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Theater employees suspected of embezzlement

Original post made on May 1, 2008

Palo Alto police suspect Children's Theatre Director Pat Briggs, the late Assistant Director Michael Litfin and Costume Supervisor Alison Williams of embezzlement, according to search-warrant affidavits obtained by the Weekly.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, May 1, 2008, 8:37 AM

Comments (110)

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 1, 2008 at 8:50 am

It is amazing to me that these people kept their jobs so long without any type of reprimand. Their sloppy bookkeeping would not be allowed in a business and the fact that the City allowed this to go on for so long is also amazing. Whether there has been any criminal intent in any of this is doubtful to me, but it is hardly surprising that these people should be held accountable for the missing money if there has never been any proper records kept.

I have no idea what should happen to them, but in the future there should definitely be a business manager at the theatre with no other purpose than to keep records straight. This would not have to be a full time post, but possibly a city employee who puts in part of his/her hours at the theatre keeping things straight.

I am shocked that this sort of thing goes on in Palo Alto and it just shows how badly run the city is.


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Posted by Tim
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 1, 2008 at 8:56 am

The facts finally come out. THEY WERE STEALING!!


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Posted by Perp walk
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 1, 2008 at 9:23 am

While it is too early to know if the police allegations are correct and the people are afforded the presumption of innocence, there is reason to believe that the PACT staff may have been up to no good.
I hope that all the people that have been vilifying the police and have raised the PACT staff to sainthood, will now reflect on their words and in due course, if the staff is found guilty, will issue an apology.


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Posted by Taking Candy From Babies
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 1, 2008 at 9:44 am

The Fat Lady has sung!!!

Keeping "left over" money themselves because it was too much trouble to return it to the rightful owners - children, how utterly deplorable!

Double billing for food? Hundreds of children's dollars spent on "gifts"? Profiteering from sales of city owned surplus property?

And when they "needed" more money? Make the kids work extra performances!

As for the Friends of the Childrens Theater, perhaps it's time to rename itself Fooled by the Childrens Theater.


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Posted by Oh brother!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 1, 2008 at 9:49 am

According to City Accounts Payable personnel, it costs the City $30 to issue a check.

These activities were probably SAVING the City money!


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Posted by Ronald L
a resident of Downtown North
on May 1, 2008 at 9:51 am

Hold on Folks, let's put away the pitchforks and torches for a moment.
It is probable these issues could have been discovered and fixed through
an internal audit. What process does our City have in place to assure
procedures are documented and followed?


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Posted by fireman
a resident of another community
on May 1, 2008 at 9:59 am

Parent; The City not knowing how to keep track of $money$,pay rates and retirement pay.

Has been a huge problem in the past, There were 10 Palo Alto Firefighters who had a huge expensive law suit with the CITY ,over several years of over payment to them in benefits.

After several of these Employee's informed the city of this problem.. Years before . The city told these ex-employee's at that time. That no , the amount that they were getting was correct?

Then several years later is is found out that, THE EMPLOYEE"S WERE CORRECT AND THE CITY HAD BEEN PAYING THEM TOO MUCH MONEY IN BENEFITS..

Then the huge LAW suit over pay-back..

The City Paid me too much money for several years.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

This issue of over payment is still not closed... You need to hear the whole side of this story,
I want the CITIZENS to see how this City... TAKES CARE of IT"S EMPLOYEE"S.

While they are working, when they get hurt,sick,retire,

WHEN THEY: COVER UP FOR THE CITY,, DO NOT COVER UP FOR THE CITY..

Why the above.... Parent is talking about handling money/funds..
I am telling my story as a PALO ALTO CITY EMPLOYEE, to someone who is voicing concern in this area..
I think I am giving facts.. With written proof and history... Oh and we are not the only ones to have this problem with the city... Several police officers also, I heard


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Posted by Fireman
a resident of another community
on May 1, 2008 at 10:23 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Joe
a resident of Midtown
on May 1, 2008 at 10:37 am

It looks like they expected to find embezzlement but instead turned up an organization with some poor accounting practices.

Shouldn't be so much of a surprise. The employees of the Palo Alto Children's Theater were hired on their ability to inspire creativity all the while managing hundreds of rambunctious adolescents. They were not hired as financial managers or accountants. Add some poor administrative oversight by the city and you find a bureaucratic nightmare.

I am sure that detective Yore is not the bully that recent reports have alleged. Unfortunately, Yore, Chief Lynne Johnson and the city are in a tight place. By overreacting to what at first appeared to be embezzlement they have launched an investigation that is well past the point of no return. They must produce credible charges or face the wrath of the fiercely loyal and passionate theater alumni.

So the police continue a weak investigation, spending hundreds of thousands over the alleged theft of hundreds of dollars. To their defense, what else could they do? This has gotten so out of control that someone will lose their job. Yore and Johnson are just working to make sure the pink slip ends up at the theater.


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Posted by George
a resident of Downtown North
on May 1, 2008 at 11:19 am

This only proves that the police mishandled the whole thing. the costume sales were approved by the Arts Director after costumes were delcared surplus. The travelers' checks were stolen by thieves precisely because they were NOT used by the staff for personal purchases, but were still in the office because people told the staff to keep them for future trip expenses. Instead of jumping to conclusions, the police should have questioned the staff, and the City Auditor should have checked records. If there was sloppy bookkeeping, this reflects more on the city than on the staff! What a waste of taxpayers' money this fiasco has been


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Posted by fireman
a resident of another community
on May 1, 2008 at 11:27 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Big Al
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 1, 2008 at 11:27 am

well said Joe!


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Posted by still fishy
a resident of Community Center
on May 1, 2008 at 11:35 am

One detail about those travelers checks is bothersome. Why didn't the staff roll them over into the next trip, asking students to pay only the amount needed after applying the excess money? That solution seems too obvious. That the staff just kept overcharging (intentionally or not), stocking up a larger and larger number of travelers checks, makes no sense. This detail smells fishy. You'd think at some point they'd try to figure out how to put those travelers checks to good use rather than stockpiling them.


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Posted by fireman
a resident of another community
on May 1, 2008 at 11:39 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Where does the buck stop?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 1, 2008 at 1:52 pm

"The City of Palo Alto often regularly provided cash advances to theater employees related to travel with theater participants to a theater festival in Atlanta and to Southern California or Oregon to watch plays."

And this practice went on without the City requiring an accounting for those funds? And went on for years?

Guess we now know the real reasons for the recent departures of Administrative Services Director Yeats and City Auditor Ericcson.


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Posted by Ernest Kinsolving
a resident of another community
on May 1, 2008 at 2:19 pm

I'm puzzled by many of the reactions to this article; what I see here seems very clear. The Children's Theatre is run, as Joe so aptly put it, by people with an "ability to inspire creativity." Have you seen Pat's office? It is quite creative. It would be easy to lose track of several thousand dollars of traveler's checks in there. (It would be easy to lose track of a mid-sized sedan in there.)

A bunch of creative people did poorly with accounting (not their strong suit) and misplaced things while their attention was focused on doing their jobs. The police began an investigation based on some theft by people not associated with the theater, and because it is *their* job to find crime and assign guilt, they found crime and assigned guilt.

Pat and Alison and Rich are good people who have done a great deal of good for the community, and I hope for their sake that this is resolved swiftly and justly, perhaps by instituting a bit more order and method in the office, but certainly not by further police action.


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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 1, 2008 at 4:49 pm

What this shows is that it is unwise for a city to be entangled with a children's theatre. The theatre should be a separate, stand-alone nonprofit like all the other youth arts nonprofits around here. This would prevent "misunderstandings" of this nature and the huge hassle and expense this has caused for taxpayers.


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Posted by anonymous also
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 1, 2008 at 5:05 pm

Discredit and remove the staff now its time to Kill the theatre!


