DeSantis’ Cronies Are Scoring Big Paydays Courtesy of the New Disney District

Ron DeSantis and Mickey Mouse
Credit: Disney/ Gage Skidmore, Flickr

When the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District first took over for the Reedy Creek Improvement District, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis made it clear that the new Board was mandated to clean up the District and create a transparent governing body. The Governor accused Disney of not playing by the same rules as all other taxpayers in Florida and promised that things would change at the Walt Disney World self-governing District. Well, at least he was right about the latter part of that sentiment.

DeSantis Disney Board bending ethics rules

Images Credit: Disney, National Urban League, Gage Skidmore, Flickr

Related: More Employees Flee DeSantis Disney District as It is No Longer ‘Functional’

The former Reedy Creek Improvement District has changed, and not for the better. Since the Board of DeSantis appointees took over earlier this year, more than 40 of the District’s 370 employees have quit. The District has lost more than 400 years of experience. When the Associated Press spoke with some of the employees who left the District, the main reason they gave was that the once benign working environment has been “politicized” and filled with “political cronyism.” Those remaining employees fear that the District is “no longer functional.”

But it’s not just the employees who see the “political cronyism” happening at the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. The Orland Sentinel published a report this week that showed just how deep the problem is at the District, with political insiders close to Florida Gov Ron DeSantis scoring huge paydays courtesy of the new Disney District.

Florida Lawyer Calls DeSantis' Case 'Fairy Tales and Pixie Dust'

Credit: Disney/ Gage Skidmore, Flickr

According to The Orlando Sentinel, the investigation started with the appointment of Glen Gilzean as the District Administrator. A position that came with a $400,000 annual salary. Despite having no experience in local government or running a District like the one that oversees Disney World, Gilzean was still chosen for the job. One of the other candidates was William Sturgeon, a former city manager of St. Cloud, a city with a population of more than 60,000.

Sturgeon told the Orlando Sentinel:

It was political. The place is falling apart. My professional opinion is they have too many state-orientated people in there, and state and municipal government are two different things.

When applying for the position, Gilzean listed Michael Sasso as a reference. Sasso was a DeSantis appointee to the Board at the time. Sasso resigned from the Board shortly after Governor DeSantis named his wife to the Florida State Supreme Court. Sasso was also the best man at Gilzean’s wedding.

To serve as his chief of staff, Gilzean selected Paula Hoisington, chairwoman of the Central Florida Urban League’s Board, where he worked before leaving for the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. Hoisington started at the District with a salary of $195,000 and recently received a raise of $55,000. Gilzean hired Ronald Haag as an administrative assistant, who previously worked as an aide to Florida Representative Fred Hawkins. He co-sponsored the legislation to strip Disney World of its self-governing District.

Preacher Tells Disney to 'Obey Authority' Just Before DeSantis Board Meeting

Credit: Disney

Beyond just the hiring practices at the special District, it is also spending millions on outside lawyers to fight the Walt Disney Company in court. For its battle in State Court, the DeSantis Board hired Cooper & Kirk, based in Washington D.C. Adam Laxalt is a partner at the firm and a longtime friend of DeSantis and was recently hired to lead his Super PAC. Cooper & Kirk will send the District a bill for $795 an hour for their services. 

The District budgeted $4.5 million for its legal expenses in 2024 after spending more than $2 million this year. Most of that money will come from taxes paid by Disney World.

So, while he promised that the DeSantis Disney District would be different, many other promises the Florida governor made have yet to come to fruition.

We will continue to update this story at Disney Fanatic.

About Rick

Rick is an avid Disney fan. He first went to Disney World in 1986 with his parents and has been hooked ever since. Rick is married to another Disney fan and is in the process of turning his two children into fans as well. When he is not creating new Disney adventures, he loves to watch the New York Yankees and hang out with his dog, Buster. In the fall, you will catch him cheering for his beloved NY Giants.

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