State-run Disney governing board plans to countersue Disney
B-Roll video shoot with additional photography in Walt Disney World, June 2014

WDW B-Roll Shoot
The legal fight between Disney World and its special district's governing board is about to get even uglier.

The state-appointed Central Florida Tourism Oversight board announced their next move against Disney in what’s become a hostile legal battle: The new board plans to countersue Disney in state court.

“We didn’t sue Disney,” said new Chair Martin Garcia as the board authorized legal action at Monday’s special meeting. “Disney sued us. We have no choice now but to respond.”

The lawsuit has not been filed as of Monday morning.

Disney struck the first legal blow last week, suing Gov. Ron DeSantis for targeting The Walt Disney Co. and retaliating when Disney spoke out against the state’s Parental Rights in Education measure, known by critics as “Don’t Say Gay” law.

Disney’s federal lawsuit also named DeSantis’ five appointees on the new tourism board, including Garcia, as well as Meredith Ivey, who heads the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

Disney’s lawsuit came as the tourism board members voted to declare Disney’s agreements with the outgoing Reedy Creek Improvement District board invalid. Those agreements stripped a significant amount of power away from the incoming state-picked board.

“Disney, while we were meeting last week, sued this board to stop our efforts to improve the district and its operations. In essence, Disney is asking a federal court in Tallahassee to wrestle back the hands of time to 1967,” Garcia said, referring to the 1967 state law that gave Disney its own special district for Disney to build the infrastructure needed for the Magic Kingdom.

At the meeting, Garcia outlined how the state-run board is cleaning up the special district’s government by hiring a new corporate counsel without Disney ties and searching for a new district administrator among other measures.

Meanwhile, Ron Peri spoke out about the backlash he has received since DeSantis appointed him to the special district’s governing board. He said he receives daily hate mail and accused the press of vilifying him.

Nothing could have prepared me for this,” Peri said, adding he had never been sued before and his family enjoys Disney. “It is my hope — and I know it’s the hope of the board — that the actions that we take will ultimately wind up being better for everyone, Disney included.”

Disney’s lawsuit accused DeSantis of a “targeted campaign of government retaliation” as punishment for speaking out about the controversial law last year. Disney said the political revenge “threatens Disney’s business operations, jeopardizes its economic future in the region, and violates its constitutional rights.”

The 77-page lawsuit went on to say, “Governor DeSantis and his allies paid no mind to the governing structure that facilitated Reedy Creek’s successful development until one year ago, when the Governor decided to target Disney. There is no room for disagreement about what happened here: Disney expressed its opinion on state legislation and was then punished by the State for doing so.”

Disney’s lawsuit quotes DeSantis’ book, tweets by new board member Bridget Ziegler and officials’ public comments as Disney builds the case for how Republicans are punishing Disney.

State lawmakers voted last year to dissolve Reedy Creek, the special district run by a Disney-picked governing board to oversee the utilities, roads and emergency services that make up the sprawling Walt Disney World Resort.

Then in February, the Republican-majority Legislature approved a bill giving DeSantis the power to pick five new board members.

Disney is asking the Courts to overturn both laws in the lawsuit.

Before the new DeSantis-appointed board took over in March, Disney also went quietly on the offensive and approved a development agreement and restrictive covenants with the outgoing board that limit the new board’s power.

On the day Disney filed the lawsuit, the new Disney World governing board voted on a resolution calling those agreements invalid.

The fight between DeSantis and Disney has escalated in recent weeks as the new board accused Disney of refusing to work with them and of circumventing the state’s will.

DeSantis threatened to explore hotel taxes, toll roads, and even quipped about building a state prison outside Disney World.

State lawmakers are considering legislation that would open up Disney World monorails to state inspections for the first time.

But not all Republicans have supported DeSantis’ cultural war against Disney.

“We should be finding ways to support our job creators and turbocharge Florida’s economy,” said Sen. Joe Gruters, a Sarasota Republican, last week.

Before being caught in DeSantis’ crossfire, Disney World’s government infrastructure was certainly unique. The state granted Disney special control in 1967 as an incentive to build the Magic Kingdom in Florida.

