News


Termination recommended for theater director Briggs

Briggs remains optimistic she can keep her job of 47 years, attorney says

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.

Related material:

ARCHIVE: Children's Theatre investigation stories

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Yorker
a resident of another community
on May 19, 2008 at 12:39 pm

I have a rather deep concern that Pat Briggs might literally
know more about running a children's theatre than
any six people that might end up sitting in her chair.

It appears ludicrous to me that Pat Briggs wouldn't be retained
if only to train and advise the person who is hired to succeed
Michael Litfin.

Someone's eye is off the big picture here.

If nothing else, Pat Briggs and the community deserve two things:

One) For Pat to choose the line of succession at the institution that she put more bricks in than any other person

and

Two) For Pat to ALWAYS have a golden key to be welcomed back into the theatre on any day of her choosing, if only in a part-time professorial capacity.



 +   Like this comment
Posted by Joey
a resident of Downtown North
on May 19, 2008 at 12:48 pm

Maybe I'm the only one, but who cares?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Danny
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 19, 2008 at 1:01 pm

You're not the only one Joey.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by narnia
a resident of another community
on May 19, 2008 at 1:44 pm

Pat Briggs should have looked for capable and talented people to direct the theater a long long time ago. A long tenancy of a leadership position produces petrification of habits, engenders feelings of possession and entitlement and demands constant validation from others . That is why we have an elections periodically. A long tenancy also hints of immortality and "apres le deluge" poses. When we care about an institution we want to see it set on a good path so that it can go on without us- to be a good steward.

Briggs has been the PACT director for 43 years a little longer than Fidel Castro has stayed in power. Leadership promotes learning, not adulation and points others to possible paths, trusts others can do a job well done even in a very different way. Encrusting a person into a job is a recipe for the disaster PACT faces. A leader understands when to pass the torch. Self awareness is part of it. It is very sad that Briggs who had a well carved career didn't resign when she should have and derailed her own efforts on behalf of the PACT when her mission had been accomplished already.

I look forward to a new direction in the PACT. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] I hope the new management can be creative and devoted as Briggs undoubtedly was but she should have no part in choosing it. It's the city's prerogative. If Briggs is as fantastic a theater director as they say she shouldn't have any difficulty in finding an outlet for her skills and talents. But she shouldn't interfere with the functioning of PACT or interject herself in the business of PACT. She has done enough to understand that.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Leon Kaplan
a resident of another community
on May 19, 2008 at 2:45 pm

Narnia,
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] As Pat Briggs direct supervisor for 24 of the 43 years Pat has been with the City I can state, unequivocally, that Pat is an exemplary employee who performed her all of her duties in the highest possible professional manner. Indeed, Pat did surround herself with capable and talented people, all of whom made personal sacrifices in service to the Palo Alto community. As a taxpayer you could not ask for a more dedicated and hardworking staff than that which was exemplified by Pat Briggs, Michael Litfin, Alison Williams, and Rich Curtis.

Your suggestion that a long tenancy produces "petrification" of habits is absolutely untrue in the case of Pat Briggs, whose energy, creativity, brightness of mind, and spirit are as intact today as they were when she first walked through the theatre doors 43 years ago. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] I know Pat Briggs. Pat Briggs is a friend of mine. And Fidel Castro is no Pat Briggs. Instead, Pat is a warm, loving, smart woman, who is passionate about teaching and in instilling in the children of Palo Alto a respect and a profound love for the arts. Pat Briggs is a community treasure. Many in Palo Alto realize that. It is to your loss that you do not see or understand that. My hope for Palo Alto, and its children, is that Pat be allowed to return to work and to do the job she does so well. A job that adds value to the Children's Theatre, is a credit to the City of Palo Alto, and which serves the best interests of the people of Palo Alto.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 19, 2008 at 2:53 pm

Fine do whatever you want with PACT just not on the taxpayer dollar. Join the ranks of other local children's nonprofit arts/music/theatre organizations who pull their own weight.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Bye Bye Briggs
a resident of Stanford
on May 19, 2008 at 2:54 pm