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Posted by Jane McLean
a resident of Downtown North
on May 1, 2008 at 5:21 pm

Adults using the labor of children for their own self enrichment.

This whole matter is disgusting and vile.

Sham on you people. To jail with all of these people.


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Posted by no CPA at CPA?
a resident of Ventura
on May 1, 2008 at 5:42 pm

no comment!


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Posted by Sherlock
a resident of Midtown
on May 1, 2008 at 6:22 pm

Is this the same Michael Kan who on July 13 2003 was charged with felony assault by unlawfully beating and pepper spraying African American Albert Hopkins? Perhaps another fair and unbiased member of the investigative team!


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Posted by Where will it stop?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 1, 2008 at 7:43 pm

Sherlock,

Yes, the same Michael Kan....

Web Link



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Posted by Time to rethink PACT
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 1, 2008 at 7:49 pm

Taxpayer's subsidies for the Children's Theater should end. All students living outside the City of Palo Alto should pay an extra fee to participate in Children's Theater activities.

The Children's Theater needs to take some advice from PA's youth sports groups on how to structure a successful program without leaning on the taxpayers of Palo Alto for financial help.


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Posted by TOM
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 1, 2008 at 8:30 pm

Don't pass go- go straight to jail.


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on May 1, 2008 at 9:50 pm

Time to weigh in: This appears to be the result of a kludgy system that resulted from seat-of-the-pants operating principals, strung together by city employees who were more focused on service provision than fiscal rigor.

Children's theatre often generate a kind of "organized chaos", where hundreds of kids are found working on theatre productions, planning trips to local and regional theatre, helping to organize fund raisers, etc. etc.

It's easy to imagine theatre administrators - especially administrators who have worked with the city over years, as fiscal operations morph from one detail to another - inventing their own money management systems to keep from having to add layers of bureaucracy to expense reimbursement, and other activities.

It's not difficult to imagine being on a theatre trip to a city like San Diego, and purchasing gifts for parents, volunteers, and other that were involved in local theatre production, and having no sense that the money was misspent, or improperly deployed.

Certainly, the fiscal scene at Children's should be addressed; tighter fiscal operational policies should be put in place, and reinforced.

All that said, in no way is it possible - knowing theatre personnel as I do - that "theft" is the operating principal here. No way. "Poor fiscal management"? Possibly.

With that as my operating assumption, and given the priceless addition to the lives of thousands of Palo Altans that Children's Theatre staff has made, I would hope that there would be nothing more than an official reprimand for ignoring established fiscal operating policy, proper training given, and that should be the end of it.

I suggest that all involved - i.e. Children's Theatre personnel, police detectives, city management - were doing their jobs the way they saw fit, with every intention of doing the right thing.

There is no malfeasance here - only a series of miscommunications, unfortunate misjudgments, and naive ignorance about fiscal operations.

My hope is that PACT and our city will weather this "perfect storm" of misfortune, and that PACT will continue on, with present management intact, to continue valuable and priceless activities that help bring out the best in all who grace the portals of the Children's Theatre.

The show must go on!





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Posted by RS
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 1, 2008 at 10:45 pm

If I understand this right though, they were reimbursing themselves with money that did not belong to them or to the city. They money belonged to the parents of the kids that went on the trip.

Any money they spent that was eligible for reimbursement should have come from the city, not the kid's travel money that should have been refunded to the parents.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on May 1, 2008 at 10:58 pm

There WAS malfeasance: the performance by a public official of an act that is legally unjustified, harmful, or contrary to law.

Maybe Briggs and Litfin are innocent of intent to steal, but they were each earning over $100K/year and in positions of responsibility. Briggs is a director. Certainly some accountability -- not just creative inspiration -- goes with that position and salary.

Where was Briggs' boss in all of this? Were no expense reports ever submitted over all the years of theater trips? How long do director level employees get away with "seat-of-the-pants operating principals, strung together by city employees who were more focused on service provision than fiscal rigor."?

It is definitely time to rethink taxpayers' subsidy ($1 million/year) of the Children's Theater!


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Posted by pete
a resident of Professorville
on May 1, 2008 at 11:47 pm

The defenders of PACT personnel are putting any spin they can on this unlawful situation. People should be held accountable for their actions, not excused because they are creative.

I can't believe that those who run/ran the theater weren't aware of how money should be accounted for. They must have bank accounts from which to pay for mortgage or rent, utilities, telephone, perhaps car payments, etc. They must have an organized way to pay their own bills from these accounts. Why is handling city money any different?

And still some try to divert attention by blaming the messengers, that is the police. Shame.


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Posted by Howard
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 2, 2008 at 12:25 am

Re: "It's easy to imagine theatre administrators - especially administrators who have worked with the city over years, as fiscal operations morph from one detail to another - inventing their own money management systems to keep from having to add layers of bureaucracy to expense reimbursement, and other activities." --

It's also easy to imagine, after a while, rationalizing diverting a bit of the loose, untraceable cash for personal benefit, then a little bit more, and so on.


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Posted by Karen
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 2, 2008 at 2:12 am

Was that the same city Arts Director who never returned my call when I left a message on his voice mail offering to buy the Foreign Friends statue instead of the city destroying it? I guess he was not too careful about the city's money on more than one occasion.

Sounds consistent with the Children's Theater people now taking a fall for what is city mismanagement.


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Posted by Perp walk
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 2, 2008 at 7:38 am

"Police searched Briggs' four storage units, Litfin's two storage units and a unit belonging to the Friends at American Self Storage on East Bayshore Road. They confiscated, among other items, 78 boxes of costumes, according to the warrant receipts."

Wow quite a lot of costumes. How do they explain that?
Also waiting to hear from all those who have been vilifying the police over the investigations of Saint Pat, Saint Michael and Saint Alison.


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Posted by END THIS NOW
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on May 2, 2008 at 9:27 am

SIMPLE, even a child could figure this one out!!

FIRE THEM ALL

WHO CARES ABOUT THEIR CREATIVITY IT WOULD SEEM THEY WERE NOT CREATIVE ENOUGH OR SKILLED IN THE AREAS OF FRAUD AND EMBEZZLEMENT.

ENOUGH

FIRE THEM ALL


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Posted by Longtime reader
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 2, 2008 at 9:51 am

Just in reading the articles, I would like to hear from parents of children that went on all these fabulous trips to theater festivals in Atlanta and San Diego. Ordinarily, recreation functions are line items in the Palo Alto Park and Rec book. Irrespective of any possible criminality, why is the theater allowed to organize fun trips and not make them available to everyone? I am assuming the trips were not open to the public to sign up their kids. My observation of auditions were a a select few got parts, and then out of that group it appears another subset were taken on these extra journeys. Why is this allowed? Please make these trips open to all children in Palo Alto.


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Posted by litebug
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 2, 2008 at 11:13 am

I have just read the story in the Palo Alto Daily News. Accompanying the picture of a cheery, smiling Frank Benest, in larger type, is his statement: "Obviously there was a breakdown. We had the procedures in place...but in this particular case there was not the aggressive follow-up because the Children's Theatre was unique and well-loved."

That has to be the most asinine, ridiculous, disingenuous, self-serving and down right stupid statement I've heard by a public servant in some time...and the bar is pretty high! Congratulations, Frank!

No matter what crimes have or haven't taken place at the PACT, the buck does not stop there. Bigger, worse offenses occurred at the City level where, due to total incompetence or negligence, a facility under City management was allowed to operate in a manner unsuitable for anything more than a corner lemonade stand, and for at least seven years. Are we expected to believe that the PACT was, among all other departments and facilities, the only one being mis-managed, or non-managed? No, according to Benest, only the PACT was non-managed and that was because of the special, heretofore unknown, "PACT sentimental exemption clause" in City management/accounting procedures. Give me a BREAK!

