Ron DeSantis

DeSantis wants to end Disney worker free park passes

In a fresh turn of events involving Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis, his selected representatives for the board responsible for overseeing Disney World’s governing district have embarked on a new confrontation with the company. This time, the issue revolves around the provision of complimentary passes and discounts to district employees.

Members of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District’s board have formally lodged a complaint with the state Inspector General. They contend that the previous practice of offering season passes, along with discounts on accommodations, merchandise, food, and beverages to district employees, as arranged by their Disney-friendly predecessors, constitutes questionable privileges.

Highlighting the matter, the board points out that the previous administration, which had affiliations with Disney, provided around $2.5 million worth of discounts and passes to district employees and their families just last year. This arrangement, they argue, seemed to serve Disney’s interests by channeling funds back to the company, all while the district bore the financial burden.

Although attempts were made to reach Disney for comment, no response was received to the email. Similarly, the board’s spokesperson did not provide the letter sent to the Inspector General, who investigates issues of fraud, mismanagement, waste, and abuse.

The situation draws a parallel to employee benefits more than a potential taxpayer scam. Richard Foglesong, an emeritus professor at Rollins College, likens this to university professors receiving perks such as free athletic event passes or tuition waivers for family members. Foglesong, who authored a comprehensive book on Disney World’s governance, “Married to the Mouse: Walt Disney World and Orlando,” suggests that the characterization may need to be reconsidered.

Interestingly, the complaint from DeSantis’ appointees coincides with an ethical challenge faced by the district administrator they had installed in May. Glen Gilzean, who now earns $400,000 annually in his role, also serves as the chair of the Florida Commission on Ethics. A recent legal opinion from the commission clarified that he cannot simultaneously hold a position on their board and work for the district, as public employees are prohibited from such dual roles.

This clash between DeSantis and Disney stems from a prior dispute. Last year, Disney publicly opposed a state law that prohibited classroom teachings on sexual orientation and gender identity in the early grades. In response, DeSantis took control of the district through legislative action, appointing a new board to oversee services for the expansive theme parks and hotels. However, the new board’s authority over design and construction has been hampered by agreements the previous administration made with Disney before the transition.

In an attempt to address this issue, Florida lawmakers passed legislation to nullify those agreements. Subsequently, Disney filed a federal lawsuit against DeSantis, citing infringement of the company’s free speech rights. Meanwhile, the district has countered with its own lawsuit in state court, aiming to void the agreements in question.

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