Disney essentially has had control of building its own theme park empire and worked with its own special district government without having to go to the local municipalities. The Reedy Creek Special District has the power to issue tax-exempt bonds and levy taxes to pay for the major Disney World infrastructure projects.

The new law changed the name from Reedy Creek to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.

Gabrielle Russon

Gabrielle Russon is an award-winning journalist based in Orlando. She covered the business of theme parks for the Orlando Sentinel. Her previous newspaper stops include the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Toledo Blade, Kalamazoo Gazette and Elkhart Truth as well as an internship covering the nation’s capital for the Chicago Tribune. For fun, she runs marathons. She gets her training from chasing a toddler around. Contact her at [email protected] or on Twitter @GabrielleRusson .


  • corruption and abuse of power in Florida

    May 1, 2023 at 10:53 am

    Ron DeSantis in the GOP legislators are bordering on corruption and abuse of power

    I think the federal government should step in and conducted a complete investigation. And Ron DeSantis needs to be jailed as long as well as some of the GOP members.

    Enough is enough

    Now there’s new legislation that DeSantis is planning on signing that allows medical providers to pick and choose who they want to service in a medical emergency.

    This is not America. This is not the land of the free Florida has become the land of a fascist dictator with a fascist government.

  • Michael K

    May 1, 2023 at 11:02 am

    Poor little snowflakes. Look at that board and the public statements they’ve made in their drunken out for power and grievance. Give them a box of tissue and give them some other toy to destroy for petty political vengeance, like sargassum.

  • Richard Bruce

    May 1, 2023 at 11:06 am

    Disney is a business, not a government. If Disney wins, then Mar-a-Largo needs to sue the State and every other company to get the same arrangement. What’s to stop every homeowner to incorporate themselves to get the same self-governess deal that Disney has?

    • Darnell Hobbs

      May 1, 2023 at 11:23 am

      “What’s to stop every homeowner to incorporate themselves to get the same self-governess deal that Disney has?” W

      LOL, wait until you learn about these things in Florida called CDD’s. Statistically, you’re probably living under one right now.

      • Richard Bruce

        May 1, 2023 at 1:48 pm

        I do not live under a CDD. Comparision is incorrect.
        Community Development Districts are not controlled by a business, but by residents. Disney receives far more than a tax subsidy. I know of no other company in Florida that has such a self-governess structure. Disney will lose. They must follow the same rules as any other company in Florida.

        • Darnell Hobbs

          May 1, 2023 at 2:10 pm

          Community Development Districts are not controlled by a business, but by residents.

          You’re thinking of an HOA.

          A CDD is controlled by the developer, AKA, private business.

    • PeterH

      May 1, 2023 at 11:38 am

      1800 additional Florida businesses receive State subsidies! Disney is not alone but the return on Florida’s state subsidy investment benefits many Florida workers and Americans from around the globe.

    • Rob Desantos

      May 1, 2023 at 12:08 pm

      Oh Richard, you are completely uninformed about this whole thing. Idiot.

  • Ed Dot Com👍

    May 1, 2023 at 11:14 am

    Self government is better than state government when far right mad men and religious whackos run the show. Hopefully Disney wins. As for Orange Hitler at Mar-a-Lago… DeSantis should send his phoney baloney election police there to arrest the biggest election crook in US history. Mr. “I just need you to find more votes than we have.” Also caused a deadly riot so perhaps use those laws as well.

    • Richard Bruce

      May 1, 2023 at 2:00 pm

      So, you acknowledge that far right mad men and religious whackos can govern better than the state. Or, do only those you agree with can govern better?

  • Darnell Hobbs

    May 1, 2023 at 11:19 am

    Good luck with that!

    😂 😂 😂 😂 😂 😂 😂 😂 😂 😂 😂 😂 😂 😂

  • Rob Desantos

    May 1, 2023 at 12:07 pm

    Martin Garcia is nothing more than a partisan whore doing Ronny Dion’s bidding, and he’s in way over his head with this Disney “lawsuit” which will go nowhere.

  • SteveHC

    May 1, 2023 at 2:28 pm

    OMG DeSantis and his clueless henchmen continue to insist on making one dumb bad choice after another. These people clearly aren’t fit to run a public restroom let alone the District or worse yet the State of Florida. Ugh…

Comments are closed.


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704