If you set a big, full cookie jar out and let everyone help themselves while you look on with a wink and a smile you can be sure there won't be any cookies left in a very short while. Were the cookies stolen or did it appear the cookies were free for the taking?

The buck has NOT stopped yet, it is still defying gravity and rolling upwards. Had it not been for a burglary by a few young thugs who left Traveler's Checks strewn about, the situation at the PACT (whether criminal or negligence) might never have come to light. And now we see the crooks did us a favor, not only by revealing a mess at the PACT, but, much more importantly, revealing an even bigger mess downtown at City Hall.

Of course, if one were to be slightly paranoid, one might wonder if the PACT wasn't possibly, maybe, being set up to provide an excuse to get rid of it. There certainly seems to be a strong contingent of PACT-haters and economic privitizers in this community, judging by comments I've been reading the past several months. I have no way of knowing if any of these people with their barely hidden (and often open) agendas might have been involved in the chronic mis-management of the PACT. I don't know any City staff or politicians or inside politics, I'm merely a citizen who is just wondering at the real and true reasons behind the City's management behavior. Was a situation allowed to fester so that the baby could be thrown out with the bath water?

This case still stinks, regardless of the guilt or innocence of PACT staff, which should be determined in court. The worst thing would be to set the limits of the investigation at the door of the PACT and not to continue to investigate upwards, and possibly outwards.

I certainly hope the PACT continues, with proper accounting and administrative procedures enforced, as they should be at all times with all parts of the City, "unique and well-loved" or not.


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Posted by fireman
a resident of another community
on May 2, 2008 at 11:26 am

litebug;

I am standing and clapping.

Sound like the FUNERAL for the Fallen Firefighters from Contra Costa and the firefighters attempts to show there respect???


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Posted by William
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 2, 2008 at 1:03 pm

> by instituting a bit more order and method in
> the office, but certainly not by further police action

According to Frank Benest, "procedures fell down". So, what procedures and who was supposed to monitor/enforce them? What were these people doing when they were supposed to be doing that? The police seem to be the only agency in the city government willing/capable to do the job. If it takes more police action--Go For It!


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Posted by litebug
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 2, 2008 at 1:09 pm

There is one thing about the burglary that my mind just keeps chewing on, like a dog with a bone, and that is why the crooks would have so conveniently left Traveler's Checks here and there. If I remember the details correctly, some were found in the U-Haul trailor and some in a truck. Also, if I remember correctly, some had been cashed. Even if these kids didn't know their value before, they certainly would have after cashing some of them. By then they would have had to know that Traveler's Checks were almost as valuable and easy to pass as cash, not to mention being so small and lightweight that a great many could fit in a person's pockets. So, back to the question my brain won't let go of: why they were so careless or stupid as to treat the equivalent of cash like it was waste paper, leaving those checks as a literal paper trail, not only to their own crime, but also, as it turned out, to other possible crimes and irregularities involving the PACT? This little coinkydink certainly makes the case more intriguing, purely as a mystery story. This is just one of the spots in the case where my nose twitches.


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Posted by skeptic
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 2, 2008 at 2:33 pm

For those who believe it's just sloppy accounting, not any actual misdeeds... How likely do you think it is that when the accounting is all worked through it will turn out they were UNDER reimbursed? I think when you have years of "Oops, I ended up with too much money..." you know it, and it's not accidental.

Also, that doesn't mean they weren't doing magnificent work for the kids. People are complicated, their hearts and talents could be in it 100%, and they could still just find that slush of extra money very convenient.


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Posted by Deep Throat
a resident of another community
on May 2, 2008 at 2:40 pm

The police suspect that illegal costume sales occurred beginning in 2001, the year after Frank Benest became City Manager.

Why are there no charges of illegal costume sales before Benest became City Manager? Were there different procedures in place then?

Benest attributes the breakdown in procedures to the fact that the Children's Theater is unique and well-loved.

The theater might be well-loved in the community, but certainly not in the City Manager's office.

It was Carl Yeats's department that provided the cash advances to the theater employees and it was Yeats's department that did not implement proper procedures to keep track of the cash advances, but I never heard or read that Yeats or anyone in his department loved or hated the Children's Theater.

litebug asks why the thief left the uncashed traveler's checks that were as good as cash in a place where they could be found by the police.

I want to know why Technical Director Michael Miranda was not placed on administrative leave, when it was the equipment he was primarily responsible for that is missing and the police don't seem to be too interested in finding that equipment or getting accurate descriptions of the three teenagers (now described as being 24 or 25 years old) who supposedly suggested to Torres that he steal the traveler's checks, which led to the other theater employees being placed on administrative leave.


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on May 2, 2008 at 3:46 pm

"Illegal costume sales"? Give me a break! Costumes were sold to help support the theatre. As I watch this thread, it appears that some people here are simply out for blind vengeance; they need to do a gut check before they post, as they are obviously out of tune with most Palo Alto citizens, and the priceless value that PACT brings our city.

It's getting quite tiring to hear the same self-appointed representatives of our city weighing in with little more to show for their energy than a desire to tear more good things down in Palo Alto.

In fact, a few of the posters, above, appear as if they're posting from Mars. Who are these people, anyway? They're acting as if accidental fiscal mismanagement - which happens, occasionally, in EVERY organization is a literal act of the devil, and that it is going to destroy our city. It's time for some to re-calibrate their interest in this topic, and drill down deep, to their real motives.


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Posted by Jim Burch
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 2, 2008 at 3:57 pm

Obviously, Palo Altans can read the same story and come up with totally opposing views. I think the most insightful comment was made by Senaor Joe Simitian when he said "Sometimes good people do bad things."


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Posted by Fireman
a resident of another community
on May 2, 2008 at 4:48 pm

Mr Burch , Then why not be accountable for the injury ,these bad things cause?

Help undo these bad things, Right the wrongs...



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Posted by Still confused by the mystery
a resident of The Greenhouse
on May 2, 2008 at 4:54 pm

As to the poster above who keeps chewing over the traveler's checks, keep in mind that traveler's "checks" are often now issued in the form or debit or credit cards. So why would these items be tossed around the back of the UHAUL van?

Also, in response to Fireman's comment why does the PA news article show a happy and smiling, almost beaming shot of Benest accompanying the story, as if he's off to Hawaii. This whole mess erupted under his watch, and many of the children have been hurt and don't understand this whole problem. So why smile like the Cheshire cat over it?


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Posted by Fireman
a resident of another community
on May 2, 2008 at 4:55 pm

Mike, I thought what you wrote was well done.

But, I think the most important thing now is how did all this happen. The readers of this forum did not do it.

Some how all this had enough fuel to burn? Why? How this City is being run?


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Posted by fireman
a resident of another community
on May 2, 2008 at 5:03 pm

Still confused, I am not the one to make the smiling comment. I can not take credit for that.

I guess maybe one other person might feel the same way I do. I do agree with it. Still after all these years , hard too believe.

Thanks for not being fearful to us my name.. "in response to fireman's comment" Just don't let one one here you.


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Posted by Vic
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 2, 2008 at 5:22 pm

How the city is being run as far as accounting practices is certainly an issue that needs to be addressed. The city manager's own comments seem to make that point clear. However, whatever lack of checks and balance that were in place does not relieve those accused of their morale, ethical, and legal responsibilties. These are very separate issues. Poor accounting and casual supervision should not be used to justify or rationalize the crimes that may have been committed. Unfortunately, it just made it easier.


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Posted by litebug
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 2, 2008 at 7:24 pm

Vic, I agree with you. Will wonders never cease!


