Moody tells Disney its records could be open to the public in Florida

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody advised Disney on Thursday that some of its company records could be subject to the state’s public records law and available to any Floridian who wants to see them.

Her letter to CEO Bob Iger came as Gov. Ron DeSantis and his allies work to get more details on agreements between Disney and the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the governmental entity previously controlled by the entertainment giant.

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“Those agreements supposedly transfer certain government functions to Disney,” Moody wrote. “I am writing because these agreements may render Disney subject to Florida’s public records laws.”

Her letter didn’t demand any specific records from Disney, instead putting the corporation on notice it may violate Florida law if it withholds information. Disney did not respond to a request for comment.

Members of DeSantis’ new Disney World tourism oversight board say they found “11th-hour agreements” with their predecessors that allow Disney to set its own utility rates, manage future development and review aesthetic changes to the district’s buildings.

Those agreements were between Disney, a private company, and Reedy Creek, a special taxing district subject to Florida’s public records law.

Reedy Creek, now called the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, is responsible for fire protection, planning, utilities and other government services for Disney World.

Under a previous arrangement, Disney effectively controlled the Reedy Creek district because it got to elect the five board members. Now, the governor appoints the board.

The previous board approved the Disney deals just ahead of DeSantis’ takeover of the board.

As a result of the agreements, Disney’s records dealing with “development of Disney-owned properties in Florida, rate setting for utilities and other similar matters” where it “purports to exercise delegated government functions” could be open to the public, Moody wrote in her letter.

“Please also be advised there is generally no attorney-client or work product privilege when dealing with public records,” she wrote.

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Moody’s office filed a public records request on March 30 with Reedy Creek but was told no responsive records exist.

Moody sought “documents discussing an intention or goal of circumventing, avoiding, frustrating, mitigating or otherwise attempting to avoid the effects of anticipated actions by the Florida governor and the Florida Legislature.”

John Guard, chief deputy attorney general, sent a follow-up letter on Monday taking issue with the district’s response and broadening the request. He gave the Reedy Creek district until April 24 to respond.

In addition to Moody’s probe, the state’s chief inspector general is investigating. That position is appointed by the governor.

Florida law deems records to be public for private companies that are acting on behalf of a public agency or performing a governmental function. It’s not “clear cut” that would apply to Disney, said Barbara Petersen, director of the Florida Center for Government Accountability and an expert on the public records law.

“It will all have to shake out in court,” she said.

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