The CFTOD’s First Six Months Haven’t Been Pretty
On March 1st, 2023, the state of Florida reclaimed governmental powers that it had previously given The Walt Disney Company.
A week later, the new Central Florida Tourism Oversight District met for the first time, and it’s been a series of comical misadventures ever since.
The new Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (CFTOD) board’s first six months have not been pretty. Let’s review what has happened.
The Worst of Intentions
Let’s start our evaluation with a blunt assessment. The new board possessed ill intentions for Disney.
That’s not an editorial comment. Board members and the officials who hired them have said as much.
This move aimed to bring Disney to heel and punish the company for policies that weren’t in line with partisan Florida politicians.
The strangest part of the Florida Feud is that both parties agree on what has happened here, and they’ve filed legal documents that state as much.
Governor Ron DeSantis recognized what he felt was an opportunity to launch his national political career at the expense of a company he called “woke.”
For a while, the governor used the word “woke” so often in referring to Disney that it felt like a compulsion.
Notably, the governor appeared at the first Republican debate on Wednesday, August 24th.
How many times did he use the word “woke?” Zero. How many instances did the governor reference Disney? Also, zero.
Over the past six months, DeSantis grew painfully aware that he had doubled and tripled down on a political loser of a platform.
Then, the CFTOD board’s most recent actions demonstrated otherwise. And that’s an apt summary of this whole mess.
As near as anyone can tell, the CFTOD’s philosophy of governance is that the beatings will continue until morale improves.
The worrisome part is that none of them comes across as the least bit competent.
That’s not what the 392 employees of the former Reedy Creek Improvement District want to hear about their new bosses.
These loyal workers are the ones caught in the middle as the new board flails.
Follow the Money
Specifically, the new board made promises it couldn’t keep. Whether the board members knew that fact or not is up for debate.
Still, when the CFTOD held its first meeting, the new members expressed bravado and no small amount of overconfidence.
They were in charge of Disney now and wanted Mickey Mouse to know it.
Alas, they’d already been pants-ed and lacked the self-awareness to notice the breeze.
The former Reedy Creek Improvement District board members had provided Disney with the power it needed to control the region for years to come.
In one fell swoop, Disney outflanked the CFTOD so completely that the new board didn’t even realize it for several weeks.
If you watched your former employer humiliate your new employer so completely, how confident would you feel about the current state of your career? Exactly.
Some Reedy Creek employees, particularly firefighters, had welcomed the new board. As political advocates and allies, they expected a reward.
The firefighters had to go public on the matter. Even then, their leadership acknowledged that they’d hurt their cause by mentioning the deal.
This board wants to reward its friends and punish its enemies, the latter of which is basically anyone loyal to Disney.
Business owners in the Reedy Creek area appeared at a CFTOD meeting to protest the board’s actions because they’d figured something out.
The new CFTOD couldn’t run the region as efficiently as Disney, and it wasn’t even close.
Once they promised pay raises to loyalists, that money had to come from somewhere. They realized that tax increases were likely.
The Money Has to Come from Somewhere
I won’t bore you with the financials here, but let’s start with two facts.
The first is that the CFTOD hired a new administrator, Glen Gilzean, at a salary of $400,000 annually.
That’s substantially higher than the previous administrator earned, something I’ll explain in a moment.
That’s the part of the new CFTOD’s modus operandi that has become predictable.
When the board says one thing, it’s typically trying to hide something else. And what it doesn’t want you to know is something that would embarrass them.
For instance, when a board member described Disney’s behavior as “naughty,” what he really meant was that he wanted to cut $8 million per year from the budget.
The only option the board could find was to lessen Walt Disney World’s security, which is absolutely baffling given what we know about recent Central Florida history.
A murderous terrorist planned to attack Disney Springs. The security the CFTOD wanted gone from the budget is what saved lives. It’s a necessary expense.
Also, Disney was the one paying most of that bill. Disney accounts for 85-89 percent of Reedy Creek’s taxes, depending on which number you believe.
The new board expected to find frivolous expenses and waste because that’s the kind of governance the members understand.
Instead, they quickly realized what a well-run organization the former Reedy Creek was. The CFTOD has no hope of matching that level of efficiency.
So, budget cuts have already become the norm. And the most recent one is appalling.
I Thought You’d Moved On?
Ron DeSantis recently belied his own words in a CNBC interview, the ones where he claimed he’d moved on from Disney.
The governor recently referred the usage of $2 million in taxpayer expenditures to Florida’s Inspector General.
You’re thinking he caught Disney doing something wildly illegal, right? Nope.
The CFTOD needed to shave more money from the budget. So, it eliminated multi-generational Disney perks…from Reedy Creek firefighters and all other district workers.
In expressing their outrage, the firefighters ranged between pure rage and tears. Here’s one heartfelt message:
Pete Simon, a Reedy Creek firefighter, made a powerful statement during today’s CFTOD meeting about the impact of removing generational benefits for families.
“This week marks the first brick being pulled in the dismantling of the district … my only question is, what’s next?” pic.twitter.com/bzt8tW5fc8
— Scott Gustin (@ScottGustin) August 23, 2023
DeSantis tried to throw Disney under the bus again for the CFTOD’s budget shortfall.
Now, his own political allies are speaking loudly in favor of the joys of Disney at CFTOD meetings!
The governor may not have had a choice, though. He desperately needed a distraction from this nonsense.
Here’s the brief explanation for Gilzean gaining a $400,000 contract.
One of the governor’s political opponents filed a claim that DeSantis was violating some Florida statutes during his national political campaign.
The Chair of Florida’s Ethics Committee who ruled in the governor’s favor was…Glen Gilzean.
DeSantis rewarded him with the supposedly cushy $400,000 CFTOD gig.
I’m using past tense about the Ethics Committee job because Gilzean just quit.
When given a choice to be ethical or earn $400,000 a year, the head of the CFTOD chose the latter.
How much do you trust that person to govern the Reedy Creek land effectively and honorably?
All this nonsense has happened in just six months, and I haven’t even touched on the DEI nonsense, a CFTOD move that’s frankly beneath contempt.
What Happens Next?
The legal jockeying will comprise an essential part of the next six months of the CFTOD.
As the LA Times recently reported, “At the moment, Disney appears to have the upper hand in this fight…”
Not coincidentally, the CFTOD has spent a disproportionate amount of money on legal defense thus far and expects to pay another $4.5 million in fiscal 2024.
Do you know how the CFTOD could have used that money more efficiently? It could have provided Reedy Creek’s workers a pay raise and perks. Instead, it cut perks.
DeSantis and the CFTOD board have reached the “in for a penny, in for a pound” stage of their legal battle.
They’ll fight this issue like grim death in court because the other option is for a judge to rule in Disney’s favor and thereby revert Reedy Creek to the previous regime.
That’s the preferred option for Disney fans and those who favor proper governance.
For everyone else, season one of Amateur Hour at the CFTOD has been highly entertaining. And the show has been renewed for another season.
Go grab some popcorn and get ready for future headlines that prove emphatically that truth is stranger than fiction.
Thanks for visiting MickeyBlog.com! Want to go to Disney? For a FREE quote on your next Disney vacation, please fill out the form below, and one of the agents from MickeyTravels, a Diamond Level Authorized Disney Vacation Planner, will be in touch soon!
Feature Photo: Orlando Sentinel