US state of Florida assumes control of Disney World's self-governing district

Thursday, March 2, 2023

A sign outside the Reedy Creek Improvement District office in 2021.
Image: Asher Heimermann.

On Monday, Florida governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill assuming state control of a board overseeing the Reedy Creek Improvement District, Walt Disney World's self-governing area.

The five board members, who supervise government services in the district, are now to be appointed by DeSantis himself.

The Republican governor said he will appoint: to the chairmanship, Tampa attorney Martin Garcia; Bridget Ziegler (the wife of state Republican Party chairman Christian Ziegler); lawyers Brian Aungst and Mike Sasso; and Ron Peri, whose ministry The Guardian said "espouses Christian nationalism".

Appointments made by the governor are subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

At the bill signing in nearby Lake Buena Vista, DeSantis proclaimed: "Today the corporate kingdom finally comes to an end [...] There’s a new sheriff in town, and accountability will be the order of the day."

The new law also renames the district to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District and removes the district's authority to be able to approve construction of a stadium, airport, or nuclear power plant.

DeSantis and Disney clashed last year over the company's opposition to the Florida Parental Rights in Education Act. Called "Don’t Say Gay" by its opponents, the law forbade schools from teaching kindergarten to third grade students about gender identity and sexuality.

Florida created the special district in 1967, effectively giving control of local services, such as sewage, zoning, and fire prevention, to the Walt Disney Company.

Disney World has the most employees of any central Florida entity, with 75,000 workers. The Themed Entertainment Association stated 36.2 million people visited it in 2021.

According to the BBC, DeSantis is likely to seek the US presidency in the 2024 election.