Firing Line

Sure, the economy's great, but these jobs are disappearing

There's a sulfur smell in the air. No, it's not just the odor of unrefined gasoline shooting out of car exhausts (hey, don't look at Tailpipe!) or the rotten-egg smell from that misfiring wastewater treatment facility in Delray Beach. This is the scent of Big Shot bosses simmering with righteous indignation. It's employers grinding their teeth and shooting wrathful looks at their underlings.

Aiyee, it's the Firing Time. That old, brusque, high-handed refrain has been echoing through the Broward County air as Big Shot bosses try to cover their butts by blaming the troops for their own mistakes. "You're fired!" It's a freakin' trend.

For example:

Whacking the Press

In the past month, the Express, a once-scrappy gay newspaper, has dumped two long-time employees, both heterosexual women. Maybe not so surprising. New Times told you six months ago that the Express,formerly owned by Fort Lauderdale attorney Norm Kent, would become soulless under its new owners, Washington, D.C.-based sister companies Unite Media and Window Media. The gay-newspaper chain Window Media has a history of union-busting, not paying bills, and valuing cheap-to-produce national content over local shoe-leather reporting.

"The Express is dead," says former Arts Editor Mary Damiano, who alleges that Window Media fired her to create an exclusive boys' club. "The only thing that's left is a name."

She's not alone. Logan Kent, Norm's 25-year-old niece, received her walking papers June 2. The explanation the bosses gave their office manager, who's due to give birth in eight weeks: Her job was eliminated. But that's not the real reason, Kent contends: No, girlfriend! You ain't gonna get maternity leave at this gay-media chain!

"I'm about to be a single mother, and I live by myself, and I support myself," Kent says.

Hmm. No more office manager? How come Window Media advertised the opening in the weeks prior to the termination? "Logan was discriminated against based on her pregnancy," Norm Kent says. "Window Media went out of their way to send me a memo saying that they were eliminating the position and consolidating, and [the firing] wasn't discriminatory. But my niece doesn't buy into that."

Neither Unite Media President Steven Guerrini nor Express Editor Mubarak Dahir returned calls for comment.

Tossing the Artist

It was barely a month ago that the Las Olas Art Center kicked off with a huge, Tinseltown-style black-tie party. About 2,500 people showed up to toast the glitzy new art mart. "I expected to see Madonna," says artist/gallery owner Matt Carone, who in January sold his two-story Carone Gallery on SE Second Court, facing the northern entrance to the Fort Lauderdale tunnel, to a group of investors including Boca Raton shoe manufacturer Bob Campbell. The price: $2.5 million.

The place was renamed and given the mission to provide a lively and varied artistic experience, with space for art galleries on the first floor and, on the second, open studios where you can see artists at work. Carone had his doubts, but he was soon won over by LOAC founder and President Elle Holbrook. To sweeten the deal, Holbrook gave Carone free use of studio space in the building for ten years and hired Carone's son David as executive director. David Carone, a long-time museum and gallery employee who had been working as the registrar at the Boca Raton Museum of Art, knows his stuff. He brought along his fiancée, Jeanne Mautoni, another former Boca Museum employee, as assistant director.

With the champagne all guzzled and the bonhomie a fading memory, though, Holbrook developed an overpowering case of hatchetitis. First to go was the suave David Carone, who had made it clear that he wanted LOAC to be a high-end art venue. Notice came June 9 when somebody dropped an envelope on his desk. He was out of there, Holbrook informed him without explanation. The next day, she sent an e-mail to LOAC staff, artists, and participating gallery owners saying that David had to go "for this facility to achieve the greatness that it is capable of." Then came Mautoni and an FAU student who had been brought in to do maintenance chores. About a dozen of the gallery owners also dropped out of LOAC.

"What I don't understand is the abruptness of the decision," says LOAC participant Jack Hyman, owner of Galleria Ocho, who is waiting for the dust to settle before he decides what to do.

There are various theories about what Holbrook's up to. One is that she wants to turn LOAC into a kind of "designer warehouse," where shoppers can buy artwork to match their décor and budget -- a long way from David Carone's notion of bringing Picasso or cutting-edge Latin American painters to Fort Lauderdale.

Asked about the dismissals, Holbrook, a blond woman with a steely smile, shrugged. "People get fired all the time," she said. "It was for lack of performance." What about Mautoni? "She was talking negatively with the rest of the staff," Holbrook said. She added: "There was absolutely no impact on the program." Holbrook denied that she's lowering standards; she just wants LOAC to be not "like a museum" but a place "that's all about having fun and loving art," she says.

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