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on May 2, 2008 at 10:17 pm

Vic: "However, whatever lack of checks and balance that were in place does not relieve those accused of their morale, ethical, and legal responsibilties. These are very separate issues. Poor accounting and casual supervision should not be used to justify or rationalize the crimes that may have been committed."

"Innocent until proven guilty", right, Vic? I thought *that* was supposed to be the operating principle around here.

As for your "very separate issues" comment - one that's intended to look insightful - I'm afraid you don't know what you're talking about. How do poor fiscal controls, that over time, over years, lead to a lack of diligence that encourages - and even rewards - certain behaviors that *adapt* to those poor fiscal controls, become an immoral act, or a crime? We're talking about an *organizational* aberration, Vic, not bad people.

Given that, even the police are victims in this case. Stop judging, stop assuming the worst, and examine your motives. Once you've managed to do that think really hard about the great good that the hard-working and dedicated people you and others have been castigating have given to our children, and our community.

That *anyone* knowing the full range of chaos that happens within any operating children's theatre would castigate employees for what are essentially innocent oversights, simple misjudgments and slights of memory, is to show a side of themselves that *should* be hidden by the anonymity made available in these forums. Why? because most of the negative claptrap I've seen written here about PACT and its employees amounts to little more than sheer lunacy.


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Posted by Vic
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 2, 2008 at 11:48 pm

Mike,

Which is precisely why I stated, "crimes that may have been comitted." I do not presume guilt, anymore than you should presume innocence based on the hard working reputation of those accused. Good people, even the best of us, are capable of making bad decisions. Yes, even those that could rise to a criminal level. To think anything else would be a bit naive I'm afraid.

I'm not convinced that dismissing these allegations as you put it, as an "aberration, innocent oversight, or slights of memory" seems somewhat generous under the circumstances. If I came across as being overly judgmental, you have certainly balanced the argument with your blind faith. Objectivity works both ways.

I do agree that we need to let the investigation run its course, and again, hope for a fair and just conclusion.


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Posted by Colleen
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 2, 2008 at 11:59 pm

Along with others who have been following the children's theater investigation, I have had my suspicions--not about theater director Pat Briggs and her staff but about the police investigation. Now that we know about the sloppy accounting (no surprise to anyone involved in the theater), let's hire a bookkeeper for the children's theater and stop the real waste of money--the investigation. I don't know anything about the relationship between city management and the theater staff, but this whole thing smells of vendetta and feels like a fiasco.


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Posted by joe and jane taxpayer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 3, 2008 at 12:02 am

I am sure that some of these issues would not amount to much if this was a private NON-PROFIT Theater. However these people had their hand in the public pocket. This money was from all the taxpayers of Palo Alto taken from them by force of law. This money was not a gift by any measure.

This money requires crystal clear accounting and tracking. Some where along the way these people - government employees - lost track of their fiduciary responsibility (which I am sure was covered many times in training as well as published in procedure manuals) and they became careless, irresponsible or worst entitled.

The government has measures to apply against the non-paying taxpayer, leans, forced seizure, confiscation and jail. Why should these people expect any less fair treatment than joe and jane taxpayer would get by the hands of the government?

Actions to take - termination - re-payment - fines - jail time.



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Posted by a Palo Alto parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 3, 2008 at 7:43 am

When my children went on the theatre trips, we parents we asked to write checks to finance their costs. So it sounds like the theatre staff may have been triple-dipping into funds: checks from parents, funds from Friends, funds from the city.

The real problem is that the city auditor and manager weren't overseeing the finances of the theatre, just as they would oversee the finances of any other city department. Why aren't the police investigating those at the top, who are ultimately responsible? The buck stops there.


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Posted by narnia
a resident of Midtown
on May 3, 2008 at 7:45 am

Mike,
please stop " innocent until proven guilty". That principle is only applied in court proceedings, that is, when an accused is in trial. It stands to reason actually, because otherwise nobody could ever accuse anybody of wrongdoing, not even the police and the attorneys for the jurisdiction. We all know that we can and we do make assumptions of guilt or innocence based on facts we know or are related to us by a bona fide part: we are allowed under the law and under ethical considerations to make judgements ( though in the US there is never innocence- which is a moral concept-, only guilt or lack of thereof). The law that determines "legal" guilt or no guilt, but our moral judgments permit us to speculate or even say" I think so and so is guilty or I think so and so is innocent" based on what has been reported.
It doesn't seem to me that there should be a dispute over the reckless way finances were treated by the PAC management. Even if no crime is ultimately attributed to these individuals that doesn't mean it wasn't committed, it just means it wasn't committed under the law. What certainly seems to be the case is that they treated the moneys as personal possessions- that's why they cannot account for it. That's a very serious breach of fiduciary duty .
I say it's time for them to find other employment.
In my lifetime I have known incredibly creative individuals who managed not to confuse their personal moneys with those which had been untrusted to them by the "people". Most public theater, orchestra and scientific managements of public funds are able to do so and when they don't they have been known to be dragged to court under suspicion and in some cases convicted. PAC management is not so out of this world that under the circumstances we can excuse them from being scrutinized and whereas libelous statements shouldn't be permitted what has been related to the public seems to indicate that an investigation is quite in order.


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Posted by narnia
a resident of Midtown
on May 3, 2008 at 7:58 am

Sorry, I meant PACT, not PAC, of course (I was trying to reduce my post and by accident knocked off the T, all subsequent were also knocked off)


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Posted by Question???
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 3, 2008 at 10:30 am

What amazes me also is the Friends of the Children's Theatre have 28 Board members. Didn't anyone ask how the money was being handled?
PAULA COLLINS BOARD MEMBER
KATHY WALKUP BOARD MEMBER
TINA BAZAN BOARD MEMBER
KEN FREIBERG FORMER CO-PRESIDENT
SUZANNE USISKIN BOARD MEMBER
CARL GILLESPIE BOARD MEMBER
KAY REMSEN BOARD MEMBER
MICHELE DULIK PRESIDENT
CY ASHLEY WEBB SECRETARY
LISA BLANCHETTE BOARD MEMBER
LISA MICHAEL BOARD MEMBER
RICK SAAL BOARD MEMBER
KATHRYN VARDA BOARD MEMBER
SUE KLAPHOLZ BOARD MEMBER
MICHAEL KUSHLAN BOARD MEMBER
RALPH KING BOARD MEMBER
NANCY FERGUSON VICE PRESIDENT
HULDA MUAKA BOARD MEMBER
DAN CONWAY BOARD MEMBER
HANK BARRY BOARD MEMBER
GARY FAZZINO BOARD MEMBER
KATHERINE SAUNDERS BOARD MEMBER
CHONA AMORES BOARD MEMBER
SUSAN FRIER BOARD MEMBER
DEE ELLMAN BOARD MEMBER
RO MAMONE BOARD MEMBER
SZONJA SZELENYI BOARD MEMBER
JUSTINE FRANKLIN TREASURER


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Posted by Daniel
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 3, 2008 at 10:39 am

It's important to remember that this story was based upon the police reports - which are inconsistent (young teens or 25 year olds???) at best, and outright lies at worst (the city approved these costume sales). Most folks are smart enough to see this for what it is.

It's important to remember the police are trying to cover their butts after very badly blowing the burglary. This burglar is only getting a paltry six month sentence??? What else have the police blown?

Once the truth is out, I strongly suspect Lynn Johnson's job will be in jeopardy. Maybe we can get a police force that WILL respond to burglar alarms. They've failed to respond to real crime in the town at least three years.


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Posted by Layne
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 3, 2008 at 1:09 pm

Daniel, have your read the police reports? I believe that the affadavits according to the news story have only been released. The allegations against the PACT employees do not involve a burglary. From what I understand, it just brought the potential embezzlement to light.

