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Why Is the Florida Tourism Oversight District Important?

Florida Tourism Oversight District Important

The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District—formerly the Reedy Creek Improvement District—is a special taxing entity that oversees Disney World property in Orange and Osceola counties. It has been accused of excessive privileges and corruption.

Since allies of governor Ron DeSantis took over the board, morale has declined and allegations of cronyism have surfaced. One of those DeSantis appointees is leaving, and another has a new job.

1. Economic Development

Florida tourism is an industry of immense importance to the state. It generates billions in revenue and supports millions of jobs. The state’s economy depends on it. It is vital that the state protect this industry. It would be foolish to take steps that could damage it.

That’s why the Florida Tourism Oversight District (OTOD) is so important. It is the state’s chief advocate for tourism, helping to promote Florida and its businesses. The OTTED provides policy development, legislative analysis and other services to help the governor, lieutenant governor, the legislature, local governments and communities make informed choices on economic policies that will affect tourism.

OTTED’s work is also critical to ensure that the financial burden of municipal services supporting Walt Disney World Resort does not fall on the residents of Orange and Osceola counties. The OTTED board consists of a mix of members from both the public and private sectors and works to balance the needs of local and state government with those of businesses and tourism partners.

This year, the OTOD board approved a resolution giving it supreme authority over any future land use within the former Reedy Creek district. Its administrator, Glen Gilzean, is paid $400,000 a year. WMFE’s Danielle Prieur reports that many employees have left in recent months, and morale is said to be at an all-time low. She says the new board is politicized and cronyism runs rampant.

In a visit to the Florida Tourism Oversight District this week, Gov. Ron DeSantis praised the hand-picked board overseeing fire protection, planning and zoning as a model of good government. But critics say the board suffers from cronyism, lacks transparency and fails to include local representation.

The FTOD board has criticized Disney for opposing the “Don’t Say Gay” law, a ban on classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity, but Disney has also attacked DeSantis over his plans to repeal his predecessor’s education reforms. As a result, the two sides are engaged in a battle that has led to an investigation of the board by an outside prosecutor.

Economic Development

2. Tourism

The political tete-a-tete between Disney and the district continues to dominate headlines. Ybeth Bruzual interviews Glen Gilzean, the District Administrator of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (CFTOD)—formerly known as Reedy Creek Improvement District—which manages the Disney World property.

In 1967, the Florida State Legislature established a special district for Reedy Creek, which was to serve as a prototype community for future city-living innovations. It was designed to ensure that the primary landowner—in this case Walt Disney World Resort at the time—would be solely responsible for paying for typical municipal services such as roads, water and electricity, so that tax burdens would not fall upon local Orange and Osceola County residents.

Today, the district serves as a 39-square mile governing jurisdiction and special taxing district for Walt Disney World Resort’s land, which acts with the same authority and responsibility as a county government. The district has been a catalyst for tourism development in the region and, over the years, it has championed efforts to protect Florida’s natural environment so that all Floridians can enjoy this wonderful state.

Since allies of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis took over the board of the district earlier this year, morale has deteriorated, and cronyism permeates the organization, according to employees. This has led to a mass employee exodus, and just this week, another key leader in the district left.

Martin Garcia stepped down as chairman of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, which also saw its administrator leave just a few weeks ago. Both were replaced by new members appointed by DeSantis.

The CFTOD recently launched a website with an extensive list of transparency and accountability measures, including a commitment to prioritizing local business contracts. In addition, the website has a search feature that allows users to view all of the board’s past meetings and budgets in one place.

With nearly 68 million visitors each year and more than 100,000 employees, it is important that the District ensures that all Florida residents reap the full benefits of tourism. The BUY LOCAL NOW initiative is just the latest step in the district’s commitment to local business.

3. Public Safety

The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (CFTOD) board members recently agreed to work with Reedy Creek firefighters to resolve their contract impasse and award death benefits to the widow of a fallen firefighter. The move was the first time the CFTOD met since Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law wresting control from Disney, which had run the special tax district for decades.

A state-appointed board is now in charge of the district, formerly known as Reedy Creek Improvement District. After DeSantis took power, he immediately started to appoint allies to the new board and replaced many of the previous members. The result has been a mass employee exodus and allegations of politicization and cronyism.

DeSantis’ appointees have spent up to $360,000 on a scathing review of the old RCID, which included hiring outside experts to dive into decades of local history and stacks of documents. The investigation could help them determine whether the governor and state legislature were misled by RCID leaders who were Disney supporters.

It’s a shame that the political tete-a-tete between Disney and the CFTOD board has become such a distraction. It’s a case of politics ruining what could have been a win-win situation for everyone involved. There are far more important issues facing our state than arguing about who is right and wrong at Disney’s house.

The CFTOD is also taking on other legal challenges involving its authority. One of those involves trying to prevent COVID-19 vaccine or masking mandates on employees within the district, which is something that a new law signed by DeSantis prevents from happening. Another potential issue is whether the CFTOD can hold safety meetings that require all covered employees to attend on work time, a policy initiated by board member Bridget Ziegler.

All of these legal issues have created a lot of controversy, but they shouldn’t affect the core functions of the district. The CFTOD should continue to do its job of supporting tourism and the communities that depend on it, and it’s still too early to say if the political drama surrounding the district will end with it being dissolved.

4. Environmental Protection

Florida has long been a leader in protecting the environment, and the state’s environmental laws are among the most comprehensive in the nation. In addition to strong rules and regulations, the state provides funding to protect the environment and wildlife through its appropriations from the General Fund. Florida also has an extensive system of land-use management laws, including comprehensive laws governing everything from water to noise pollution. These laws are enforced by the Department of Environmental Protection and the Office of Administrative Hearings.

In addition, the State Environmental Protection Agency is an independent agency, with its own budget and regulatory authority. The EPA’s responsibilities include monitoring the air and water quality in Florida, investigating reports of pollution, and developing policies to prevent and control pollution. Its staff works closely with local governments, environmental groups and businesses to help keep the state’s air and water clean.

The EPA also enforces the laws that govern environmental issues, including wastewater management, stormwater runoff and toxic waste. It oversees the Environmental Resource Inventory (ERI), which is a database that tracks regulated chemicals and other pollutants in the state’s waters, air and soil. The ERI data is used by local governments and other organizations to make decisions about where to put new developments, as well as to determine the impact of existing development on the environment.

When Disney first lobbied the Florida government to establish the Reedy Creek Improvement District, it presented the idea as an “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow,” a real planned city that would serve as a test bed for innovative ideas about modern city living. But the company eventually abandoned its plans for EPCOT, focusing on attracting tourists to its Florida theme parks.

The Florida legislature recently overhauled the district, which now is known as the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. The state appointed a board to oversee the district, and the newly named board has had its share of problems.

A recent PEER report found that the board, which has been plagued by allegations of cronyism and political payoffs, is not doing its job. The administrator of the district, Glen Gilzean, earns a $400,000 salary and was paid by a firm that is politically plugged in to Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis.

Environmental Protection

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