Saying the state-run Central Florida Tourism Oversight Board picked by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis “had no choice but to respond,” board chair Martin Garcia and other members authorized a countersuit against The Walt Disney Company.
“We’ll seek justice in our own backyard,” Garcia said Monday.
Disney filed a federal suit against the board and DeSantis last week, alleging both have engaged in a “targeted campaign of government retaliation” to deprive Disney of its rights under the Contract Clause of the U.S. Constitution and the First Amendment. The complaint stretches back to DeSantis’ push to take over the Disney-controlled district after the company publicly opposed the state’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, which forbids discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in public school classrooms.
Disney is seeking to overturn that takeover and uphold a developer agreement approved by the Disney-controlled Reedy Creek Improvement District in its final days. The board’s countersuit, which was filed Monday evening in Orange County, Florida, seeks to void that agreement, as the board has already voted to do.
The complaint reads:
“In an effort to stymie Florida’s elected representatives, Disney covertly cobbled together a series of eleventhhour deals with its soon-to-be-replaced puppet government. Disney hoped to tie the hands of the new, independent Board and to preserve Disney’s special status as its own government in the
District for at least the next thirty years. These agreements reek of a backroom deal—drafted by Disney with the acquiescence a lawyer who represented both Disney and the District, set for hearing without proper notice, and hustled through a compliant Disney-controlled Board that Disney knew would not dwell long on the issue. But perhaps out of haste or arrogance, Disney’s deals violate basic principles of Florida constitutional, statutory, and common law.”
Among the complaints, the Central Florida Tourism Oversight Board claims it “expressed to Disney its desire to work together” — countering Disney’s claim that the board was meant as retaliatory measure — but asserts that “Disney would have none of that.” Its arguments that the Disney developer agreement is invalid include asserting that there wasn’t sufficient notice of a public hearing, that the old district lacked authority to enter into the agreement, and that the agreement itself is an “unlawful delegation of governmental authority to a private entity.”
You can read the full countersuit here.
In its special meeting Monday, board members – which include conservative activists and DeSantis donors – also lashed out at how they have been portrayed in the news media. Ron Peri, for example, claimed, “They actually said that I believed that if you drank tap water it would make you gay. I never said that. I don’t believe it,” referencing CNN’s accurate reporting that he once suggested tap water could be changing people’s sexual orientation.
The only public commenter during the hearing, a Disney Vacation Club timeshare owner named Douglas Dixon, did not appear sympathetic to the board. “I really hope you just resign, or stop, or actually just do your job, which is to do what’s in the best interest of the district, not what’s in the best interest of the governor,” Dixon said.
For Gov. DeSantis’ part, he showed no signs of backing off in comments at a press conference Monday in Titusville. He said of Disney, “No corporation is above the law and the people of this state,” while also accusing the company of advocating “for things like the sexualization of children.”
Editor’s Note: This story was updated after its original publication to quote from and link to the countersuit filed by the Central Florida Tourism Oversight Board.