As far as the police not responding to "real crime in at least three years", seems they did a remarkable job capturing the man accused of kidnapping and raping the Gunn high school student a few months ago. To dismiss their contributions in this manner, those of which I highly doubt you possess either the qualifications or fortitude to undertake, is ignorant and disrespctful.


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Posted by litebug
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 3, 2008 at 1:41 pm

As narnia pointed out, the standards applicable in a court of law are much more stringent than those in the court of public opinion. There has been a blurring of fact and opinion across the press in this country to the extent that many people can't seem to distinguish one from the other nor can they tell when each is appropriate and when each is not. This blog is based on opinion (which is not to say that no facts are presented, just that it is pretty impossible to sift out fact from opinion). The police and courts should be basing their actions on fact. Anyone can have an opinion about anything but there is only one set of facts. A blog isn't the place to isolate provable facts so let's stop pretending that it is anything other than the modern-day equivalent of community gossip around the old cracker barrel..

My opinion is that there are a number of aspects to this case that don't add up, that smell bad, that suggest manipulations behind the scene...even up to and including a frame-up by police and/or city management. I'm still bothered by the Traveler's Checks (in whatever form) which were supposedly the enticement to the burglary in the first place, yet were then inexplicably discarded, and which could have been so easily planted when the trailer and truck were discovered.
By then the PACT offices had been searched and checks seized by the PAPD, had they not? I certainly do not see the police as victims, as does Mike. I am very suspicious of the way this case has been handled, whether it's something shady or just incompetence. None of these crimes appear to be so complex that it should have taken so long to arrive at this point, which apparently is still short of any charges being filed against any persons except for the participants in the burglaries. Another thing that has troubled me was the extreme haste with which the PACT staff were put on Admin. leave and the draconian conditions imposed on them.

I am especially disgusted by that ear-to-ear, celebratory smile on Frank Benest's face in the picture in the Daily. Was that a stock photo or was that taken at the time he made his asinine statement?

On the other hand, it is entirely possible that everything is as it has been presented by the PAPD and that all suspicions about the PACT staff are well-founded and will be provable in court. Only time will tell. Until then, my bias is in favor of the PACT staff and I am personally assuming them innocent until proven guilty. But if they are proven guilty, they should pay a proper penalty for their crimes, same as anyone else.

I will feel much better about the case if and when I read that actual charges have been filed or an indictment returned or an arrest made...something concrete, something more than "suspected" in the headlines. If it should turn out that there is insufficient evidence to go to trial the PAPD will have opened themselves to a host of expensive, and justified, law suits by those whose reputations have been so sullied. And any settlements will be paid for by tax payer money. Again, only time will tell.


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on May 3, 2008 at 1:43 pm

Vic: "I do agree that we need to let the investigation run its course, and again, hope for a fair and just conclusion"

I don't see that, as in your first post the implication was clear - i.e. your last two sentences "Poor accounting and casual supervision should not be used to justify or rationalize the crimes that may have been committed. Unfortunately, it just made it easier."

Wha?!

In other words, your bias is showing.

You're making a clear implication.

As far as criminality goes, to call what has happened "criminal", to even suggest it in this forum, before all the facts are known - especially given what PACT has meant to this community, and given what those who have run PACT have given to this community - IS a crime. It's a crime committed by people who should know better, and should do their very best to keep their *mouths shut* about the individuals involved, because *nothing* has been *proved beyond a shadow of a doubt*.

And, it's not naive to draw a conclusion that weights the sum total of the suspected actions in the direction of innocent oversight, especially given the vernacular nature of operating an institution like a children's theatre.

Frankly, I'm sick of this entire fiasco. What are we talking about here, some few tens of thousands of dollars, over *decades*? That, in addition to hanging good people out to dry for doing bureaucratic end-runs? Give me a break!

Accusations of hoarding costumes meant to be sold, to aid PACT, treated as a *crime* because city policy wasn't adhered to? (might it occur that *many* organizational policies are often given the "end-around", because bureaucracy and the extreme diligence required by some municipalities makes doing one's job nearly impossible?)?

What the heck is going on here? This is an anthill that has been morphed into a mountain. For what? To satisfy the daily need for a byline? To give voice to a few permanently disaffected Palo Altans? At what COST?????!!!!!!?

I don't fault the police for doing their job as they see fit; I don't fault the press for posting sensationalistic claptrap to sell your eyeballs to advertisers-that's the press' slimy duty, as it caters to anything, no matter how harmful to the community that the press is supposed to "inform" (ha!) - there's nothing like a "public service" that feeds, like a parasite, on everything, and excretes profits on itself, don't you think?); I don't fault the self-appointed protectors of city morality who think their perspective is holy (you appear in that category); I don't fault PACT personnel who run - *almost by necessity* - a very chaotic organization. Have you ever spent any substantial period of time in a large children's theatre, or operated one? You have NO idea!

There is no fault or blame here, only a growing fiasco of misinformation, overreaching, fiscal mismanagement, holier-than-thou pundits and wannabe public lynch mobs, sit-back-and-rake-in-the-advertising-dollars newspapers, and the rest of the usual suspects who come out to celebrate the growing folly of this issue.

There is no crime here, only naive malfeasance.

There is no *balance* on this issue; that was lost, long ago. It's become a sensationalistic pimple that only a certain few around here - for reasons that continue to escape me - nobody wants to pop. Rather, they seem to want it to fester and grow, attaching everything but the kitchen sink to what essentially amounts to NOTHING.

In fact, the irony is that this all amounts to great theatre, with the players - everyone mentioned above - keeping to their scripts, as if directed by some fantastical desire to slowly do themselves in, until everyone in the audience has left.

Last, if there *was* fiscal mismanagement that had been enabled over *decades*, how did this get past policy-making committees, and audits? Who in past policy-making groups is going to take some responsibility for this? I think we all know what the answer to that will be, don't we?

Now on to "Question???", above, who saw fit to post the names of PACT community volunteers.

I am not among those whose names you posted, but if i were, I would henceforth, already, have made a call to my attorney, to demand that the Weekly turn over its IP records for this thread, and *track you down*.

From there I would see to it that you were sued for implied libel. I would further see to it that you spent an inordinate sum of money on your defense. Further, I urge anyone who is on that list to do this, or anyone who knows who "Question???" is, to dig into this and do anything you can to find his/her identity, and see to it that s/he is sued for libel.

Now, to "narnia" whose lightweight, cartoonish name is appropriate to the weight presented in his/her posting: narnia says:" "our moral judgments permit us to speculate or even say" I think so and so is guilty or I think so and so is innocent" based on what has been reported." "

Yes, that's correct, but there are moral strictures that also put heavy weight on "not judging, lest you be judged" and so on - you know the drill. So, get off your friggin' high horse!

The assumptions you make, all based, so far, on hearsay, *do* "permit
you to make those assumptions, but why are you making the assumptions that you are?

Don't hide behind "morality" narnia. The froth coming forth from your mind, and into these forums is bubbling with judgment that points in the direction of guilt. Frankly, it's judgments like yours - the ones that hide behind, and use tacit morality to justify themselves, that are the most corrosive. In short, you are not as "moral" a person as you think you are.

This PACT fiasco reveals Palo Alto's shadow. This is a good place, with good people, but there are those who feast on things like this; they crawl out of the woodwork everytime some small aberration to the norm occurs they cry" DOWN WITH MANAGEMENT!", or DOWN WITH SERVICES!", and our great city be damned. This little, whining group of self-appointed moralists do their best to project their non-horizons, their muffled vision, and their venom into the public square. Who needs them?


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on May 3, 2008 at 3:41 pm

Let's see if I've got this straight:

- "Naïve malfeasance" is OK as opposed (I assume) to deliberate malfeasance.

