New Disney Reedy Creek board chair vows ‘broader representation’
Members of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, which replaced Disney’s Reedy Creek, agreed Wednesday to work with the district’s firefighters to resolve their union contract impasse and help award death benefits to the widow of a firefighter who died in 2017.
The board met for the first time since Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law wresting its control from Walt Disney Co. amid his feud with the company.
Board chairman Martin Garcia said the group is committed to listening to constituents even though it has “a lot to learn.”
“I see our constituency group as everybody who works and plays in the district, those citizens that live around the district and, frankly, all the citizens of the state of Florida,” Garcia said. “... You all didn’t elect us, but the people of Florida elected a governor who then appointed us, and so I see that there’s going to be much broader representation.”
Reedy Creek Firefighters Association President Jon Shirey spoke during the meeting’s public comment period about longstanding staffing and resource issues at the fire department that he previously said endangered Disney staff and guests.
The firefighters’ union says many of these issues have persisted for years, a claim that Reedy Creek officials deny.
Lesly Dorminy, the widow of longtime Reedy Creek firefighter Lt. James Dorminy, cried as she recounted her struggle to receive her husband’s death benefits.
“Did I not give enough to you guys?” she asked.
James Dorminy was found floating in a fitness center’s pool after finishing a shift with the fire department in May 2017, according to Firehouse Magazine. He was placed on life support and died about 10 days later. The firefighter’s association has been trying to get officials to award Lesly Dorminy his benefits since, to little progress.
Members of the board, including Brian Aungst Jr. and Michael Sasso, thanked Lesly Dorminy and the first responders and said they looked forward to “getting involved personally in the contract negotiations” and fixing Dorminy’s benefits issue.
“The new board has shown a willingness to listen and to collaborate already,” Shirey said. “Right now it’s still the early stage of that relationship, but we’re looking forward to it very optimistically and think it’s going to better the district as a whole, better the lives of first responders and retirees.”
The board also discussed appointing lawyer A. Kurt Ardaman, with the Fishback Dominick firm, as the district’s new special counsel. Ardaman worked with DeSantis’ office to craft legislation establishing the new district, Administrator John Classe said. The board voted to consider the issue further at a future meeting.
Aungst said he wanted the board to discuss taking over the “essentially fictitious” cities of Lake Buena Vista and Bay Lake, including assuming their oversight of law enforcement contracts and eventually eliminating the cities.
“If it makes sense, legally, it’s something that I want to evaluate,” he said. “It’s not something that I have control over; it’s a legislative decision.”
Another topic for future discussion is an ordinance to prevent COVID-19 vaccine or masking mandates in the district, an idea introduced by board member Bridget Ziegler. Legislation signed by DeSantis in 2021 already prevents such mandates.
The agenda for Wednesday’s meeting and presentations kept the Reedy Creek Improvement District title. Efforts to formally change the district’s name will involve a comprehensive overhaul and take time, Classe said.
In a statement Wednesday, Disney Parks, Experiences & Products Chairman Josh D’Amaro said he was hopeful the new district would continue the “excellent work” started by the Reedy Creek district and share the resort’s commitment to “helping the local economy continue to flourish and support the ongoing growth of the resort and Florida’s tourism industry.”
The board’s five members are Garcia, a Tampa lawyer and GOP political donor who has contributed to DeSantis; Ron Peri, an evangelical minister who has defended Christian nationalism; Ziegler, co-founder of the conservative education group Moms for Liberty and wife of the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida; Sasso, Seminole County attorney and head of the Orlando chapter of the conservative legal group the Federalist Society; and Aungst, a Clearwater attorney and member of the Sixth Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission.
Ziegler and Peri have advocated for policies against the LGBTQ+ community in recent years.
According to CNN, Peri said in January 2022 more people are identifying as LGBTQ+ because “estrogen in the water from birth control pills” is leading to a decline in testosterone, a baseless claim.
Ziegler supported state legislation dubbed the “don’t say gay” bill that restricts classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity. A dispute between Disney and DeSantis over the bill led to the Reedy Creek Improvement District’s dissolution.
(Orlando Sentinel staff writer Skyler Swisher contributed to this report.)