Firing Line

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

Matt Carone says Holbrook fired his son because she was jealous of all the attention he was getting from art professionals. "I began to think about it when I saw all the artists and gallery owners gravitating to David," he said. "She'd have this odd kind of expression. I kind of knew there'd be a little problem down the line."

Good-bye, Techies

Back in the late 1990s, Monte Guthrie positioned himself as a marketing visionary for the South Florida gay community. Ideas poured out of him. A Gay Yellow Pages. A Gay Expo. A slick-paper magazine called Quintessential. A travel agency to pitch gay vacation destinations. By fall of 2003, his company, Gay South Florida Inc. , had more than 40 employees, a lot of them talented sales and marketing people who had listened to Guthrie's seductive assertions that they were getting in on the ground floor of a kind of gay Microsoft.

But the flush of optimism faded quickly. Early this year, Guthrie started firing people. Most of the sales staff. The event planners. The editorial staff for Quintessential. In the first round of layoffs, in February, Guthrie dumped 40 percent of the staff, saying that his sprawling company was "narrowing its focus." At the same time, he started looking around for potential buyers for the magazine. By then, he had already alienated a large portion of the staff. Sales workers, who had been earning base salaries of $18,000 plus commissions, were cut back to straight commission. And Guthrie -- who had just bought a new Oakland Park house and a Chevy Tahoe truck -- started skimming $50 a week from their paychecks for deposit in an escrow account. This was a contingency fund that was supposed to be returned to employees if they left the company. One problem: Those who were laid off said they were being shortchanged. "I had $600 in the fund, but I only got $400 back," former sales rep Anthony Sommella says.

Among the first to be fired was Executive Vice President Jeff Licalzi, who had invested $175,000 in the company ("He's a fabulous salesman," Licalzi says of his ex-boss). Guthrie says he fired Licalzi for nonperformance (sound familiar?). "He had a terrible work record," Guthrie says. "In his three months here, he was absent 40 days." But Licalzi attributes his difficulties with Guthrie to different management styles. "I'm honest, and he's not," says Licalzi, who has sued Guthrie, charging his former employer with fraud. In court documents, Licalzi says that Guthrie had solicited money from him with "untrue" and "misleading" statements. The two are near an out-of-court settlement in which Guthrie will return the money.

Other employees say Guthrie is probably more ineffectual manager than unscrupulous employer. "Back in November, we had our biggest sales month ever, about $375,000," one ex-employee says. "A good businessman would realize that you sock some of that money away. Instead, Monte took the entire staff on a cruise to the Bahamas. Then he put on a huge Christmas party, with an open bar."

Guthrie says, probably rightly, that he has done nothing illegal. Firing people is his prerogative. "It's my company," he says. He adds that Gay South Florida is not in trouble. "We have downsized," he says, "and we're going back to focus on what we do best, to our core product, the Gay Yellow Pages." Meanwhile, a lot of former employees, many of them saying they signed on because Guthrie had appealed to their idealism, are licking their wounds, trying not to succumb to cynicism.

"I'm extremely disappointed," comments one ex-employee, who relocated to South Florida and took a salary cut to work for Guthrie. "We worked so hard, and we were hoodwinked."

But at least Guthrie did Tailpipe a favor and put his finger on a basic truth. Why do the Big Shot bosses go on firing rampages? Because they can.

-- As told to Edmund Newton

Does Anybody Hear a Fire Alarm?

Before state Democrats descended on the Westin Diplomat last weekend, their honchos organized a Friday-night booty-shaking session at the State on South Beach. The stiff dancing and sensible, ankle-length dresses did little to add glamour to the Democratic image. But Chris Petley, political director for the Democratic Party of Florida, insisted that the bash would give the organization a youthful jolt. "There's a need to 'keep it real,'" he shouted over the music, gesturing air quotes with $7 Heineken in hand. The event was also supposed to tout a useful new website for Dem go-getters, -- which at the time of this writing contained a home page full of links that were all "under construction."

If wanton ruthlessness defines the GOP, perpetual cluelessness defines the Dems. At the Jefferson-Jackson dinner on Saturday, the veterans of American Legion Post Number 98 in Coral Gables stood at the front of the sprawling ballroom while donors pecked at their mixed greens. Then the vets sat (in the far back corner). Then stood. Then sat. "Chinese fire drill," said Carl Lionel Laks, who was there to present the flag. "Nobody has a clue." Finally, somebody remembered the old soldiers, and they were called -- mid-dinner -- for a ceremonial march.

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