- Theaters are chaotic, so theater directors should be forgiven if they naively lose track of taxpayers' money. Is PACT the only city group that's chaotic? How about the planning department? IT? Administrative services? The fire department? Could those guys possibly be under any pressure?

- Creative people should not be expected to be fiscally responsible. What other city departments fall into this "creative" category? Software folks are very creative, so can we let the IT department off the hook and not require them to file expense reports? How about librarians? Accountants? Planners? Public works? Who gets to decide which employees have to follow the rules and which ones are absolved from such petty responsibilities by virtue of their creative minds and messy offices?

- Employees should not be castigated "for what are essentially innocent oversights, simple misjudgments and slights of memory." How long can employee memory lapses, oversights and misjudgments continue before management takes note?

The only excuse that hasn't been given (whether malfeasance was innocent or deliberate) is, "The dog ate my travelers checks."


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on May 3, 2008 at 4:02 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Meadow Park
on May 3, 2008 at 4:11 pm

Mike makes several good points. However the criminal investigation turns out, PACT should not be a city department. No wonder other cities don't do this. From his account, it is almost impossible to run a children's theater with public employees, which requires strong controls and burdensome administration - they are pretty much incompatible.

Let's learn from this and set PACT free of city administration and funding.


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on May 3, 2008 at 4:51 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

PACT is a local treasure. It *should* be funded with city funds, because the city gains by its extraordinary presence.

There does need to be an operational overhaul, but all employees should remain in place until there is incontrovertible proof of intentional wrongdoing. Anything else just feeds the sensationalists in this town, who thrive on negativity, gossip, and self-prepossessing moralistic positions.


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Posted by Steve
a resident of Barron Park
on May 3, 2008 at 4:54 pm

I'm just coming to this and reading through the posts. I am very perplexed - this is ONE side of the argument. The PAPD has been embroiled in many controversies in the past - and invariably they come out smelling worse than ever. Apparently they were trying to save their own reputation with this .... and ended up cheapening it. They're sure not going to get a new police building this way!

I'm not buying this until charges are made and the other side is free to respond. I question the motives of folks who settle for anything else.


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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Meadow Park
on May 3, 2008 at 5:13 pm

Mike, that's quite a shame if you think neighbors who disagree with you about how children's theater should be funded should leave town. I'm sure you are better than that. Hopefully we can debate our public institutions without disrespecting our neighbors.

I'm sure PACT would continue as a fine institution without city funding. It seems like it has ardent supporters out there. And all other children's theaters appear to have little, if any, public funding, so it certainly can be done.

So I don't believe anyone opposes PACT or suggests it has no value; I certainly do not. It is just, as you pointed out well, the reality of running a theatrical troupe is not very compatible with the requirements of public employees and controls. And, as others have pointed out, there is an issue of fairness in funding this particular program, while the many other youth programs pay their own way.


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Posted by narnia
a resident of Midtown
on May 3, 2008 at 5:31 pm

Mike,
you say "Yes, that's correct, but there are moral strictures that also put heavy weight on "not judging, lest you be judged" and so on - you know the drill. So, get off your friggin' high horse!"

I can see that you are getting frustrated. I am all for fiduciary accountability including personally. This PACT business is dicey for many reasons. But what we know leads to the conclusion that an investigation is warranted. There is no point in arguing that the PACT financial recklessness is only mild. Clearly when you have people asking the city for food money for trips that were an inclusive packet you have some wrongdoing. Wether a crime can be proven or not doesn't depend wether a crime was committed or not- it just depends on the proof and a well chosen jury... You consider that my comments about the law are lighthearted: they maybe many things but there is nothing lighthearted about the fact that guilt and innocence are not only determined by a court of law- public opinion is incredibly powerful and the defenders of PACT management are protesting a little too much....


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on May 3, 2008 at 5:34 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by narnia
a resident of Midtown
on May 3, 2008 at 5:52 pm

Mike,

My assumptions are based on the reports that come from police department via press and my being able to put 2 and 2 together. PAPD is the public institution whose fiduciary duty is to present the results of their investigation to the district attorney who will then determine if the evidence is sufficient for charges. No matter how much PACT management supporters scream in horror this is a proper investigation and it should be respected as such.
You don't know that no wrongdoing was going on- let the chips fall were they may.
And please stop throwing "ad hominem" stuff my way- it just shows you do not have arguments that contradict what my posts say.


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on May 3, 2008 at 5:58 pm

Me Too: "as you pointed out well, the reality of running a theatrical troupe is not very compatible with the requirements of public employees and controls. And, as others have pointed out, there is an issue of fairness in funding this particular program, while the many other youth programs pay their own way."

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Yes, the operation of a children's theatre is a chaotic affair; it's a seven-day-a-week challenge that would leave most of the whiners on this thread reeling with frustration, exhaustion, and defeatism).

To be clear, my claim was and is that OVER MANY YEARS, absent appropriate audits and oversight, and present the need to *get things done* that end-arounds find themselves into many institutions, Sometimes those end-arounds cause an administrative problem that's fixed with a stern warning to "straighten up", combined with training to reinforce the message. From there, things usually go well. if they don't appropriate action is taken.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on May 3, 2008 at 5:59 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by James
a resident of Barron Park
on May 3, 2008 at 6:20 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

PACT will only get itself together if it is forced to go private, like the other youth organizations in town. Only then, will the private Boards take a look at things, and advise better behavior (without forcing criminal charges). The City is, simply, not capable of this approach.


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on May 3, 2008 at 6:24 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by narnia
a resident of Midtown
on May 3, 2008 at 6:25 pm

Litebug,

you say " If it should turn out that there is insufficient evidence to go to trial the PAPD will have opened themselves to a host of expensive, and justified, law suits by those whose reputations have been so sullied. And any settlements will be paid for by tax payer money. Again, only time will tell."

Please note that lawsuits against PAPD can be entertained if and only if the investigation was launched in bad faith or lies for example, even if there is no evidence to take PACT management to trial. May I remind you that a judge has signed the search warrant. You don't get to claim libelous investigations just because the end result was not
presented to a jury, otherwise police (all over the world actually) could never investigate possible wrongdoings for the fear that ultimately there would be insufficient cause for a trial. This investigation seems proper, therefore any lawsuit would be unwarranted and wouldn't pass muster with a judge.
It is , however, the rushing to judgement that no crime has been committed ( who knows what the facts are exactly, except for the police and DA?) that makes me think that there is a lot of will to sweep any facts under the rug or minimize them.
Whatever comes out of the investigation doesn't preclude the dispensing of the services (and the excellent pensions going with it) of those whose management has proven to be deficient and irresponsible. In the end their actions are what sullied their name and reputation whether a crime has been committed or not.


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Posted by James
a resident of Barron Park
on May 3, 2008 at 6:37 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on May 3, 2008 at 6:37 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Question?
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 3, 2008 at 7:38 pm

I think for the people that are constantly battering back and forth you should go to Starbucks amd have a meeting. Bring up a point and leave it at that. The point I want to make at this time is to all of the Board members of Friends. Don't just be a Board member of an organization just to have it on your resume. Know what is going on. Do the right thing.


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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Meadow Park
on May 3, 2008 at 7:46 pm

Mike sorry you are so frustrated. I'm sure this will all sort itself out as the process runs its course.

My hope is that PACT finds a fine and proper existence as an independently funded and managed entity. I think that will be a good outcome for all concerned, better in many respects than what we have today.

For you, it will mean independence for the institution you like, and the "whiners" as you call them off your back. I'm sure it will be able to raise private funding - don't you think so?


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on May 4, 2008 at 2:41 am

Me Too, PACT will be here, and funded by the city (that means YOUR tax dollars), long after you buy the farm.


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Posted by Fred
a resident of Monroe Park
on May 4, 2008 at 5:07 am

> which could have been so easily planted when the trailer
> and truck were discovered.
> By then the PACT offices had been searched and checks
> seized by the PAPD, had they not?

