Employee Morale Declines as Allegations of Favoritism Arise Post-DeSantis Takeover at Disney World’s Government

by Chloe Baker
DeSantis Disney World takeover

Following the acquisition of control by allies of Governor Ron DeSantis over the government of Walt Disney World, former employees suggest that the district has experienced a sharp decline in morale and a rise in favoritism. Several employees who have recently left expressed concerns about the politicization of the district, which they say is now riddled with cronyism.

Approximately 40 individuals have exited the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District out of an estimated 370 staff members since the takeover in February. This exodus has triggered alarms about the loss of decades’ worth of institutional expertise and the district’s long-standing reputation for proficient governance.

A previous facilities manager with three years on the job remarked in a recent exit survey, “Upon my arrival at the District, I encountered an organization committed to excellence, dedicated to recruiting and valuing top talent. Now, I depart from a vastly changed entity, one where political agendas are paramount and which does not hesitate to forgo its employees, the community, and its operational integrity for political gains.”

The Big Big News, after a request for records, gained access to these exit surveys and, to ensure security, has kept identities confidential. The records were initially accessed by Seeking Rents, a Florida watchdog newsletter.

With such a rapid loss of staff, one former facilities director mentioned in her survey that the district’s functionality is severely compromised.

The shift in control was a response by the Republican governor and the Florida Legislature, which is predominantly Republican, to Disney’s objection to a state legislation that prohibits teachings on sexual orientation and gender identity in primary education. Governor DeSantis, who is currently a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination for 2024, was a proponent of this law.

Formerly under the influence of Disney allies and known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District, this government entity was responsible for providing municipal services within the Disney park’s vicinity since 1967.

A long-serving environmental biologist who resigned in September and an accountant who also left at the same time both cited drastic shifts in leadership, culture, and trust as their reasons for leaving, with the latter specifically noting the deterioration of the workplace environment.

In contrast, Matthew Oberly, the district’s director of external affairs, emphasizes the district’s ongoing dedication to staff welfare and excellence in service to its taxpayers. Despite the staff changes, he pointed out that several employees who left had been contemplating retirement prior to the overhaul, and there remains a core group with extensive experience to preserve the district’s knowledge base.

Martin Garcia, the Chairman, has consistently advocated in board meetings for reform to dismantle what he describes as an overly cozy relationship between Disney and the district, aiming for greater government accountability and transparency.

Despite these proclamations, accusations have emerged against the new appointees of engaging in similar favoritism they have criticized, as evidenced by hiring decisions and contract awards.

Disney has filed lawsuits against Governor DeSantis and the board members of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District in federal and state courts, claiming violations of free speech and challenging the new board’s actions.

A former executive administrative assistant who resigned in June attributes her departure to the contentious actions of the new appointees, expressing regret for leaving an organization with dedicated individuals.

For further coverage, Mike Schneider can be followed on X, previously known as Twitter, at @MikeSchneiderAP.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about DeSantis Disney World takeover

What has been the impact on employee morale after the takeover of Disney World’s government by Governor DeSantis’ allies?

Many former employees have reported a significant decline in morale and trust within the organization, citing increased politicization and cronyism since the takeover.

How many employees have left the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District since the takeover?

Around 40 out of roughly 370 employees have departed the district following the change in governance in February.

What are the concerns of the departing employees from the district?

Departing employees have raised issues about the loss of institutional knowledge, a shift in organizational values prioritizing politics over community service, and a deterioration in workplace culture.

How has the district’s functionality been affected by the staff departures?

A former facilities director suggested that the district is “no longer functional” due to the rapid and significant loss of staff.

What is the stance of the district’s management on the allegations of cronyism and staff departures?

The district’s management claims a commitment to enhancing staff well-being and maintains that there is still a core team with extensive experience to preserve the district’s operational excellence.

What has been Chairman Martin Garcia’s response to the concerns raised by former employees?

Chairman Martin Garcia has stated that the new leadership aims to reform the district to ensure greater accountability and transparency, distancing from what he perceives as a previously too-close relationship with Disney.

What legal actions has Disney taken in response to the takeover?

Disney has sued Governor DeSantis and the board members of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District in federal and state courts, alleging violations of free speech and improper conduct by the new board members.

What is the implication of the staff changes for the future of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District?

The implications include potential challenges in maintaining the level of service and expertise the district was known for, as well as ongoing legal battles that could affect its operations and governance structure.

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Mike T November 7, 2023 - 1:33 am

its pretty unsettling to see how quickly things can turn political these days, even Disney isn’t safe from this craziness.

Anna Beth November 7, 2023 - 4:48 am

heard about this on the news, it’s sad that employees who’ve been there for years feel they have to leave, what’s happening to loyalty and job security??

JerryK87 November 7, 2023 - 7:32 am

looks like Desantis isn’t messing around with Disney, things are heating up and I’m not sure if it’s for the better or worse

TheRealist November 7, 2023 - 8:27 am

every action has a reaction, DeSantis took a stance and now Disney is pushing back hard. This is far from over, just watch.

Sara J November 7, 2023 - 4:29 pm

Wow, 40 people leaving, that’s a lot. the situation must be pretty bad in there, wonder how it’ll affect the parks?


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