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Siegel Splits, Free Times Teeters

Heartbreaker! It was an awkward and emotional scene at the Free Times Friday afternoon, as Randy Siegel cleaned out his desk after six years at the helm of the paper founded by his father, Richard. The staff surprised him with flowers and a card, forcing Siegel to make a platitudinous farewell speech instead of a quiet exit. He cited family matters as the reason for his departure, which is apparently true. Siegel has a young daughter with pressing medical problems and is reportedly scouring the country for better care than she's been able to get in Cleveland. But the timing of his departure is hardly coincidental, with the sale of the paper just weeks away. Stern Publishing President David Schneiderman was in town last week to assure staff members they'll "be pleased" with the new owner. This did nothing to quell fears at the Free Times, which is a weak sister in the seven-paper Stern chain and an obvious candidate for closing. The new publisher and editor are both untested commodities, and at least two members of the edit staff have been interviewing for jobs at The Plain Dealer. "We're all a little nervous," says one staffer in what is surely one of the great understatements of the Y2-crazed year.

Also Not Welcoming the New Millennium: New Age Micro, the Russian-owned Eastlake computer company with a self-professed penchant for selling "piece of shit" hardware. The company has posted a "Going Out Off Business" announcement on its website, blaming suppliers, credit card companies -- in short, everyone but itself -- for going into bankruptcy. As for customers with outstanding problems, "We recommend you to address all billing matters to you credit cardcompanies/banks."

No comment from the Browns as to who ordered the banner denouncing "yuppie scum" taken down at Sunday's game, but it seems unlikely it was the police, as reported in The PD. Moments after the banner was hung, the first cop who came by gave it an admiring look and declared, "That's the best fucking sign I've seen all day."

The students hit hardest in the latest Parma School cuts likely will be those not going to college. Vocational programs being slashed by $310,000 reportedly include welding, auto mechanics, industrial electricity, and the genteel arts of accounting and child care. A remedial five-year financial plan is now in place, but not even a successful March levy can save the vocational classes. Plenty of burger-flipping jobs in Parma, though.

Is it just Scene's fax machine, or is everyone's overflowing lately with stern missives from City Hall correcting "misleading and sensationalistic" PD stories? In the past week, the Imperial Mayor felt obliged to denounce the paper's airport expansion coverage and deny any direct involvement in the South High investigation. "We were simply correcting or clarifying the record," says mayoral spokeswoman Nancy Lesic, admirably refusing to take any further bait. "I don't think it's necessary to get into a back-and-forth on it." Still, the mayor promises continued vigilance "until journalistic responsibility is exercised and facts are checked." Or at least interpreted with that slippery City Hall spin.

Snake oil and hot tips to edge@clevescene.com.

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