DeSantis’ Oversight Board Lawyers Hit Back & Argue Disney World’s Reedy Creek Deal Was “Illegal and Unconstitutional”

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At a Board of Supervisors meeting this morning, the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District presented its argument against agreements between the District and Walt Disney World. The arguments against Walt Disney World and the agreements in place essentially turned the ballroom into a courtroom as lawyers presented something akin to an opening argument. In this article, we will cover the arguments made by the lawyers at the meeting.

David H. Thompson, a lawyer with Cooper & Kirk, opened up by saying that Disney World has enjoyed a sweetheart deal for more than 50 years, but that DeSantis sought to end “special treatment”. Thompson said that Disney engaged in an “illegal” and “unconstitutional” effort to extend the life of its “sweetheart deal”, but said that “Disney’s efforts are riddled with illegality and they will not withstand judicial scrutiny”. So, where do the Board’s lawyers say that Disney went wrong? Let’s recap.

Before we jump in, we should note that the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID) and Walt Disney World are different entities. That said, some of the quotes that we will use will seemingly use Disney to mean RCID. In our understanding of the functionality of RCID, it was not on “Disney” to take action such as public notice, but rather on RCID to do so. That said, there is no denying that Disney and RCID often would work in harmony, so while it’s probably technically wrong to lay blame on Disney’s shoulders, that’s exactly how it will read. Continuing on.

Snail Mail Argument

Out of the many arguments presented by lawyers, the main argument centered around the former Reedy Creek Board not mailing out notice of a public meeting to residents impacted by the Development Agreement. The lawyers noted that public notice was given in the Orlando Sentinel newspaper, but that there were no records of snail mail being sent out to impacted residents. Lawyers pointed to the Florida Statue pictured below, and said that Disney did not follow the procedure as outlined in (2)(a) “Notice of intent to consider a development agreement shall also be mailed to all affected property owners before the first public hearing”.

Thompson said by Disney and the Reedy Creek Improvement District failing to send out snail mail “dooms their entire effort”. Lawyers say that without a mailed notice, it’s as if the action taken at the “facade of a meeting” never occurred.

Development Agreement

Another argument put forth by Thompson is that the Reedy Creek Improvement District did not have the necessary procedures required by Florida law to adopt a Development Agreement such as the one at the heart of the matter. Thompson said that a failure by RCID to have procedures in place means that the contracts are “null and void”.

The Development Agreement in question was finalized earlier this year before DeSantis’ hand-picked Board of Supervisors took the reigns. The Development Agreement signs over power to Walt Disney World to control a majority of the Reedy Creek Improvement District land. Essentially, Disney would have the final say on whether or not the renamed Central Florida Tourism Oversight District would be able to develop much of the land that belongs to the District. Of course, the majority of land owned within the district boundaries is owned by The Walt Disney Company, and would likely be outside of the scope of the discussion of what the District wants to develop.

Efforts to Evade Public Policy

Thompson, in an ongoing list of grievances, says that Disney’s Development Agreement with the Reedy Creek Improvement District is a “blatant and obvious effort to evade HB9”. He argues that the contracts attempt to evade public policy, which is not allowed under Florida law. In closing, Thompson says that Disney has taken from the District for decades and offered nothing in return. Thompson said that “Disney engaged in a caper worthy of Scrooge McDuck to try and evade Florida law. Its efforts are illegal and they will not stand”.

Unearthed Emails & Unconscionability

Another lawyer for the District is former Justice of the Florida Supreme Court Alan Lawson. Lawson said he has never seen “a more blatant and hostile attempt on a scale like this to openly thwart the law”. He argued said that RCID attempting to contract away its powers was “brash, breathtaking, and unlawful”.

Thompson returned to present his argument on unconscionability within the dealings and agreements. In one particularly interesting segment, Thompson provides emails that he says that they unearthed in their investigation. Internal emails, Thompson argues, show that Disney attempted to obscure their involvement in the drafting of the Developer Agreement. Thompson acknowledges that John McGowan is the lawyer for RCID, but that he also works for Disney. A LinkedIn page for McGowan says that he is Chief Counsel for Walt Disney World. Here are the screenshots of the slides presented by Thompson.

In summary, the District’s lawyers expect that the Development Agreement and restrictive covenant will be recognized as null and void. As part of DeSantis’ full court press against Disney, he is utilizing the rubber stamp Legislature to pass amendments to nullify the agreements argued against by District lawyers today.

Amendment Officially Filed to Nullify Reedy Creek Development Agreement With Disney World

After yesterday’s press conference by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, legislative action has now officially begun to nullify the RCID Development Agreement

Disney has not responded to a request for comment as of publish time.

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