Palo Alto Children's Theatre Director Pat Briggs has received a letter from the city recommending her termination, attorney Jon Parsons announced Monday morning.
"Pat is seriously disappointed. She is not, however, crushed because this letter actually gives us significant optimism," Parsons said.
He said the eight-and-a-half page letter — which announces the city's current intentions, not its final decision — finally provides Briggs with an "itemization of what the city's concerns are."
"We are optimistic that we will be able to address many if not all of those concerns," Parsons said.
Parsons declined to discuss the city's reasons for the termination now.
He said Briggs will have the opportunity to review all of the documentation related to the city's recommendation.
Next, Parsons and Briggs will meet with the city's personnel leaders to discuss the charges and provide evidence to support Briggs, Parsons said.
After the meeting, the city will make its decision and Briggs could be terminated, receive a less-harsh punishment or be absolved.
If the city decides to terminate Briggs, Parsons said he plans to challenge the decision through the city's multi-step appeal process.
The final decision, if the case is not resolved earlier, would be made by a "fact-finder appointed by the city" at a hearing, Parsons said.
Briggs received notice from the city Friday, the same day fellow theater employees Alison Williams and Richard Curtis were contacted with the results of the nearly four-month administrative investigation into financial wrongdoing at the theater.
Williams, the costume supervisor, can return to work Tuesday, but Curtis, a program assistant, was also recommended for termination, which he intends to challenge, according to former union leader Phil Plymale.
The administrative investigation — which examined the employees' compliance with the city's rules and procedures — was sparked by a criminal investigation into unusual accounting practices at the city-run theater.
It was conducted by David Reuben, of DR Associates International and Doug Freifeld, an attorney with Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost.
Although the exact contents of Briggs' letter remain confidential, information about the criminal investigation released within the last week hints at the city's probable case.
For example, Police Chief Lynne Johnson said she has evidence that, on 150 occasions, Briggs received payments from both the city and the non-profit Friends of the Palo Alto Children's Theatre for the same purchases.
And, Johnson said police believe that city money was used for one of the theater's 2003 trips, which should have been paid for by parents or the Friends group. The Friends paid for the trip using money from costume sales and additional fundraising performances, activities the police believed transferred city money to the non-profit illegally, Johnson has said.
The police have also suspected Briggs of providing "conflicting statements."
The entire episode began with a burglary in June 2007, which revealed that theater employees had thousands of dollars of traveler's checks stored in the theater and elsewhere.
When an officer asked Briggs about the traveler's checks last summer, she said she had been told by someone at City Hall that she did not need to return any money (sometimes kept in the form of traveler's checks) leftover from the out-of-town trips taken by the theater employees and children because it would be too difficult to reimburse all of the parents.
But when officers pressed Briggs' bosses in the Community Services Department and employees in the Administrative Services Department, which handles the city money, all said they hadn't and wouldn't tell Briggs not to return leftover money, according to documents related to the case.
Parsons, Briggs' attorney, has said that Briggs admitted she might have asked about the leftover funds more than 20 years ago. She has worked at the theater since 1961.
It also is likely that the administrative investigation found fault with the theater employees' bizarre money-management system, which involved accepting cash advances from the city for out-of-town trips, using the money to buy traveler's checks, then using the checks to compensate themselves for official purchases charged to their personal credit cards.
And, the city has proof that Briggs did not submit any receipts, as required, for travel or other purchases between 2000 and 2004. Yet, the city also has proof that no one ever asked Briggs to provide the documentation, according to Deputy District Attorney Steve Lowney, who advised the Police Department on the case.
During her 47 years at the theater, Briggs worked with generations of Palo Alto children and gained a legion of loyal supporters.
She has written more than 20 plays, including the currently playing "The Tales of Beatrix Potter," which she dramatized with Program Assistant Emika Abe.
Briggs has also received the American Alliance for Theatre and Education's Campton Bell Lifetime Achievement Award and the "Woman of the Year" award for Palo Alto's state Assembly District 21.
In 2006, she received the Lifetimes of Achievement honor from Avenidas.
In addition, the Children's Theatre's main auditorium is named after Briggs.