Updated: Fri, Feb 8, 2008, 12:56 pm
Uploaded: Fri, Feb 8, 2008, 11:57 am
Police chief explains Children's Theatre probe
Friends announces rally for Saturday
"Tens of thousands of dollars" are involved in the investigation of the Palo Alto Children's Theatre, Police Chief Lynne Johnson said Friday in a statement to the community.
(Read the letter)
The letter, released late Friday morning, says department investigators are working "tirelessly" to complete the probe and that the department understands the importance of the theater to the community.
Johnson said the investigation to date has included:
• Witness and employee interviews.
• Review and analysis of thousands of city documents and e-mails.
• Search warrants served on numerous employee bank accounts (the average turnaround time for obtaining information from these searches is six to eight weeks).
• Search warrants served on three employee homes and a number of storage lockers.
"My officers who are involved in this investigation are working tirelessly through their days off and on weekends to complete a thorough and objective case as fast as possible," Johnson wrote.
Also Friday, the Friends of the Palo Alto Children's Theatre announced plans to hold a rally Saturday "to call for information about the City of Palo Alto's investigation of the theater."
The rally is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 9 from 3 to 4 p.m. at the newly named King Plaza in front of City Hall at 250 Hamilton Ave.
Ralph King, a member of the Friends, said Friday the rally is still planned despite the Police Department's Friday statement.
The theater was abruptly closed late in the afternoon of Jan. 24 and four full-time staff members were placed on administrative leave by City Manager Frank Benest.
The theater remained closed for four days but is operating again. Performances of "The Giver," scheduled to begin Feb. 1, have gone on as planned.
The temporary closure of the theater and placing four staff members, including longtime director Pat Briggs and longtime assistant director Michael Litfin, on administrative leave prompted significant concern in the community about what was happening.
Litfin has since died while being treated for stomach cancer. (Read Michael Litfin's obituary)
"I asked for the closure in order to secure specific areas of the Theatre to maintain the chain of evidence for the investigation," Johnson wrote in her letter to the community.
The chief also referred to Litfin's illness and death:
"All of us at the Police Department are saddened by the passing of Michael Litfin. He was a valued employee who contributed greatly to the Children's Theatre. On the day of the theatre closure, Mr. Litfin voluntarily came into the Police Department and wanted to give a statement. Due to his illness, my investigators did not want him to have to wait, so he was sent home. When we were made aware of the seriousness of his condition, we chose not to interview him."
Finally, Johnson wrote about the sensitivity of the investigation:
"I understand that this investigation is extremely sensitive and emotional. The Children's Theatre is a long-standing and valued institution in our community. The beloved staff have provided years of incredible service to the youth in Palo Alto. This investigation will not overshadow those achievements."
Johnson ended the letter noting that some updates on the investigation may be released, but "due to the complexity of the investigation, I will not be able to answer many of the community's questions until the conclusion of the investigation."
Posted by Katie Christman,
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 10, 2008 at 4:06 pm
I would like to thank Mike for his comments, as well as the other level-headed folks, not just those I agree with. As for the 'I got mine' comment, hey, person, (not even your gender is indicated by your tag of 'anonymous taxpayer'), for Pete's sake, let the community know what you are interested in, that's the point! There are probably lots of others who would like to work on whatever you are into, if you are into co-operating with others for a greater goal.
I think it is telling that the most divisive and caustic remarks (and those least on-topic) always seem to be made by persons who decline to divulge their names.
Actually as far as sports go, the Children's Theater fielded a softball team at least two summers running; we played against the city council! Michael insisted on halftime which he called 'intermission'. It was one of the few times I really felt included in a team sport, as I have never been very coordinated on the playing field.
I have mentioned this before, but WE HAD NO MONEY when I was a kid, and I grew up here in Palo Alto from 3rd grade until college. My parents rented a three bedroom, one bath house (we had four kids) in south Palo Alto so we could go to good schools. They were loving and busy, but not busy getting their nails done. They were working hard all the time, and we never went hungry while we were living here. But let's face it, kids weren't nearly as carefully supervised in those days, whether from a percieved 'safer' community or blissful ignorance (my contention). Though occaisionally snubbed (I have Asperger's Syndrome and had the social awareness of a flea, and was very shy), I was never bullied or pushed around at the Children's Theater, and that sense of an extra home or family helped me in so many ways!
Also, although I highly respect and support San Jose Children's Musical Theater and have attended several performances, 'a hundred bucks' is a lot for some Palo Alto families, believe me! And check out their ticket prices! The Children's Theater's four bucks is achievable even if you don't have an allowance, just from babysitting, recycling, or what-not. And, the parents had to make the costumes when my sister's kid was in one of SJCMT shows. Also, not every child can deal with a 'cast of thousands' approach. The suppertime shows in the summer are an amazingly inclusive venue, I watched as the entire group patiently waited for an eight-year-old, trying out for the first time, burst into tears and had to be coaxed to try again. She made it through the audition, sang sweetly and very quietly, and was cast and did a great job in the ensemble of a relatively small cast.
