Revelations that founder and longtime editor Marc Smirnoff and managing editor and art editor Carol Ann Fitzgerald were fired from their positions at The Oxford American magazine Sunday have stoked speculation surrounding the investigation into the pair and events leading up to their firings.
Magazine attorneys investigated Smirnoff and Fitzgerald starting earlier this month. That investigation concluded Tuesday, but Warwick Sabin, publisher, said he didn’t know whether the Oxford American Literary Project board, the nonprofit that oversees the magazine, will involve police. The investigation’s findings also have not been revealed.
Because the issue is a “personnel matter,” Sabin said he couldn’t elaborate on why the board decided to dismiss the two. The board met Sunday and fired both Fitzgerald and Smirnoff.
The nonprofit organization does not have to turn over personnel records under the Freedom of Information Act when employees are fired, Sabin said. Board director Rick Massey did not return a phone message left at his workplace Tuesday.
Smirnoff and Fitzgerald plan to fight their firings.
At about 7 p.m.
Monday night, Fitzgerald posted a message on her Facebook page that said: “Dear Friends: Marc Smirnoff, founder and editor of The Oxford American, and I, the magazine’s managing editor and art editor, have been fired in the strangest, most secretive manner imaginable. We plan to give the full details and truth of what we know as soon as possible, but we must first focus on preparing our legal response. In the meantime, we send out our heartfelt gratitude to those many people who have enriched our lives by their connection and support to the real Oxford American.”
The Oxford American is a national magazine dedicated to Southern writing that documents “the complexities and vitality of the American South,” according to its website. It began publication in Oxford, Miss., and moved to Arkansas around 2001. The magazine moved to UCA and became a nonprofit in 2004. Last month, The Oxford American won a $290,000 grant to renovate its new headquarters in Little Rock and start a restaurant to open early next year.
Smirnoff, who founded the magazine in 1992, has been a leading literary figure in Arkansas for years. He is listed as an author-presenter for the 2012 Literary Arts Festival on the organization’s website. Fitzgerald had been with the magazine since 2003. The pair were known to have been in a relationship, according to the The Arkansas Times.
Contacted through Facebook, an online social network site, Fitzgerald directed questions to Smirnoff and provided an email address. Smirnoff did not respond to an email sent Monday afternoon. He did not answer the door to his Conway home when a reporter knocked at about 4:15 p.m. Tuesday.
Smirnoff said in an Arkansas Times blog that he had served minors alcohol. He also said he believed his firing stemmed from trouble with interns, one of whom he fired, according to the same Times article. Sabin would not confirm whether any interns had been fired or were involved in the investigation.
“All personnel matters have to remain confidential,” Sabin said repeatedly.
In a news release issued after 8 p.m. Monday night, Sabin said: “Now that Mr. Smirnoff and Ms. Fitzgerald have disclosed certain details of the situation, I am obligated to respond. Earlier this month, the Oxford American Board of Directors engaged professional legal counsel to conduct a thorough and fair investigation of allegations made against Mr. Smirnoff and Ms. Fitzgerald. The entire Board then met for two hours on Sunday to carefully review and discuss with counsel the findings of the investigation, and it voted unanimously in separate roll calls to terminate the employment of Mr. Smirnoff and Ms. Fitzgerald.”
The magazine’s offices at the University of Central Arkansas were closed this past Wednesday night and the locks changed, but the office reopened Tuesday morning. An employee and intern working there Tuesday afternoon referred all questions to Sabin and said they “couldn’t talk” to the media.
On Monday, Sabin said morale at the magazine is high since Fitzgerald’s and Smirnoff’s departure. On Tuesday, an intern smiled after she was asked what is happening at The Oxford American. An editor offered Sabin’s number.
The magazine has never had the kind of turbulence it recently experienced, Sabin said. There has never been turnover in the editor position.
Sabin will be interim editor and remain publisher for the foreseeable future, but he said Tuesday he had no plans to control editorial content in the magazine. His role will be managerial, Sabin said, and he hoped to be out of the editor position by the time he is sworn in as a state representative in January, he said.
“I’m only stepping in to provide managerial leadership on the editorial side,” Sabin said. “I’m not going to be interfering with the content.”