When the police "seize" evidence, they make inventories. If they don't make inventories--then the police methodology can be later challenged by any person charged.

The suggestion that the police took the loose checks from the desk of an employee, and then later planted them in a U-Haul is ridiculous. For if it were true, then the Police now have been criminals too.


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Posted by Sherlock
a resident of Midtown
on May 4, 2008 at 7:41 am

Perhaps the best answer to all of these questions is to have PACT establish their own internal affairs department and provide free legal representation for all its staff. Shouldn't the same standard of justice apply to all?


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Posted by Steve
a resident of Barron Park
on May 4, 2008 at 8:57 am

Narnia,

You wrote that "however, the rushing to judgement that no crime has been committed ( who knows what the facts are exactly, except for the police and DA?) that makes me think that there is a lot of will to sweep any facts under the rug or minimize them.

Our system is about presuming people are innocent - not the other way around. Before you take sides, you should remember that.



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Posted by Art lover
a resident of Midtown
on May 4, 2008 at 9:57 am

Yes the PAPD and the city manager are  the Criminals here. The DA is probably scratching their heads looking for criminal intent and can't find any. Yore and Johnson want charges but there is nothing to prosecute. And the other  criminals here are the citizens of Palo Alto who do not want to pay for the gift of the Childrens Theatre and have moved to discredit and remove the staff. Yes Gift! this was a gift of the Theatre and surrounding land and $400,000 of pre-war money by Lucy Stern to Keep the First Childerns Theatre in the country Going. Should Palo Alto keep its side of the deal?


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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Meadow Park
on May 4, 2008 at 10:11 am

Pretty strong words Art Lover, calling your neighbors "criminals." It's good that you love art; let's all try to love thy neighbor too.

What's the "deal" you refer to - did the City agree to fund a children's theater program in exchange for the gifted facilities and cash? Is that recorded somewhere?


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Posted by Joseph
a resident of Community Center
on May 4, 2008 at 10:18 am

Every thing in this blog reinforces what most people in Palo Alto are saying--time for the Children's Theater to become a privately-funded operation.

Clearly--this is beyond the ability of the city to manage.


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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 4, 2008 at 11:39 am

What IS crystal clear out of this appalling mess is: PACT must be a separate entity from the City of Palo Alto. Please stand on your own two feet just like other equally valuable local arts organizations.


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on May 4, 2008 at 12:13 pm

PACT will continue as a funded organization, by Palo Alto. It's a unique treasure. The recent unfortunate circumstance has given those who would deplete our city's resources and specialness. Why do we listen to them?


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Posted by Oh Mike
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 4, 2008 at 12:28 pm

Mike just because you keep saying it won't make it true. Funny how you keep trying.


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Posted by MIke
a resident of College Terrace
on May 4, 2008 at 1:36 pm

One wonders how successful *any* policy maker in Palo Alto will be in succeeding to disenfranchise PACT in the way that some here suggest. Personally, I wouldn't want my name attached to any effort to remove the *tradition* of city support from PACT - - not at all.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Steve
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 4, 2008 at 2:55 pm

Mike makes an important point about maintaining city traditions. I was chatting over coffee with a woman who grew up in this town about growing up in Palo Alto. I was struck by how fortunate we are to live in a town where our schools have stellar sports teams (funded by property taxes), where our schools have great newspapers that teach real journalism (congrats to Gunn's Oracle - check out today's headline!) and the City funds award-winning, internationally known kid's theatre - funded by our tax dollars. I'm pretty damn proud to be living in such a place.

The nay-sayers who complain about public funding will always be out there - much to the delight of city officials. Those voices just distract from the real issues - like why on earth the city gave some of the most valuable real estate on the planet to the city manager. I never understood what he did to get a $240,000/ year salary AND a free house. Let's keep the focus where it should be!


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Posted by Gordon
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 4, 2008 at 3:58 pm

Steve,

Yes, Palo Alto does have proud traditions, regarding our youth. For example, Little League was started in 1952, and has been going strong for all those years, without city funds for its operations. If PACT wants to flourish, going forward, it should emulate the Little League model.

It is unbelievable that PACT gets over one million taxpayer dollars per year to run its operation, while Little League gets nothing for operations, yet runs a much cleaner operation. If we want Little League to fail, just put it on the city dole, and run it with paid city employees.

It is way beyond time to cut PACT to the bone. It will arise, from the ashes, in much better shape than its current, ossified, state.


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Posted by Steve
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 4, 2008 at 5:52 pm

Whatever the merits of Little League (which are many), that is an national organization with a national tradition. My post was about maintaining local traditions - of which today's May Fete parade is yet another. Let's not compare apples and oranges.

If you want to talk about dollars misspent, talk about the City Manager's real estate. The city LOVES these pissy disputes because it diverts attention from the big problem. That hurts ALL Palo Altans..


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Posted by Gordon
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 4, 2008 at 7:08 pm

Steve, the "dollars misspent" are made up of one item at a time. PACT dollars are misspent, to the tune of $one million per year. That is a chunk of change.

The "May Fete" is really a renaming of the old "May Day" parade, which, of course, is an international socialist institution, hardly a local affair. The Palo Alto Oaks are a completely local affair, and they have been around for over 50 years, without a cent of operational money.

PACT just needs to be liberated from its own fossilized state. Palo Alto needs to save money. The obvious solution is to cut PACT loose to its own potential.


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on May 4, 2008 at 9:09 pm

"Gordon",
As in your opinion about PACT, you are also mistaken about May Day. "international Socialist institution" ??!!1?? That's really *funny*.
Web Link

Most Palo Altans look forward to many more years of Palo Alto City support for PACT.


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Posted by Most talked about topic in Palo Alto?
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 4, 2008 at 9:47 pm

Is this issue the Palo Alto version of Clue or a Dinner Mystery theater? Because everytime I log onto this forum this topic has continued threads going even days after an announcement. I really wonder if I just shouted out Childrens theater in Starbucks or Peets if a bunch of you would jump up.
As a parent, I am sad that my children missed out on some plays that were cancelled this year. I am not sure what to make out of the financial issues. But I think it could possibly be that the bureaucracy of the city is so complicated that the people involved thought it was just simpler to run the trips this way. But when the principal burglar only gets a six month sentence, it seems ludicrous to draw the issue on and on like it was a huge worldwide conspiracy case. Also, please weigh the investigatory and legal costs against whatever amount is in dispute. Thanks and carry on...


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Posted by leslie sullivan
a resident of Midtown
on May 4, 2008 at 10:48 pm

My husband worked for the theater for 12 years. Question: why didn't the City just issue credit cards for the trips? Who is really at fault here? Nobody has used travelers checks since the 70's for this very reason; ACCOUNTABILITY.


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Posted by LESLIE SULLIVAN
a resident of Midtown
on May 4, 2008 at 10:57 pm

except Karl Malden , of course.


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Posted by spencer
a resident of College Terrace
on May 4, 2008 at 11:07 pm

By the way is it 5000 dollars per second or per minute of tax payer dollars in Iraq now ? I forget. Have we lost perspective for a reason?


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Posted by Andy Hayes
a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2008 at 12:21 am

I will not speculate on what I do not know.
I worked at the PACHT from 88 to 2000, and went on every theatre trip.
To the best of my knowledge(first hand), Pat and Michael always asked and followed the specific directions from the city finance department.
If there was any money left over at the end of a trip it was not much.
$100's not $1000's. Pat and Michael were always careful with the deposits and tried to prepay anything and everything on a trip to avoid any such accounting problems. Everything I witnessed pointed to the staff trying to protect the City, and the program.