As expected the "Friends of PACT" have mobilized to attack and insult anyone that dares to question any of the PACT staff or dare to suggest that certain members of the staff deserve to be terminated.
This plan is similar in nature to the constant attacks and denigration of our police department and city staff for daring to investigate the shenanigans that have been going on at PACT.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Nicholas Sousa
a resident of another community
on May 19, 2008 at 3:43 pm

"Narnia," [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Pat Briggs and Michael Litfin, both of whose reputations have been publicly besmirched by internet Inquisitors (most of them anonymous), gave enormously of their time and talents and energies to generations of Palo Alto children and families. I personally know several people who would probably not have made it through childhood (yes, I'm talking about suicide) if Pat and Michael had not created such a thriving community and spent one-on-one time with these individuals, helping them with the emotional traumas of coping with broken and sometimes violent homes. Thus, if supporters seem to gush too much about how much Pat Briggs and Michael Litfin "saved their lives," it may be because the Children's Theatre was a home away from home during a difficult time in childhood, or it may be because they, in fact, did save some kids' lives.

Pat Briggs directed plays, authored plays, managed a theater, brought in teachers and designers and talent from outside institutions, and managed multiple training programs for children from 8 to 18 years of age. From what I saw when I was in shows there as a child, she worked about 12-15 hours a day on average; sometimes more, when a show was about to open. Having worked in the film and television businesses for a decade and a half, I fully agree that she worked harder and gave more of herself than her salary came close to compensating. To anyone familiar with Pat or the institution in question, she certainly wasn't in it for the money.

A busy children's theater is an exercise in controlled chaos as well as creativity, crisis management, counseling, and child care. Pat Briggs managed to provide all these services and more, as well as mount a full roster of plays and training programs, year in and year out, for decades. If anyone knows how to run the Palo Alto Children's Theatre to its full potential, Pat Briggs is that person.

It probably would be a good idea to hire an accountant and review reimbursement protocols both in the city management offices and at the PACT, to tighten up the books. That's what should have happened years ago, perhaps, but not Pat's resignation.

Unless she is found guilty of a serious crime in a court of law, Palo Altans should embrace Pat, reinstate her, and celebrate her. If she chooses to continue to give of herself, to return to the directorship of the Palo Alto Children's Theatre, especially after all of this, Palo Altans should consider themselves and their children blessed, and should support her respectfully and generously.



 +   Like this comment
Posted by New leadership at PACT
a resident of Professorville
on May 19, 2008 at 3:53 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

If the children's Theatre is that good, it will survive Litfin's passing and Briggs' replacement. Surely there are other people who could do just a competent a job as she has. NO ONE is indispensable.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by narnia
a resident of another community
on May 19, 2008 at 4:21 pm

leo kaplan,

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Fine, you are a friend of Pat Briggs. . I can understand his remarks. My longtime friends and my former co-workers also describe me in a very good way . We are not, however, discussing Pat Briggs as a person. It is her role as a theater director, not her as a friend or a person that this forum is about. I am hoping that you are not implying that one day Pat Briggs should direct PACT from the high heavens just because she is "indispensable". Briggs may be all you say. But she or anyone else should not be in a leadership position for over 40 years.
You say "Pat is an exemplary employee who performed her all of her duties in the highest possible professional manner"
really, you believe that the way she managed finances ( a fiduciary duty) is exemplary?
As her former boss your comment is self-serving.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

I am for a new management of PACT and its demise as a city department (safeguarding all legal rights acquired).


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Alumnus
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on May 19, 2008 at 4:29 pm

Not only was I once an actor in some of Patricia Brigg's productions, but I ended up working for her as an adult.

We weren't particularly close,
but I think I know a lot about the lady.

I am bringing this up now because I now recall that I never really ever heard her say anything poorly or negative about anyone in all
the time I spent with her.

I can say that there was a time in my past when I investigated the possibility of following in both her and Michael Litfin's footsteps
to some extent. I wanted to do good things and they were role models.

I may be a bit irresponsible in saying this, because I can't base it on any actions or words that either Pat or Michael said, but I always picked up on the vibe that the absolute worst part of Pat's job was in dealing with certain people in city government who lacked the sort of dedication and wisdom that came out of the children's theatre.

