Gov. Ron DeSantis’ handpicked board overseeing Disney World’s government services is gearing up for a potential legal battle over a 30-year development agreement they say effectively renders them powerless to manage the entertainment giant’s future growth in Central Florida.
Ahead of an expected state takeover, the Walt Disney Co. quietly pushed through the pact and restrictive covenants that would tie the hands of future board members for decades, according to a legal presentation by the district’s lawyers on Wednesday.
The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District’s new Board of Supervisors voted to bring in outside legal firepower to examine the agreement, including a conservative Washington, D.C., law firm that has defended several of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ culture war priorities.
“We’re going to have to deal with it and correct it,” board member Brian Aungst Jr. said. “It’s a subversion of the will of the voters and the Legislature and the governor. It completely circumvents the authority of this board to govern.”
Disney defended the agreements.
“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 unsigned company statement read.
DeSantis’ office could not immediately be reached for comment.
The previous board, which was known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District and controlled by Disney, approved the agreement on Feb. 8, the day before the Florida House voted to put the governor in charge.
Board members held a public meeting that day but spent little time discussing the document before unanimously approving it in a brief meeting.
The agreement allows Disney to build projects at the highest density and the right to sell or assign those development rights to other district landowners without the board having any say, according to the presentation by the district’s new special legal counsel.
Isaac Perlmutter, the famously frugal Marvel Entertainment chairman who unsuccessfully worked to shake up the Walt Disney Company’s board in the past year, has been laid off as part of a cost-cutting campaign.
Disney confirmed the move. Mr. Perlmutter, 80, was told by phone on Wednesday that Marvel Entertainment, a small division centered on consumer products and run separately from Marvel Studios, was redundant and would be folded into larger Disney business units, according to two Disney executives briefed on the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive personnel matter.
On Monday, Disney started to eliminate 7,000 jobs, about 4 percent of its global total, as part of $5.5 billion in cuts intended to improve Disney’s financial results and position the company for streaming-fueled growth.
Mr. Perlmutter, known as Ike, could not immediately be reached for comment.
An irascible and unrelenting executive, Mr. Perlmutter has been seen as a distraction inside Disney for more than a decade — most recently when he pushed for a friend, the activist investor Nelson Peltz, to join the Disney board.
Mr. Perlmutter contacted Disney board members and senior Disney executives six times from August to November to push for Mr. Peltz to join the board, according to a securities filing. When he was rebuffed, Mr. Peltz started a proxy battle to put himself on the board, saying he would cut costs, revamp Disney’s streaming business and clean up the company’s messy succession planning.