DeSantis' Disney district takeover sparks leadership exodus and chaos

Oct 30, 2023 in "Reedy Creek Improvement District"

Posted: Monday October 30, 2023 3:00pm ET by WDWMAGIC Staff

In what marks a significant upheaval to the former Reedy Creek Improvement District, over thirty employees have resigned from the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, the governing entity responsible for Walt Disney World. This mass exodus includes almost half of its senior leadership and follows Florida Governor Ron DeSantis' controversial takeover of the district, raising serious concerns about operational stability and political influence.


Previously known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District, CFTOD has seen departures at every level - from the district administrator and chief financial officer to crucial roles in public works, procurement, and facilities management.

In an article published by long-time Reedy Creek observer Jason Garcia Seeking Rents, who obtained employee exit interviews in a public records request, one former manager with a 30-year career at Reedy Creek wrote that DeSantis' political appointees "show a severe lack of trust for employees" and made his work "uncomfortable," "stressful," and "demoralizing." Another manager wrote that the transition has been "very negative." And a department director called the new leadership "unqualified and incompetent."

A former executive assistant went even further saying, "The legacy of this special district is being destroyed by those who have been placed in power here. The Board of Supervisors and the new District Administrator could care less about the work that needs to be done for the taxpayers. They claim transparency and bridge building, I see non-transparency and bridge burning."

DeSantis' Political Maneuvering, Lawsuits and Presidential Bid

The root of this disruption traces back to Governor DeSantis' decision to assert control over the district, perceived by many as retaliation against Disney. The entertainment giant had openly criticized a so-called "Don't Say Gay" anti-LGBTQ+ law championed by DeSantis and halted campaign contributions, drawing the governor's ire. In a swift legislative move, DeSantis gained the power to appoint the board of supervisors, installing allies and loyalists who quickly ousted existing executives.

The CFTOD board sued Disney in a Florida state court in May 2023, following Disney's federal lawsuit against CFTOD board members and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

Disney claims in its lawsuit filed in a federal court that there has been "A targeted campaign of government retaliation-orchestrated at every step by Governor DeSantis as punishment for Disney's protected speech now threatens Disney's business operations, jeopardizes its economic future in the region, and violates its constitutional rights."

Impact on Employees and Operations

Former employees have painted a grim picture of the current work environment, describing it as toxic, demoralizing, and stressful. The new leadership, criticized for its inexperience and lack of qualifications, has been accused of fostering a climate of distrust and incompetence. These factors have not only affected morale but also raised questions about the district's ability to efficiently manage services critical to the Walt Disney World Resort.

Strategic Hires and Alleged Political Motives

In the midst of this turmoil, the DeSantis-appointed board has been active in positioning allies in key roles. High-profile hires include District Administrator Glen Gilzean, appointed with a $400,000 salary, and Paula Hoisington, a former DeSantis transition team member, now Chief of Staff. The board has also awarded lucrative contracts to firms with close ties to DeSantis, including a $1 million no-bid contract for a new telecoms system. As this news surfaced, CFTOD cancelled a planned board meeting this month, with the next session scheduled to take place on Wednesday, November 15, 2023.

Operational Challenges and Public Perception

The district is currently grappling with significant operational challenges. Recent job postings in facilities management highlight the gaps left by the mass resignations. Critics argue that these vacancies hinder the district's ability to deliver essential services like fire protection, trash collection, and building inspections, potentially impacting operations at Walt Disney World.

The Shift from Efficiency to Political Arena

Under the previous management, the Reedy Creek Improvement District was known for its efficiency and detailed project scrutiny despite criticisms over its unique status and Disney's influence. However, the transformation into the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, now under DeSantis' control, marks a shift from a well-run administrative body to a politically charged arena.

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Stripes1 hour ago

If this was an objective report, they would’ve spent most of the ink detailing how uniquely terrible and anti-American the current governance structure is. Instead, they babble on about how the new structure has brought accountability to the district. Oh yeah? Accountability to whom? “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” -Thomas Jefferson There is no consent from the governed here, Mr. Jefferson.

Bullseye19672 hours ago

You are a rock star!!!!! Thank you for all the gems you find!

mikejs785 hours ago

There's an exemption in the IRS code for companies giving their employees a benefit that involves a company's own product and essentially results in no additional cost for the company. An example given by the IRS is airlines giving free airline tickets to employees on non-full flights - the "excess capacity" exemption. So Disney themselves are likely ok.

Figgy16 hours ago

What a lot of people, looking at you the organization formerly known as RC, is that what was/is considered taxable has changed over the past 60 years. What may need to be counted as income since the last overhaul may not have before then.

Brian6 hours ago

RCID would have been responsible for withholding the tax, just the same as they would for other fringe benefits. This amount would also be included as part of the employee's W-2 statement. I don't believe that their public sector status would have any bearing on its taxability.

mikejs787 hours ago

So I looked at the exhibit which the board packet claimed that Disney administered the payroll and that it was once paid for by Disney. There is no supporting documentary evidence for this in the relevant exhibit (2-B). The exhibit claims that Disney ran payroll until 1998, and that it was free until then. This is supposedly based on interviews with "Employee 1" and "Employee 2". All of the documentary evidence is from 2018-2021.

mkt7 hours ago

Good news. Florida doesn't have an income tax, and DeSantis's voice has no power at the IRS.

DCBaker7 hours ago

There are individual links for each exhibit on the CFTOD website - you can find them all at this link.

flynnibus7 hours ago

The portion i am referring to is in the board packet. But dcbaker linked to the website with all the exhibits as well

flynnibus7 hours ago

It’s a complicated topic that includes specific details about the employer… the benefit… etc. it’s very hard to generalize or compare across situations. Best handled by the accountants

mikejs787 hours ago

I read it. Where are the exhibits?

maxairmike7 hours ago

That’s what gets me. This feels like something that is either so commonplace that the rules aren’t clear enough/there’s no desire to enforce outside of digging for dirt, or there’s some serious misrepresentation happening by the CFTOD and/or their hired guns.

mkt8 hours ago

There may be some regulatory exceptions to the rule, but I'm far too tired and have stopped caring enough to bother looking up specifics. In my case, I was given Detroit tigers tickets and NAIAS tickets from work and they appeared as "income" on my next paystub with taxes withheld. However, my employee discount on a car purchase - whose value was far higher than the tickets - was not considered taxable income.

Stripes8 hours ago

I receive regular tickets to local MLB games. It is not considered a taxable benefit. I work for a very, very large company.