About 30 supporters of the Children's Theatre crowded into the Council Conference Room Monday evening to ask the City Council for information and express displeasure with the abrupt closure and treatment of four staff members: Director Pat Briggs, Assistant Director Michael Litfin, Costume Supervisor Alison Williams and Box Office Assistant Richard Curtis.
"The people at the theatre are my friends, and I don't think they've been treated well," Mac Clayton said. "I don't blame the City Council for that, yet."
But the city could be held liable for "substantial damage to their reputation and standing in the community that has resulted," Clayton said.
"You guys know (the theatre staff) are people of impeachable integrity," Friends' board member Cy Ashley Webb said. "Since the city has not provided an explanation we can only assume it's a witch hunt. Please put an end to this nightmare."
Former Friends President Suzan Stewart was near tears as she addressed the council.
In the past, the city and the theatre supporters always worked together, even forming the first private-public partnership, she said.
"I am feeling so upset about this issue simply because I'm embarrassed about the City of Palo Alto," Stewart said. "This is not the Utilities Department. This is children."
Aleks Merilo said the leadership of Briggs and Litfin inspired him to become a drama teacher.
Portraying a dancing polar bear at age 10 was one of his most memorable experiences, Merilo said.
"For four years, I saw more of Pat (Briggs) and Michael (Litfin) than I did of my parents. They are the hardest-working people."
Mayor Larry Klein reminded the speakers, some of whom spilled into the hallway, that the council could not respond.
"The members of the City Council don't know any more than you do," Klein said.