An "administrative investigation" involving private investigators — separate from an ongoing criminal probe by police detectives — has been launched into the actions of three Palo Alto Children's Theatre employees who are on paid suspensions pending the outcome of the investigations.
The administrative investigation started approximately one month ago, Councilman Jack Morton said Tuesday.
Director Pat Briggs, Assistant Director Michael Litfin, Costume Supervisor Alison Williams and Production Assistant Rich Curtis were placed on administrative leave Jan. 24. Litfin died a week later.
Assistant City Attorney Donald Larkin said placing an employee on administrative leave usually triggers an administrative investigation. He declined to say when the administrative investigations, which examine an employee's accordance with the city's rules, began.
They must be concluded within a year, although he said he expects they will be finished sooner than that.
The investigations are being conducted by outside investigators hired by the city, Larkin said.
The criminal and administrative investigations are separate, he said.
"You don't want the administrative investigation to interfere with the criminal investigation. We're mindful of that," Larkin said. "They're on different tracks."
Yet if criminal wrongdoing is found, the results of the administrative investigation will be affected, because city employees must abide by the law, he said.
Williams and Curtis are members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 521 and entitled to union representation during an administrative investigation, but leader Phil Plymale said Tuesday city leaders hadn't informed him of the investigation.
"That's very troubling," Plymale said.
He said he had been told earlier by senior city staff members that the administrative investigation would be initiated after the criminal probe was complete.
Police Chief Lynne Johnson has not provided a timeline for the criminal investigation, which began with thefts from the theater in June 2007.
Morton said the City Council had nothing to do with either the administrative or the criminal investigations.
"The senior staff has not made us feel that we could be aware of the direction or the expected culmination date, certainly of the police investigation but also of the administrative investigation," Morton said.
If discipline is recommended, in the form of a suspension or termination, following the investigation, all three employees would have the ability to appeal the decision within the city and then take a second appeal through an arbitration hearing.
The ultimate fate of Briggs, who is a management-level employee, not a union member, would be up to the city manager, Larkin said.
Larkin said the city is not investigating the actions of Litfin.
An employee fired from the city who is eligible for retirement would still be able to take advantage of retirement pay and benefits, Larkin said. Briggs is eligible for retirement.