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Disney and DeSantis Appointees Battle Over Free Disney World Passes

Governor Ron DeSantis’ appointees to a board that oversees Disney World’s governing district are currently engaged in two lawsuits with Disney. Now, they have launched a new battle against the company – this time over free passes and discounts for district employees.

The board members of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District filed a complaint with the state Inspector General, claiming that the millions of dollars in season passes and discounts on hotels, merchandise, food, and beverages provided to district employees by their Disney-supporting predecessors were unethical benefits and perks.

In a news release, the board stated that before the DeSantis appointees took over, around $2.5 million in discounts and passes were given to district employees and their families just last year.

The board claims that this arrangement was self-serving to Disney as it funneled money back to the company while the district footed the bill.

Disney has not responded to the email seeking comment, and the board’s spokesman has not responded to the request for the letter sent to the Inspector General, who investigates fraud, mismanagement, waste, and abuse.

Richard Foglesong, a Rollins College professor emeritus and author of “Married to the Mouse: Walt Disney World and Orlando,” stated that this arrangement appears to be more of an employee benefit rather than a taxpayer scam, similar to the way professors at a university may get free passes to athletic events or free tuition for family members.

This complaint from the DeSantis appointees comes at a time when the district administrator they appointed, Glen Gilzean, is facing an ethics dilemma of his own. Gilzean, who earns $400,000 annually in his new job, is also the chair of the Florida Commission on Ethics. However, he cannot simultaneously be a commission board member and work for the district, as the commission prohibits public employees from serving on its board, according to a commission attorney’s legal opinion.

The clash between DeSantis and Disney began last year when Disney opposed a state law banning classroom lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades. As a result, DeSantis took over the district through legislation passed by the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature and appointed a new board of supervisors. However, the new supervisors’ authority over design and construction has been limited by the agreements signed with Disney-supporting predecessors before the new board took over.

In response, Florida lawmakers repealed those agreements through legislation.

Disney has filed a federal lawsuit against DeSantis, claiming that the governor violated the company’s free speech rights. The district has also sued Disney in state court, seeking to nullify the agreements.

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