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.
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.
An environmental biologist who departed the district in September after 35 years said the DeSantis allies on the board had “negatively changed my experience with top leadership, the work culture, trust, and given me a good reason to retire.” An accountant who also departed in September said she hadn’t wanted to leave but “the workplace culture has been destroyed.”
Response from the District
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.
Accusations of Cronyism
The new board members, though, have been accusing the previous administration of cronyism while at the same time hiring politically-connected associates to positions in the district or awarding them contracts, the former facilities manager said in his exit interview last week.
Disney has sued DeSantis and the members of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board in federal court in Tallahassee over the takeover, claiming its free speech rights were violated. Disney is also battling the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District in state court in Orlando.
An executive administrative assistant who left the district in June cited the “bridge burning” by the DeSantis appointees and Gilzean as the reason why she departed.