BY STEVE ROTHAUS
The Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival -- about $50,000 in debt -- on Friday fired its flamboyant festival director, Carol Coombes.
Now, she may be deported.
"Carol is British and in 60 days she might have to leave the country," said Harvey Burstein, a festival founder and former board member.
He said Coombes' visa requires she be employed in the film industry and that she was to get her permanent residency or green card in November.
Coombes joined the festival in 2001 and became director a few years later. She declined comment.
"It's a very unfortunate complication of a very heartfelt, thought-out decision," said festival board member Mark Gilbert. "We know that there are implications that will affect her citizenship and we are hopeful that Carol, because of her great skills, will be able to find immediate, meaningful employment."
Burstein, who said he wrote the first check to the film festival more than 10 years ago, is "really, really worried and saddened," both for Coombes and the festival. "The film festival did so much for this community," he said.
Gilbert assures that the 11th annual festival "absolutely'' will take place next April. "We want to start over, with new people to rebuild this festival," Gilbert said. ``We are analyzing and critiquing every facet of this festival, to make sure we are doing it as cost efficiently and as well as we can."
The festival, which this year added a weekend in Fort Lauderdale, took a big hit last spring when three major sponsors -- Avis Rent-a-Car, Sundance Channel and Flamingo South Beach condos -- suddenly backed out.
Throughout this year's festival, board members warned attendees of the financial crisis. "Remember, this is a community festival and needs to be supported by the community," Gilbert said. "We got up every single night because we knew where we were going to be. Unfortunately, the community did not rise to the level we anticipated."
Last month, the festival board fired two other full-time staff members, development director Keith Cromley and operations manager Lisa Niven.
"The Board has entrusted Carol Coombes and [festival manager] Kareem Tabsch to step up and do what is necessary to ensure the ongoing success of this very important South Florida Gay Cultural Institution," the festival said in a letter to members. "We know they will take this trust and rise to the challenge."
Two weeks ago, Tabsch quit. "I left on my own accord," he said Friday.
Alone, Coombes planned to close the office and run the festival out of her home, Burstein said.
Coombes performed well at work, but some board members "micromanaged her job," Burstein said.
"You hire talent and let them do the work," said Burstein, board chairman of Miami Beach Arts Trust and New Theatre. "You agree on policy and vote on the budget and that's it. You put on your volunteer's hat."
Gilbert said the board fired Coombes simply because it wants "to start over with new people."
"In order to reinvent itself, the festival needed to reinvent itself from top down," Gilbert said. "That included a complete overhaul of staff and starting over again."