Here we are some 20 years later and the opinion I once held is turning out to be far more prescient than I had ever hoped.

I am noticing a trend. The people who know Pat Briggs best are the ones who support her the most and the ones who know her the least
are the ones who decry her the most.

There is an old saying about people putting their money where their mouth is.

Well, Michael Litfin left his estate to the theatre.

That is, sadly, a level of dedication that few of us will ever feel for ANY institution---and we are all poorer for that fact.

I no longer live in Palo Alto but I hope that the theatre continues to thrive on the shoulders of all that Pat, Michael (and many others)
have done.

Yorker and Leon are both right. They need to keep Pat. It would be a shame not to.

There is a saying.

Everytime a person dies, a library burns down.

The time is now for that library to be fully appreciated and honored, not only for the sake of her many devotees, but for the full benefit and enjoyment of the next group of children to pass through the doors of the theatre.

Learn from history or repeat its mistakes.











 +   Like this comment
Posted by narnia
a resident of another community
on May 19, 2008 at 4:40 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

I certainly never even once thought Briggs was in it for the money. I still don't. So, why 43 years? It's high time for a new leadership, one that envisions that we have to prepare the next generation of children's theater leaders to continue the work and improve on it and hand over control generously, totally and gracefully. That's what Briggs should have done.
Her mission concluded long ago she would have been widely applauded.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 19, 2008 at 4:54 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by RetirementBenefits
a resident of another community
on May 19, 2008 at 5:07 pm

Two Questions

Anyone know how much in annual retirement benefits are due to an employee with 47 years of service?

Where the heck was the city finance and audit department, should they not have been at least monitoring this department?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by narnia
a resident of another community
on May 19, 2008 at 5:38 pm

Yes, i am a resident of Palo Alto. I just happened to have other housing elsewhere and that's where I am now. For that reason when I am in another location I sign as being in another community.

Notwithstanding your words ( you can hope for whatever you want...) the subject of this forum is the City letter of intent to terminate Pat Briggs' leadership of PACT, not niceties about my "other " neighborhood where fortunately we have most splendid theaters.

I try to have a balanced attitude and give Pat Briggs the accolades she deserves for the work she did ( see my posts they are clear on this). I am also adamant that she shouldn't return to her post for a variety of reasons but as sufficient reason that more than 40 years in a leadership position cannot benefit generations of budding theater directors and the innovative and different work that they undoubtedly would have brought to us had the post been vacant after a respectable period. Institutional leaders generally resign from their leadership positions with the same institution after a period and either go elsewhere or gain a different role. It is generally thought of a good thing for the institution that a fresh approach and a new management can keep things in perspective.

That period is below 40 years. Briggs could have continued directing other theaters and allow us to see other's work or she could have had a different role in PACT. But she is hanging on as if "our" life depended on her work. It doesn't. Neither does PACT.

So, to the subject and quoting above article "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"
Briggs should explain matters such as this. And so should her supporters instead of resorting to galvanizing their efforts in my direction. I am not a city official, ,just somebody who likes no to be blinded by emotional ties to PACT.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Katharin Christman
a resident of Professorville
on May 19, 2008 at 5:56 pm

As an Alum and parent involved with the Children's Theater over the past thirty-five years, I defy anyone to find a person more qualified, experienced or dedicated than Pat Briggs. I speak from years of experience as a tiny patron at the age of four years, an actor and conservatory participant, a volunteer, an employee, and a parent.
The fact that the theater has not shut down is due to the 'get it done' spirit she has instilled in her kids and her staff, and they can only hold out for so long. Already some performances have had to be removed, so get your tickets now for the suppertime shows.

I believe that whether one is a theater supporter or not, we all have a stake in the protection of the rights of our city employees. No complaints were made, no memos were sent, no reports were requested, no opportunity to address any of the city's concerns were ever given until the theft investigation made someone think there was a chink in the armor.

I don't think there is a chink. I don't think Pat Briggs will lose her job. I doubt Richard Curtis will. If there was a problem, it should have been noticed, documented, and redressed years ago. None of these 'problems' are new. I just hope as a TAXPAYER that more of my money isn't wasted by the city hiring someone to hire a new theater director...sound familiar? Because we can't afford to pay someone to be Pat Briggs. Not only is it impossible to find someone, but just think...Who wants to work for a city that treats is employees like this?

