Disney signed surprise agreement that limits new board's power, officials say

The newly-appointed board for the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District – formerly known as the Reedy Creek Independent District – and governs Walt Disney World and its properties, said Wednesday that that previous board signed an unexpected decades-long agreement with Disney, effectively stripping the new board of its power.

"I cannot tell you the level of my disappointment in Disney. I thought so much better of them," said Board member Ron Peri .

"This essentially makes Disney the government. This board loses for practical purposes, the majority of its ability to do anything," Peri said.

Under the terms of the agreement, the district is prohibited from using the name "Disney" or any symbols associated with the theme park resort without the company’s permission, nor can it use the likeness of Mickey Mouse, other Disney characters or other intellectual property in any manner. The company can sue for damages for any violations, and the agreement is in effect until perpetuity, according to the declaration.

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, the declaration said.

It marks the latest battle in a months-long fight between Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Disney over the signing of the Parents Rights in Education, which limits discussion or lessons on gender identity or sexual orientation in elementary school. 

In February, DeSantis signed another bill that renamed the Reedy Creek Improvement District and removed the previous board. The governor then appointed five new people to the board.

"Today, the corporate kingdom finally comes to an end," DeSantis said at the time.

Board member Brian Aungst Jr. said the board has hired attorneys and lawyers to determine how to move forward. 

"I think there is definitely an argument that those documents are void because they lack consideration. They lack a public purpose," he said.

In its own statement, Walt Disney World said, "All agreements signed between Disney and the District were appropriate, and were discussed and approved in open, noticed public forums in compliance with Florida's Government in the Sunshine law."

"An initial review suggests these agreements may have significant legal infirmities that would render the contracts void as a matter of law. We are pleased the new Governor-appointed board retained multiple financial and legal firms to conduct audits and investigate Disney's past behavior," the Governor's Office said in a statement.

The Board's next meeting is scheduled for April 12.

Also on Wednesday, Disney Cast Members voted to approve a new union contract with the company, which would provide immediate raises to at least $17 an hour and retroactive pay for thousands of employees.

The new agreement includes a minimum $18 an hour by 2024 and pay increases each year of the contract.