And I paid my eight bucks, four for my baby, and sat out in the sweet evening warmth, feeling a genuine love for my city. I love the little league games too, and they are free, but certainly not always entertaining. Also, sometimes I have seen coaches exhibit a very bad competitive spirit and no sense of what children should be getting from a game.It's like anything else, you get out what you put in, if you're lucky. The amazing thing about the Children's Theater is some kind of synergy that makes it much more than the sum of its parts. And if you have a coach or a teacher who is fantastic, you know what I am talking about; some people are just amazing with our kids. This is why the alums, parents and current participants of the Children's Theater are so vociferous; the program is amazing, and has been so for seventy-five years.
As far as being 'in loco parentis' I guess I meant more of the 'it takes a village to raise a child' type of thing, and certainly coaches can be role models for kids too. As for Mr. or Ms. 'eopact', I guess you never had a children's theater or a great coach for your role model, judging by your lack of tact and empathy, not to mention civic awareness or punctuation.
I would never vote to get rid of the playing fields. I feel they are another wonderful resource in our town. I'm even for lights in the tennis courts, though I do not play tennis. I often find myself dissatisfied with the way the council or various groups in town behave, but in the end I trust that it will all come out o.k. more or less. I find the degree to which my priorities are met is in direct relation to how much time I take to make them known and work with others to make it all happen.
I humbly request that people who contribute to these forums remember that ichor and spewing of ugly ideas, while protected by freedom of speech, are not particularly good ways of making your point. You are more likely to be ignored as a 'crank' if you can't say anything nice or useful about anything.
Well, I have my own faults, one of which is long-windedness, but I have truly benefitted from this exchange of ideas and a chance to get a bearing on other perspectives. So, keep writing, everyone, but in the words of my brother's old coach, "Play Nice!"
Posted by Katie Christman,
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 13, 2008 at 12:01 pm
I think that if we need better support for those sports programs, we should find a way to get it. This is, after all, Palo Alto. Your voice should be heard, and your concerns addressed. Recently an anonymous donor donated over two million dollars to be used for artificial turf fields at both high schools; of course the school district will be spending more money on the fields and sports now. This is how it works. The Childrens Theater, Library and Junior Museum were all the result of donations, but of course that is only how things begin. After that some money comes from taxes, some from more donations, and some from parents. Children's theater parents do donate money and time, and pay for the more advanced and involved programs. All elementary schools are provided with an outreach play every other year, as I understand it, as a service from the Children's Theater, with no cost to the students or school. All children who are in 3rd grade or greater at each school and want to be in the play are cast.
If you are concerned about not having facilities for your kids sports programs, ask for city funding, but matching it with donations is always the best way to get city support. The Friends of the Childrens Theater has coordinated the donation of millions of dollars to the Children's Theater including money for two major additions to the building which are now of course owned by the city. This means the city has to spend money for the upkeep of the buildings, which seems to have been a bit lax as the locks and alarm systems seem to have been not very sophisticated.
I believe part of what makes Palo Alto a great place to live is that people do donate and the city also supports such things as sports (tennis court lights for example... I don't play tennis but my taxes went for lit courts, and I'm okay with that). Also playground equipment (not everyone has kids) and the Art center (not everyone cares about art). Actually in some towns the city taxes don't even support a fire department, and our even own fire fighters raise money by selling hot sauce (at children's theater hot dog shows, for example).
These things are what make our town great, along with 'engagement', and all those trees, and let's face it, having Stanford University right here. If you really don't like it, you could pick another town to move to, but better than that, help start a drive to better fund those sports, including donations and, of course, more city involvement if it is needed.
Good luck. I actually heard the city has agreed to work on the baseball diamond at the little league field on middlefield...suprise, someone donated some money to get it going, and the city jumped in to help.
That is how it works in our fine town, and as a child growing up here, I benefited from it. One of four kids in a rented three bedroom house with one bathroom, with no extra funds at all, I made it through Palo Alto High and got a scholarship to the University of Chicago. And without conquering my shyness through the Children's theater, I don't think that would have happened. I now have a fourteen year old starting Paly next year, (did I mention my Grandmother went there and was born in Palo Alto?) and I am glad my daughter is in theater with kids of all economic levels. She is a special needs child she has always been accepted and included there.
Be proud of your city, including our Police force, and revel in our freedom of speech. Let us try to work together to build up the low areas of our city, not tear down its achievements.