Sincerely,
Katie Christman


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 19, 2008 at 6:03 pm

Where is the City Manager? Doesn't he have some say in this? He seems awfully quiet. I thought he was in charge of this turkey shoot.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Tim2
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 19, 2008 at 6:24 pm

The City Mgr. Frank Benest, reportedly flew to Australia either Thursday night or Friday a.m.
He is the one who had to order this termination. This is a class #1 cowardly flight. He's retiring after about ten years with the city - a cushy retirement and still can live in the house he owns with the city and for which the city pays part of the taxes. The new City Mgr. will want the same deal.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Bye Bye Briggs
a resident of Stanford
on May 19, 2008 at 8:33 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by kricket
a resident of Professorville
on May 19, 2008 at 8:57 pm

I would MUCH rather my tax dollars go to support the Likes of PAT Briggs and ANY adults who give so selflessly and constructively to our children than to so many other ventures. We need the Arts, Education, Arts Education.....Creativity, team-building, esteem-fostering, beauty, humor, music!...WHY, O WHY do we set our sights on trifling technicalities and bean-counting when hearts and minds are at stake?!
Pat represents the BEST of who we are and can be. Perfect, she ain't & SO WHAT?! We are ALL poorer for this embarrassing and ill-conceived controversy. Let us get on with the worthwhile business of supporting each other from our our children to our elders....
(a town divided against itself will topple...)..
CAN'T we just get along? SHEESH!!!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by calculator
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 19, 2008 at 9:05 pm

Retirement formula (non-safety personnel) is:

2.7% * salary * years of service

Pension is paid from CalPERS, not the City's general fund.
City & employee each contribute into CalPERS each year of service.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on May 19, 2008 at 9:05 pm

Katie Christman says, "I defy anyone to find a person more qualified, experienced or dedicated than Pat Briggs." I could name dozens of talented, creative people I've worked with over the years who worked 12 – 15 hours/day for a lot less pay than Briggs and no pension – and they all turned in their expense reports on time.

"The fact that the theater has not shut down is due to the 'get it done' spirit she has instilled in her kids and her staff." Probably the reason the theater hasn't shut down is because taxpayers are subsidizing it to the tune of $1 million/year.

"None of these 'problems' are new." Is that an absolution? Sloppy accounting went on for so many years that it's impossible to follow or find the money.

I doubt Briggs was intending to defraud the city, but her casual attitude toward public funds – and the lack of accountability on the parts of city staff all the way up the management chain – should not be dismissed.

As many have noted, creativity is no excuse for neglecting basic financial management. Holding staff accountable has never been Council's strong suit (think city web site), but this is the time for council members to take their oversight responsibility seriously and get to the bottom of this mess.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on May 19, 2008 at 9:15 pm

kricket says: "I would MUCH rather my tax dollars go to support the Likes of PAT Briggs . . . WHY, O WHY do we set our sights on trifling technicalities and bean-counting when hearts and minds are at stake?! . . . We are ALL poorer for this embarrassing and ill-conceived controversy."

Since there are many like kricket who want to give money to Briggs, how about we set PACT free and let it run on donations? That way we taxpayers wouldn't care about the trivial legalities of tracking public funds and those darn bean counters wouldn't get in the way of creativity.

We are all poorer because the city insists on spending our tax dollars for non-essentials like PACT and then wonders why it can't afford to fix the streets and storm drains.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Tim
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 19, 2008 at 9:25 pm

Pat was a city employee who didn't follow the rules. She needs to go .


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Memories
a resident of another community
on May 19, 2008 at 9:27 pm

I happen to have many great memories of growing up at the Children's Theater and being involved in such activities as acting, running crew, house management and scene painting. This was back in the days of the elaborately glorious May Fetes and May Parades. Unfortunately, not many of these activities had good memories of Pat. Back in the 60's and 70's, she was a domineering force. Extremely disorganized and vindictive, she adopted a prejudicial attitude towards females, minorities, or anyone who questioned her. In those days, she went through employees and otherwise supportive parents like water. I truly hope her tactics have changed and she has mellowed in the last twenty or thirty years. I fear that this latest chapter at the Children's Theater is due to gross negligence, abuse of power, and complacency. Go ahead, get angry at me for exposing the truth, but these are my honest memories.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by John the Man
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 19, 2008 at 10:24 pm

You don't follow the rules when it comes to spending City money? You put it on the trail. Goodbye, Pat.

