Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s handpicked Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (CFTOD) board is giving Walt Disney World a taste of the real world, and needless to say, the Magic Kingdom isn’t happy about the developments.
On Wednesday, the board hired a new administrator, Glen Gilzean, Jr., to run the former Reedy Creek district and created a code enforcement system that could impose fines against Disney should it fail to enforce its “resolutions, regulations, rules, and codes,” according to WDWNT.com.
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Resolution No. 642 states that the District “currently lacks code enforcement procedures and mechanisms.”
“This resolution creates the enforcement citation program to provide a non-exclusive method to enforce its resolutions, regulations, rules, and codes,” the staff report reads. “The enforcement citation program makes violations of its resolutions, regulations, rules, and codes subject to one of four classes of fines unless a particular resolution, regulation, rule, or code provisions designate a different fine amount.”
In addition to the “enforcement citation program,” the resolution allows for the creation of “a special magistrate position and appeal procedures.”
“The special magistrate must be a licensed attorney not from the General Counsel’s office,” WDWNT reports. “The program allows for the imposition of fines, liens, and foreclosures of liens. There can also be appeals of the special magistrate’s decision to the circuit court.”
Code enforcement officers would be designated by Gilzean and would have the ability to investigate violations and issue citations. Training for the officers would come from the human resources division and would need to be approved by the District administrator. Violations would carry $75, $150, $250, and $500 fines, depending upon how it is classed.
The move by DeSantis’s board comes just two weeks after Disney launched a federal lawsuit in Tallahassee that accuses DeSantis and the CFTOD board of a “targeted campaign of government retaliation,” against the company, the Orlando Sentinel notes.
The board countersued last week, and, on Monday, Disney expanded its suit, citing quotes from the governor, who said the woke media giant has “not made a peep” about divisive issues, such as Florida’s Parental Rights in Education law, “since our skirmish last year.”
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It was in part because of this lawsuit that Gilzean’s salary was bumped up to $400,000, the Sentinel reports.
While most businesses would expect to be fined for code violations, responses from Disney supporters to Resolution No. 642 have been predictably over-the-top.
Rick Foglesong, author of “Married to the Mouse,” fears the special magistrate could be “weaponized” against Walt Disney World. According to the Disney historian, the magistrate could go so far as to shut down rides or close other attractions.
“Will this board push back against DeSantis if DeSantis tells them to do something like [that]?” Foglesong asked, adding that it was unclear if provisions were in place to “prevent the kind of hanky panky I’ve been fearful of. … But you’d think [Disney] would see a threat here.”
Meanwhile, Disney CEO Bob Iger is framing the company’s ongoing feud with DeSantis as a First Amendment issue.
“Regarding Florida, I have a few things I want to say about that bill,” Iger said on the company’s Q2 earnings call on Wednesday, according to Variety. “First of all, the case that we filed last month made our position and the facts very clear. This is about one thing and one thing only, and that’s retaliating against us for taking a position about pending legislation. And we believe that in us taking that position, we are merely exercising our right to free speech. Also, this is not about special privileges, or a level playing field, or Disney in any way using its leverage around the state of Florida.”
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Iger pointed to Florida’s many “special districts.”
“But since there’s been a lot said about special districts and the arrangement that we had, I want to set the record straight on that, too,” he said. “There are about 2,000 special districts in Florida, and most were established to foster investment in development. We were one of them. It basically made it easier for us, and others by the way, to do business in Florida.”
“And we built a business that employs, as we’ve said before, over 75,000 people and attracts tens of millions of people to the state,” he continued. “So while it’s easy to say that the Reedy Creek special district, which was established for us over 50 years ago, benefited us, it’s misleading to not also consider how much Disney benefited the state of Florida. And we’re not the only company operating a special district. I mentioned the Daytona Speedway has one, a prominent retirement community the Villages, and there are countless others. So if the goal here is leveling the playing field and the uniform application of the law, government oversight of special districts needs to occur or be applied to all special districts.”
He called DeSantis’s argument that Disney must pay its fair share of taxes a “false narrative” and accused the governor of “retaliation.”
“There’s also a false narrative that we’ve been fighting to protect tax breaks,” Iger said. “But in fact, we’re the largest taxpayer in Central Florida, paying over $1 billion in state and local taxes last year alone. We pay more taxes, specifically more real estate taxes, as a result of that special district, and we all know there was no concerted effort to do anything to dismantle what was once called Reedy Creek special district until we spoke out on the legislation. So this is plainly a matter of retaliation, while the rest of the Florida special districts continue operating basically as they were.”
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“I think it’s also important for us to say our primary goal has always been to be able to continue to do exactly what we’ve been doing there, which is investing in Florida,” he added. “We’re proud of the tourism industry that we created and we want to continue delivering the best possible experience for guests going forward.”
The CEO said Disney wants to expand its investment in Florida if only DeSantis will let it.
“We never wanted, and we certainly never expected, to be in the position of having to defend our business interests in federal court, particularly having such a terrific relationship with the state as we’ve had for more than 50 years,” he said. “And as I mentioned on our shareholder call, we have a huge opportunity to continue to invest in Florida.”
“I noted that our plans are to invest $17 billion over the next 10 years, which is what the state should want us to do,” Iger stated. “We operate responsibly. We pay our fair share of taxes. We employ thousands of people and, by the way, we pay them substantially above the minimum wage dictated by the state of Florida. We also provide them with great benefits and free education. So I’m going to finish what is obviously kind of a long answer by asking one question: Does the state want us to invest more, employ more people and pay more taxes, or not?”
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