Morale down, cronyism up after DeSantis takeover of Disney World government, ex-employees say

The Cinderella Castle is seen at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World on July 14 in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux, File)

ORLANDO, Fla. — Morale and trust within the Walt Disney World government has deteriorated since allies of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis took it over earlier this year, according to many employees who have departed in recent months saying the governing district has been politicized and cronyism now permeates the organization.

More than 40 out of about 370 employees have left the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District since it was taken over in February, raising concerns that decades of institutional knowledge is departing with them, along with a reputation for a well-run government.


“When I first joined the District, I found an organization that strived to be the very best at serving our community, sought the very best employees and valued those employees above all else,” a former facilities manager with three years of experience said in an employee exit survey last week. “I find myself leaving a completely different District. A District that prioritizes politics above all else and will gladly sacrifice its employees, its community and its work if there’s an opportunity to score political points.”

The Associated Press obtained the employee exit surveys through a records request, and has withheld names to protect security.

Most of the records were first obtained by Seeking Rents, a Florida-based watchdog newsletter.

With the departure of so many district employees in such a short period of time, the district is “no longer functional,” a facilities director who left last month wrote in her exit survey.

The Republican governor and GOP-dominated Florida Legislature took control of the district in retaliation after Disney publicly opposed a state law banning classroom lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades. The law was championed by DeSantis, who currently is running for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination.

Before the takeover, the governing district had been controlled by Disney supporters. It previously was named the Reedy Creek Improvement District when it was established in 1967 to provide municipal services like road repairs, waste collection and firefighting on the 25,000 acres (10,117 hectares) that make up Disney’s theme park resort in central Florida.

When asked about the staff departures, a district spokesman said several of the workers who left had been planning to retire before the change and that there were still employees with decades of experience who could maintain the institutional knowledge of the district.

“We are committed to enhancing the well-being of our staff members,” said Matthew Oberly, the district’s director of external affairs.

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