But if she decides to fight this and puts her case to the public to stay, then we'd better see what's in that eight-plus page letter she got. No way ANYONE should be supporting her staying on if she decides that we can't or shouldn't see what that letter says.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Mark T.
a resident of Midtown
on May 19, 2008 at 11:30 pm

"…Join the ranks of other local children's nonprofit arts/music/theatre organizations who pull their own weight."

yeah, but they suck.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Daniel
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 20, 2008 at 12:35 am

The criminal investigation came to naught when the DA shined light upon it. This administrative shenanigan will end too. The community will soon have Pat, Rich and Alison back at the helm! Justice will be done.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on May 20, 2008 at 1:15 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on May 20, 2008 at 4:39 am

The buck stops never at Frank's desk.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on May 20, 2008 at 9:59 am

A comment from Olivia Killingsworth, a former theater employee, quoted in today's Daily:

'As a former theater employee, "I know from personal experience that its management could be, despite the best intentions, deeply dysfunctional and disorganized at times, resulting in a lot of wasted time and money," Killingsworth wrote.

So – despite having wasted taxpayers' money and running a dysfunctional organization – Briggs should be allowed to go back to her job?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by reader
a resident of another community
on May 20, 2008 at 10:28 am

I have always thought that if behavior is tolerated for a while (guess we have to define that), at a certain point it becomes impossible to punish the person for that behavior. (You have to realize that you were remiss in not letting the person know in time to avoid an awkward situation.)

Should the person's superior be punished? Possibly.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 20, 2008 at 11:10 am

sorry, Mark T, but there are numerous outstanding children's nonprofit arts/music/theatre organizations around here that DON'T "suck" -- as you say -- and that DO pull their own weight without 1M taxpayer support per year.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by narnia
a resident of another community
on May 20, 2008 at 11:10 am

"I have always thought that if behavior is tolerated for a while (guess we have to define that), at a certain point it becomes impossible to punish the person for that behavior. (You have to realize that you were remiss in not letting the person know in time to avoid an awkward situation.)"


Such excuses are not accepted by courts and shouldn't be accepted here. PACT management is responsible for their own deeds just like other officials are. "Everybody does it" , "I was only following orders" and " I stole because the door was left open" are not ethically valid (or legally).
If other officials were remiss in their duties then call them to account for it. Briggs and her management has to account for theirs.
Somebody who at minimum was "deeply dysfunctional and disorganized at times, resulting in a lot of wasted time and money" shouldn't be at the organization's wheel. Taxpayers cannot afford to. Surely, there are other officials who wast money. But this is not an investigation into other than PACT management. Each is separate.

What almost half of century of Briggs&PACT engendered is the notion that Briggs and PACT are one. They are not. PACT belongs to all residents of PA, not Briggs and her entourage. If PACT is not separated from the city and becomes a non-profit ( my opinion) at the very least Palo Altans should take their children's theater back by instituting a new management, one in which the director is hired for a specific period of time contract renewable only once or twice for the position.
PACT is unique in so far that gives steady and well payed employment (with municipal perks and protections) to theater personnel - a rarity in the theater world. Were there to be a nationwide search for a new leader it would be very difficult to choose amongst the many exceptional candidates judging by what similar organizations have experienced .. In fact it would even be difficult to process applications, experience shows.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by FIRE THEM ALL!
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 20, 2008 at 11:33 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Raphael E. Serebreny
a resident of Midtown
on May 20, 2008 at 12:29 pm

I happen to agree with this poster. I had the same experience, If I had a good experience, it was not because of Ms. Briggs. It was because of the rest of the staff, who subsequently left because of her. Right before we moved out of the community, I met her. It was very depressing. She didn't seem to know where she was, and as acrimonious as some of our disagreements were, she didn't seem to remember me. You don't handle that much money without a CPA in charge. I can't figure out why one wasn't hired as soon as the city stopped supporting the Children's theater. I am neither one of her supporters or her detractors, but she made life miserable for me, and later for my young child. Of course, I'm from the days when Hazel Robertson, the founder of the place was still around. Still, I have many good memories. As long as you stayed away from Pat, you were fine.

