DeSantis’s New Disney World Board Pledges ‘a Lot of Changes’

NTD Newsroom
By NTD Newsroom
March 10, 2023US News
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DeSantis’s New Disney World Board Pledges ‘a Lot of Changes’
Magic Kingdom Park is pictured in this handout photo provided by Walt Disney World Resort, on Oct. 8, 2014. (Matt Stroshane/Walt Disney World Resort via Getty Images)

The newly appointed members of Walt Disney World’s new governing board met for the first time on March 8, pledging to make “a lot of changes” in the way the iconic entertainment resort will be overseen in the future.

“You will see a lot of changes that are going to occur, and many of those are because we have been fully mandated to implement those changes,” said Martin Garcia, the chair of the newly formed Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (CFTOD).

The board didn’t elaborate on what those changes might be, but board member Brian Aungst Jr. said, “This district is going to be about oversight, transparency, and accountability for all the citizens of Florida,” local NBC affiliate WESH 2 reported.

Some of the issues discussed at the meeting, which was held inside a hotel ballroom outside of Walt Disney World, were comparable to what “any other municipal government might deal with,” such as discussing bond ratings, how to request public records, and the need for additional staff, training, and equipment for local firefighters who serve the resort, according to DisneyDining.com.

However, more controversial measures were rumored to be under consideration, such as potentially prohibiting COVID-19 restrictions at the theme park and eliminating two Florida cities—Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista—which were created after the Florida legislature approved Disney’s self-governing status in 1967.

The new board came to be after Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed House Bill (HB) 9-B into law on Feb. 27.

The legislation gave DeSantis authority to appoint a five-member state-controlled board of supervisors to the district, approved by the state senate, and change the board’s name. The move effectively ended Disney’s self-governing status (pdf), which the legislation said “amounted to an unaccountable Corporate Kingdom.”

The board replaced the Reedy Creek Improvement District, first established in 1967 to act as Disney World’s self-government with board members that Disney appointed.

At the March 8 meeting, Garcia said that the main difference between the new and old boards was that the new one, appointed by DeSantis, “will be a broader constituency encompassing more than just a single company” and that it will also represent “workers and residents of surrounding communities,” The Associated Press (AP) reported.

“You didn’t elect us,” Garcia said, “but the people of Florida elected a governor who appointed us.” Garcia promised much broader representation, further explaining that the board’s constituency includes “everyone who works and plays in the district and lives in the district and lives in the state of Florida,” WDW News Today reported.

DeSantis’ and the Florida legislature’s aim to take over the Disney district began in March 2022 after Disney came out aggressively against Florida’s “Parental Rights in Education” bill (pdf), which was quickly dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay Bill” by its opponents.

The legislation bans classroom instruction about gender identity, sexual orientation, or topics that are age or developmentally inappropriate for children in kindergarten through third grade.

According to DeSantis, however, Disney’s response to the parental rights bill wasn’t the only reason for his intent to end its self-governing status.

“That was only a mild annoyance,” DeSantis told ClickOrlando.com. “I think that what we came to realize after that dust settled … was you clearly had a movement within the corporation itself … that said it’s their job or it’s their goal to inject a lot of this sexuality into the programming for young kids.”

He also stated that Disney should have Florida law imposed on it “just like it’s imposed on Universal Studios and Sea World,” and that “the municipal debt that’s been racked up will be paid by Disney, not by Florida taxpayers.”

“This is what accountability looks like,” he said.

In an interview with Orlando Business Journal before the board met, Josh D’Amaro, the chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, expressed a hopeful attitude toward the new board and district restructuring with a desire to “stay focused” and move forward, WDWinfo.com reported.

First emphasizing that the Reedy Creek Improvement District had maintained the highest standards for Disney’s infrastructure over the past 50-plus years, he went on to say, “We are hopeful the new Central Florida Tourism Oversight District will continue this excellent work and the new board will share our commitment to helping the local economy continue to flourish and support the ongoing growth of the resort and Florida’s tourism industry.”

“If that new board understands the value that gets created here and how it positively impacts the Central Florida community, I think they will be aligned with our vision and will carry on the Reedy Creek soul that’s been in place,” he said.

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