Technical Director 88-2000


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Posted by Fireman
a resident of another community
on May 5, 2008 at 8:08 am

Mike: I read in one of the above comments you wrote;

"FEAST ON "

With a 900$K CITY investment in his home, 500$K loan, paying for half of any future work on his home, A very good salary , and benefits,

Who is FEASTING ON WHO.

When people leave here[THIS CITY} after gaining false credits for actions that have been twisted and distorted to cover up what really happened, Covering up the parts that do not make them look so good. With lies and cover ups.
To climb the ladder or gain a new position under FALSE pretenses

Who is feasting on who???


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Posted by Senor blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 5, 2008 at 8:09 am

WOW...
IT'S EASY TO SEE HOW THE SALEM WITCH TRIALS GOT STARTED NOT TO MANY YEARS AGO...
ABOUT 90% OF YOU PEOPLE OUGHT TO BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELVES..
AND IN THE 21ST CENTURY....
SENOR BLOGGER

PS: DID ANYONE FORGET. THE POLICE WERE NOT ANSWERING BURGLAR ALARMS ON PURPOSE.....


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Posted by narnia
a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2008 at 8:23 am

May Day from which May Fete derives is indeed the International Socialist Labour day (International Workers' Day) recognized by every country except Canada, US and South Africa (please check facts Mike). May Fete started in Palo Alto in 1922 and like in many many other towns is now a "tradition" all over the US.

Andy Hays self serving post (self serving doesn't mean that he is not telling it like he remembers it ) is interesting. How can it possibly be true as he says ( "If there was any money left over at the end of a trip it was not much.") if so much money was found in traveler's checks? Or is he saying that "small" amounts (100's he says) do not count towards good accountability?
Mr. Hays, the problem is that there doesn't seem to be any way for the moneys to be matched against expenses- which EVERY organization no matter how creative HAS to account for. It doesn't matter if the City should have had better oversight ( I am sure that's true ) . It is the oversight of those whose fiduciary role is to manage PACT that is in question. Or are we now saying that's fine to engage in financial confusion as long as your supervisor does it too or doesn't notice? Do we have an ERON defense for this?

It is clear that moneys were kept and accounts weren't settled. PACT management should be fired. Whether such "financial confusion" can be proven to be a crime, that's for the judicial jurisdiction to find out and if warranted take it to the court. But it seems to me that it's high time for the PACT to engage a different management team.

By all accounts it looks as if Briggs and Liftin run the theater as if it was their personal realm. The solution for that type of behavior is indeed to separate the theater from the city
( which doesn't mean that the City couldn't contribute financially some) and have it submitted to non-profit status . PACT in any case served as an apprenticeship to very, very few children ( I remember the same children being cast over and over again in different plays) as it provided Palo Alto with some interesting entertainment. It also didn't serve the more financially needed children since so much had to be "paid" out of the parents' personal wallets. It's time to revise PACT status as a city department.


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Posted by Steve
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 5, 2008 at 8:51 am

Narnia,

You're coming to conclusions without data. We have a justice system in this country to protect innocent people from folks who rush to judgment.

I'm glad Senor Blogger pointed out the most damning thing of all. The police chief admitted they weren't answering the alarms. Talk about wasting city assets! Why the City should give her a new police building when she has done such an inept job at protecting city buildings is entirely beyond me.

Let the City piss away money on buildings without protecting what they've got, waste money on gifts to Frank Benest ... By encouraging these flame wars and splitting Palo Altans, attention is diverted from the real crimes. Don't think you're so smart that you're not falling for their games.


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Posted by narnia
a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2008 at 9:08 am

That's exactly my point
. I said "Whether such "financial confusion" can be proven to be a crime, that's for the judicial jurisdiction to find out and if warranted take it to the court. But it seems to me that it's high time for the PACT to engage a different management team."
I have never said that a crime has been committed and for now I am not interested in that aspect.
So, we don't know if a crime has or has not been committed. What I know including my child's experiences regarding PACT, one direct conversation with one member of PACT management and the fact that we already know about the PACT "financial confusion" (please read the comments of Briggs attorney) makes me think (and I am actually allowed to think and to think differently from you) that PACT management should be fired (and not just because financial confusion). In my opinion PACT (not the building which is in trust for the city of Palo Alto, but the institution) should be out of the City's direct jurisdiction.


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Posted by Paly 77
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2008 at 9:12 am

Ms. Sullivan,

The City did issue credit cards to the theater. The suspected employess used travelors checks instead and in spite.


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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2008 at 9:13 am

yes, PACT seems a small club, not really open to non-alumni, or non-Friends. too cliquey to be a city-funded program. the handling of money appears way too sloppy, and strongly criminal.


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Posted by Steve
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 5, 2008 at 9:23 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Steve
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 5, 2008 at 9:34 am

"small club"??? You obviously don't know anything about the purview of the program and have little regard for facts. The Theatre brings Outreach shows to schools throughout the City, bringing in a steady stream of new kids all the time. Just look at the program of any main stage production and read the program notes and you'll see numbers of new kids being brought into the program. THOUSANDS of kids cycle through the program - including Outreach, main stage, Second Saturday, Wingspread, Playing Along, Conservatory and others.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Paul W
a resident of another community
on May 5, 2008 at 9:36 am

There's no way I will ever believe that any of the dedicated theater directors intentionally stole money intended for the kids. That's simply not in their nature, and besides, Pat's job pays six figures, so why would she even need the money? 43K over 10 or 20 years is pittance, and would make no sense.

What I do believe is that the lack of resources and complex city procedures probably led some to inevitable mistakes, none of which should be classified as criminal action. This amazing theater has always lacked sufficient resources and staff to run the place at 100% efficiency. Frankly, I'm amazed it has been run as well as it has over the years. I remember how cluttered the office was back in the 80s when I was a participant, papers piled everywhere and only one office assistant to help take care of it all. That situation hadn't changed even into this decade before some dedicated volunteers helped reorganize the office a couple of years ago. I honestly think that the theater would need a minimum of 4 or 5 office assistants to keep track of everything nearly perfectly, and all this time they've had to make do with just one.

I would wager that if a similar investigation were conducted at ANY city branch, that more of these same types of mistakes would be found.

There's no such thing as perfect government paperwork, and I strongly believe the theater staff has done the best job possible under difficult circumstances.

They want this situation fixed? Put the staff back in the theater where they belong and give them another office assistant or two and schedule a few more finance audits. Slapping embezzlement charges on them isn't going to do anyone any good.

The staff didn't intentionally do anything wrong, so they should not be punished with a criminal record.


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Posted by narnia
a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2008 at 10:12 am

Steve and Mike,

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

PACT management issues are a legitimate debate for us taxpayers and Palo Altans, whether I watch Judge Judy or not (no, no TV i'm afraid) wether my kid did or did not have any roles in theater-no, he was never a theater person, not interested, never even applied).

As a taxpayer and a resident of Palo Alto I would like to see the PACT management fired and the theater (the institution) out of city control and responsibility. If that opinion is not like yours you are free to persuade others that yours is the valid one. But try to do that with a modicum of civility without ad hominem attacks and inventions about other posters.
This forums ( yes, I do know that the latin plural is different, but I speak 'merican) are for discussion on the topics not for abuse of the other posters.































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Posted by David Taylor
a resident of Ventura
on May 11, 2008 at 11:58 pm

Quote:
Is this the same Michael Kan who on July 13 2003 was charged with felony assault by unlawfully beating and pepper spraying African American Albert Hopkins? Perhaps another fair and unbiased member of the investigative team!
Posted by Sherlock, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on May 1, 2008 at 6:22 pm

Sherlock,

Yes, the same Michael Kan....
End Quote:

And Briggs got away from Kan without being Tasered and pepper sprayed?? Thank goodness for political connections.



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