Raphael E. Serebreny
Children's theater participant 1948 to 1965
West Long Branch, New Jersey

I happen to have many great memories of growing up at the Children's Theater and being involved in such activities as acting, running crew, house management and scene painting. This was back in the days of the elaborately glorious May Fetes and May Parades. Unfortunately, not many of these activities had good memories of Pat. Back in the 60's and 70's, she was a domineering force. Extremely disorganized and vindictive, she adopted a prejudicial attitude towards females, minorities, or anyone who questioned her. In those days, she went through employees and otherwise supportive parents like water. I truly hope her tactics have changed and she has mellowed in the last twenty or thirty years. I fear that this latest chapter at the Children's Theater is due to gross negligence, abuse of power, and complacency. Go ahead, get angry at me for exposing the truth, but these are my honest memories.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Sarah Smith
a resident of another community
on May 20, 2008 at 2:25 pm

Hang in there, Pat! I have such great memories of you, Michael, and the whole PACT community in the late '70's.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Derek Wood
a resident of another community
on May 20, 2008 at 5:19 pm

I feel I must respond to several statements above.

1) For the umpteenth time: taxpayers are NOT "subsidizing [the Children's Theatre] to the tune of $1 million/year." A significant percentage of the PACT budget is raised by the Friends of the Children's Theatre.

The City's Adopted Operating Budget (freely available on the web) lists total Expenses of $139.2 million for FY 2007-08 (page 30); the Expense of operating the Children's Theatre is given as $1.2 million (page 117). Even without factoring in the portion raised by the Friends, you're STILL only talking about 0.8% of the City's budgeted expenses. Eight tenths of one percent... less than a penny on the dollar. I'd say it was peanuts, but even peanuts cost more than that.

2) The statement that Pat Briggs should be replaced because she has been in her position for 40+ years is a truly saddening bit of ignorance. By the same logic, I guess they should have benched Cal Ripken and Lou Gehrig when they each got to 1,500 consecutive games, because hey, all they do is play every day and make their teams win. Yes, I did just compare Pat Briggs to Ripken and Gehrig.

Under Pat's direction, the Children's Theatre has flourished. It has grown to involve well over a thousand kids each year. A full outdoor stage has been added, effectively doubling the performing and rehearsal space. Lighting and technical systems have been continuously upgraded, and there is now multimedia equipment for the kids to learn on as well. None of these things would have been possible without Pat Briggs. In fact, I find it quite impressive that all of this is achieved for only $1.2M a year.

In America we used to celebrate people who served for several decades in their positions. Now individuals with that level of loyalty and dedication to their jobs are derided as stale fogeys, no matter how successful their track records may be. Welcome to the era of slashed benefits and anonymous internet flame warriors, everyone.

3) Regarding the notion that the Children's Theatre should receive no City financing, and pay for itself: if we were talking about a regular theatre company, I might agree.

I am a member of a nonprofit theatre company in Los Angeles made up of about 100 other adults. We pay membership dues, raise funds, and volunteer countless hours of our time to make our shows happen. Performance royalties must be paid to the publishers of plays. We don't have a space of our own, so we rent a 55-seat theatre for our productions. Costumes must be built or rented... I could go on and on.

The Palo Alto Children's Theatre is not a theatre company. It is a theatre, but moreso it is an educational facility for *children*. It exists to provide a place where any kid who shows up can get involved in any or all aspects of stage productions. It is a place where kids can grow, and learn creativity and collaboration. Its availability to kids is not conditional upon their address, nor - more importantly - their families' ability to pay. That is why the ticket prices are so low. That is why the Summer Conservatory program fee is so cheap. The Children's Theatre has never been, and never should be, held to the standard of grownups' community or professional theatres. Their purposes are fundamentally different.

