DeSantis' tourism district takes aim at Disney 'perks' but offers $1,000 stipend - Orlando Sentinel
Category: News & PoliticsVia: evilgenius • one month ago • 54 comments
By: Skyler Swisher (Orlando Sentinel)
By Skyler Swisher | firstname.lastname@example.org | Orlando SentinelPUBLISHED: August 21, 2023 at 6:15 p.m. | UPDATED: August 22, 2023 at 7:28 a.m.
Officials with Gov. Ron DeSantis' tourism oversight district are asking Florida's inspector general to investigate theme park passes, discounts and other Disney "perks" they say were given to employees and board members for years.
The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District is moving to eliminate those benefits offered to employees of the district that provides government services to Disney World, according to a news release.
Employees will instead get a $1,000 annual stipend as part of the proposed changes to the district's annual pass program, according to an email to employees from administrator Glen Gilzean that was first reported by WFTV-Channel 9.
An internal analysis showed only about 50% of employees used the annual pass perk, according to the email.
The stipend could be used for theme park tickets, car repairs, savings or other needs, district officials told employees in the email. Annual Disney passes can range in price from $399 to $969 per person for Florida residents, some with significant black-out dates, according to Disney's website.
The previous Disney-run Reedy Creek Improvement District used taxpayer funds to give season passes to employees and their family members, cover the costs of Disney discounts and supply "VIP" entrance passes to board members, costing $2.5 million in 2022 alone, the district's news release said.
"In addition to constituting unethical benefits and perks, the scheme raises significant questions regarding self-dealing as the board members were only permitted a maximum of $100 per month in compensation per the Reedy Creek Improvement District Act," the district said in an unsigned statement.
Disney and a Central Florida Tourism Oversight District spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The district's actions only apply to government employees at the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, not workers directly employed by Disney.
The special district employs about 400 people. Disney and its affiliates are the main taxpayers in the district, accounting for about 86% of the property tax revenue.
District officials released a Disney invoice they found including a charge of $492,382 for "Q1 FY22 Tickets." Line items included $16,837 in merchandise discounts, $4,969 in food and beverage discounts and $3,764 in water park discounts.
Other line items deal with employee hotel room discounts at the Disney Yacht Club Resort, Disney Caribbean Beach Resort and Disney Coronado Springs Resort.
Employees will continue to have access to Disney properties for official duties, district officials said.
Jon Shirey, president of the Reedy Creek Professional Firefighters, said his union is preparing remarks but didn't have a comment Monday night.
For decades, Disney controlled the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which provides fire protection, utilities and other government services for Disney World. As the main landowner, Disney elected the district's five supervisors, giving it effective control over the special taxing district.
Earlier this year, the Florida Legislature upended Disney's arrangement, put the governor in charge of picking board members and renamed Reedy Creek the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. DeSantis replaced the Disney-friendly board members with five Republican allies.
The tourism oversight district's move comes after DeSantis said in an interview with CNBC he had "basically moved on" from his dispute with Disney and urged the entertainment giant to drop its lawsuit against the state.
Disney sued DeSantis, the tourism district and other state officials in federal court, alleging a "targeted campaign of government retaliation." DeSantis' tourism district has a lawsuit pending in state court accusing Disney and the previous Disney-run board of improperly approving development agreements ahead of the state takeover.
The feud started last year after Disney opposed legislation critics called the "don't say gay" law, which limited classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools.
Skyler Swisher| Journalist
Skyler Swisher is an Investigative reporter for the Orlando Sentinel. email@example.com