Two weeks ago, we learned members of the governor’s new Disney district awarded a $240,000 contract to a a political insider without letting other companies even bid on the job.

The fact that this no-bid contract went to one of the state’s top ethics officials was vintage Florida.

But it turns out that was the tip of the insider-dealing iceberg at the former Reedy Creek district.

As the Sentinel revealed Sunday, another political pal scored a no-bid deal under even more suspect conditions when the district’s board chairman helped award a $495-an-hour legal contract to a lawyer who helped the chairman get his powerful post overseeing Disney in the first place.

Yes, back when Martin Garcia wanted to impress the state Senate, which confirms all of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ appointments to the Disney board, Garcia listed plugged-in GOP attorney Jason Gonzalez as a reference. Then, after Garcia got the job, he voted to give Gonzalez’s law firm a $495-an-hour contract without letting other firms even apply.

Seems the most magical thing about this new Disney board is how it made any premise of ethical government disappear.

And there’s more. As the Sentinel’s Skyler Swisher reported, a former board member who helped district director Glen Gilzean score his $400,000-a-year job was also the best man at Gilzean’s wedding.

This looks less like a public agency and more like a fraternity of political profiteers — the Florida chapter of Tappa Tappa Trough, where the only thing being chugged is tax dollars.


Political insiders get fat paychecks, big contracts from DeSantis’ Disney district

When I first heard about the legal contract last week, I wanted to see if it was as bad it as it sounded. So I asked if the board really hired the board chair’s buddy without any kind of open-bidding process.

The response I got was … interesting. First, district spokesman Matthew Thomas Oberly wanted me to know that the previous Disney district “ran the district with little transparency” and demonstrated “underhanded actions.”

If you’ve ever parented a naughty child, that response may feel familiar. You ask your son if he stole a cookie, and he responds by accusing his sister of stealing three cookies weeks ago.

Anyway, after trashing the former board, Oberly stressed that Florida law doesn’t require the district to solicit competitive bids for such legal contracts. “There is no requirement for the District to get the cheapest lawyer,” Oberly wrote in an email, “nor is such a good practice.”

That, my friends, is what’s known as a straw-man argument. Nobody said the district should hire the cheapest lawyer. I sure didn’t. But it might want the most qualified. And that’s what public solicitations for services can help you find.

Or you can just go with the guy who helped you get your political post — a guy who formed his new law firm less than a year ago.

Gonzalez, a Federalist Society leader who has advised DeSantis and other GOP governors, founded the firm in January with a couple of other politically connected attorneys, including Alan Lawson, who left the state Supreme Court after a relatively short stint to go into private practice.

There may be no law requiring public agencies to solicit bids for legal services. But many do. Why? Because it’s a solid business practice.

Just last month, the leaders at Orlando International Airport decided to solicit bids for that agency’s legal contracts. Board member Craig Mateer said relying on a single firm without aggressively encouraging other firms to apply wasn’t good enough. “We can do better,” said Mateer, who’s also a DeSantis appointee. “There’s a lot of money flowing through here.”

(Side note: If you’re a Florida law firm with expertise in construction, finance or purchasing law, now is a good time to reach out to the airport about its open-bidding process.)

That’s how it should be vs. hiring your own resume reference. Or a fellow wedding-party member.

These are small-town antics, except with big money. And it looks like political patronage may have been one of the main goals all along with this district takeover.

See, the aspect that always stunk most was the way DeSantis set it up — replacing one special district with another special district run by his political pals.

DeSantis had vowed to make Disney “follow the same law that every other company has to follow in the state of Florida.” I liked that idea. But that’s not what he did.

Instead of making Disney answer to Orange County government, the way other companies do, DeSantis set up a special district to control Disney’s fate and then stocked it with political cronies. Now those cronies are helping other cronies cash in.

No wonder experienced staffers are fleeing as the district invests less on roads and infrastructure — the kind of work it’s supposed to be doing.

Disney district mess: Employees flee. No-bid contract stinks | Commentary

I give credit to the beneficiary of the last no-bid deal we wrote about — communications firm owner and state ethics commissioner Freddie Figgers — who gave up his $242,500 contract after it’s no-bid nature was revealed.

Figgers said he preferred to “err on the side of caution” and seems to realize how swampy all this looks. The rest don’t seem to care. They seem content to thumb their noses at best practices and help their buddies cash in for one reason — because they can.

Of course DeSantis hasn’t shown any interest in cleaning up this swamp, because he’s the one who stocked it with swamp creatures.

And as long as he has a Legislature and political base full of sycophants who don’t care about ethical government, that swampiness will continue.