4) Places like the Children's Theatre are not readily available to kids just anywhere. When I was a kid in Palo Alto, I loved playing AYSO soccer. If I had grown up in, say, Sacramento I could still have played AYSO soccer - but I could not have learned theatre from Pat Briggs and Michael Litfin, and I would be the poorer for it. Many of the kids who were drawn to the Children's Theatre were kids who weren't into AYSO or Little League or the Girl Scouts, but they found something they wanted to be part of at the Children's Theatre. That kind of resource for kids is rare indeed, and the kind of thing that makes people want to raise their families in Palo Alto. Or at least, it used to when I lived there.


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Posted by narnia
a resident of another community
on May 20, 2008 at 8:22 pm

Derek woods writes
1) 1st paragraph :" taxpayers are NOT "subsidizing [the Children's Theatre] to the tune of $1 million/year."
Woods 2nd paragraph:"The City's Adopted Operating Budget ..... Expense of operating the Children's Theatre is given as $1.2 million (page 117)"

It's difficult to reconcile the 1st and 2nd paragraphs unless we are at the PACT school of financial management.

2) " Woods says The statement that Pat Briggs should be replaced because she has been in her position for 40+ years is a truly saddening bit of ignorance". Well, I said that. I should have expected that Derek, like others who worked with Patt Briggs, denigrate those
who disagree that Briggs's long reign should end- in this case the accusation of ignorance.
Cal Ripken and Lou Gehrig were performers. Their contract only obligated them to perform on the field and they did. Performers and creators of any kind can of course go on till they die. But managers and managing directors are different positions : they are positions of power and facilitation. Management is an authoritative control of affairs of others. Power habits are difficult to give up, specially if there isn't any supervision and therefore a manager can act as a tyrant. That's why there are elections. Most of us wouldn't want a dear leader in power for 50 years no matter how loved by a great many people....That is why the Us Constitution doesn't allow anybody to become president for more than two consecutive terms. Management leadership positions should be limited in time for the same reasons.

Patt Briggs creative abilities might be as powerful as ever: she can write plays always, but she shouldn't be a managing director for ever. Even creative directors only, move from theater to theater to maintain fresh institutional approaches . Is Briggs dedicated to theater arts or to a position? the fact that her adoring supporters seem to think that whatever she did is fine with them is uncomfortably uncritical. She should be recognized for what she did well and for her dedication. But she had carry out her duties and she failed in that for about 43 years. According to one her supporters, also a professional, Briggs "management could be, despite the best intentions, deeply dysfunctional and disorganized at times, resulting in a lot of wasted time and money," (Killingsworth) . How many more years of this you want?

3) Many organizations, science, arts, sports, service and others are run without being city funded.
PAC theater is not so out-of-this -world important in the lives of children that only theater should be funded. What about dividing the funds?
It's counter productive to claim such qualities to theater education that only that is funded
dismissing all other educational organizations.

But what percentage of children benefited from PACT? very small. Mostly is about "educating" some and giving Palo altans a few performances . I do not think I ever met Pat Briggs but I met michael liftin in the beginning of the 80's. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
4) Your experience in trying to get funds and a performance place is typical. What is untypical is to have a very well payed job, with an excellent pension and municipal perks + job protection as the PACT management had. They had it good, as your related experience goes.
PACT is not like the very superb CTC of Minneapolis. and that toni award winning company lives off foundation and governement grants. So should PACT.
Who do they think they are?


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Posted by Daniel
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 20, 2008 at 11:33 pm

Narnia,

So you admit you never met Pat, but you claim to be an expert about her??? [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]




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Posted by Vidor
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 20, 2008 at 11:36 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Orvin Scrivello
a resident of Mountain View
on May 20, 2008 at 11:37 pm

Narnia,

I'm right on the fence as to whether are a well intentioned person with incorrect facts or someone specious who is simply trying to agitate.

Your response to this brief missive, should you venture one, will decide which yard many of us leap into.

First off, you are speaking about Derek Wood, not Derek Woods.

Secondly, Wood is actually correct in his assertion that the PACT isn't subsidized to the tune of one million dollars because the amount of revenue the program brings in causes the net outlay to be under seven figures. You should humbly stand corrected.

