His experience will help the district comply with all applicable Florida laws, develop new governance policies, create more financial transparency, evaluate new urban planning strategies, and promote more prosperity for more people in central Florida.”

The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board was brought to life in February this year, after DeSantis signed a bill restructuring the district.

The board soon discovered that before the new district went into effect, the old district board, whose members were always hand-picked by Disney, had transferred most of its powers and responsibilities to the Disney company itself. The new board claimed that the agreement was unlawful.

As DeSantis and the board sought to void the agreement, Disney decided to file a lawsuit in April alleging “government retaliation.” As a new member of the board, Barakat will likely be included in the lawsuit.

In the meantime, the tourism oversight board has countersued in state court.

The feud began last year after Disney, beset by significant pressure from the LGBT-lobby, publicly denounced DeSantis’s Parental Rights in Education Act, which prohibits sex education in public schools for kindergarten through the third grade. It has been inaccurately framed by opponents as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

In retaliation, DeSantis moved to strip Disney’s special status it had enjoyed since 1967, which included the power to create and enforce its own zoning laws, building codes, as well as levy taxes.

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