The Palo Alto Children's Theatre community continued to rally behind the 76-year-old institution and its staff members Monday night, despite recent revelations that police suspect Director Pat Briggs, the late Assistant Director Michael Litfin and Costume Supervisor Alison Williams of embezzlement.
Briggs and Litfin were messy, but they would have never consciously stolen money, former theater parent Charles Junkerman, an associate provost at Stanford, told the City Council.
"We have big apologies to make to two wonderful people," Junkerman said.
The staff members worked much more than they were paid, Palo Altan Judy Andrews said.
"They have given much more than whatever they are accused of — they have given their heart and soul," Andrews said.
"I know there is no criminal intent. There may be some sloppy accounting — that's the way the Children's Theatre ran — but that was part of the charm of the place."
A core group of theater supporters have maintained a constant weekly vigil at the council meetings since Jan. 24, when the theater was closed and four of its six staff members were placed on paid administrative leave for a "financial crimes" investigation.
Last week, search warrant affidavits were released, showing that police suspected embezzlement.
Twelve people spoke in favor of the theater and its staff Monday, no one spoke dagainst it. The council members cannot comment on issues addressed during its public-comment period.
Robert Smith told the council he hasn't spoken about the matter publicly before.
He urged the council to return Briggs, Williams and Program Assistant Rich Curtis to their jobs and allow them to speak to the media and others.
"Find a way to bring this to a close. Either indict or shut down the investigation," Smith said. "This has come to a point of diminishing returns."
"I feel that individuals are all imperfect and sometimes we get so wrapped up in an investigation that we just can't stop. This needs to stop."
"I feel so hopeless, powerless," one upset woman told the council. "My son benefited so much from the Children's Theatre. … We should move out of this city."
Another theatre mother credited Briggs, Litfin, Williams, Curtis and the theater for saving her severely depressed daughter's life.
If the staff members aren't going to return, the city still has amends to make, another supporter said.
"I hope you'll come to grips with this and give them some honor and tell them, 'You were valuable, you did great,' because that's the truth."