Thirdly, citing Killingsworth as a source to help your case is not a strong one since she herself has a reputation established well before Pat's suspension of being hypercritical without being able to back it up with case examples. She needs to go open up her own children's theatre somewhere just to gain a little bit of knowledge as to what it entails.

Fourthly, citing a comparison from PACT to the "Tony" award winning
MCT is an interesting one.

Your recommendation that PACT run, in part, on government grants
is an interesting notion, if only because you would be asking every citizen in America to subsidize a theatre program that disproportionately affects the quality of life in one region.

To further follow the blueprint of the Moppet Theatre (which runs itself as a regional theatre with a far larger budget than that of PACT) do so would mean that PACT would need to expand in scope
by at least fivefold.

Fifthly, as far as your brief and unpleasant experience with Michael Litfin, I can only presume that you are aware of two simple facts.
A),you can not judge a man's entire canon by one mere experience, and that B)Michael was an extremely good judge of character.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]




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Posted by Straight Numbers
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 20, 2008 at 11:51 pm

The straight numbers from the City 2007-09 Operating Budget for PACT are:

Expense = $1,227,094
Revenue = $ 293,100
Net = $933,944

So in my book, that rounds to a $1M annual subsidy for the purposes of this conversation.

The idea that $1M is "not even peanuts" in terms of city budget is a dangerous one. It is easy to spend $1M on a nice program and neglect infrastructure, just as we've clearly done in PA for decades. 0.8% of the city budget is a very big number to subsidize childrens theater in my view. If others think it is a small number, then raising it privately should not be a big issue.


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Posted by narnia
a resident of another community
on May 21, 2008 at 1:47 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by narnia
a resident of another community
on May 21, 2008 at 2:00 am

I am leaving this forum because there seems to be impossible to have a civil conversation. I tried. It has been a few times in which I have been verbally brutally attacked as a person.
Those who hope to save PACT by attacking anybody with whose opinion is that PACT should not be a city department and/or Briggs should be let go, are not going to succeed in having me as lightning rod. I want the issues discussed, not me. And for the first time as per my last post I had to take my gloves off. No more bulling.

The editors will do their jobs an cut off remarks. Unhappily, they will not going to be able to restore moneys to the city and a sense that the PACT management has left long ago
as an enterprise for all Palo Altans.


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Posted by Andrew
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 21, 2008 at 7:47 am

I think that person's handle should be "Rounded Up Numbers" instead of "Straight Numbers."
As a Little League Coach, I have come to understand that my position is a little bit like that of what any children's theatre director would be, whether it be PatBriggs, Michael Litfin, or the people who came before them, or the people that succeed them.
Basically, you will always be in that position to grant a limited amount of opportunities to a finite amount of children.
That means you will always be doing a bad job in the eyes of some people.
Consideration is always given both in terms of thinking of things as a meritocracy and in also being democratic (every kid gets an at-bat) but that you stop short of giving every kid an equal number
of at-bats lest the group not have a true chance to excel. Finding the balance can be tough and in the eyes of the public, impossible.
I don't know anything about these two people other than they have supporters and detractors (par for the course for their positions I presume.)
In my honest opinion, I think I am a pretty nice guy, but I have come to know, trust and understand the following fact. Being reasonable with every parent is not an option.
There will always be the annoying parent who thinks their kid is special or the Machiavellian father who thinks he can do your job better than you or the hustler/agitator/annoying who will present themselves as noble and paint others as being less than.
I wonder if Michael Litfin actually lost his cool or if he knew he was making a pre-emptive strike against an overbearing parent.It is key to the success of a youth program to drive off the people who clearly have an agenda that does everything to serve their little one at the vast expense of all the others.
The issue of whether the money that goes into the Children's Theatre at a taxpayer cost is one worthy of debate. Surely, some price is too high, but what is that price?
Libraries don't make money either and with the advent of the internet, they seem to have less importance, but others see them as incredible bargains when compared to what they cost.
Someone brought up the Minnesota Children's Theatre. I visited that place. I have to imagine that the city is so completely proud of it and that its very existence stimulates not only the economy but makes the city a much more favorable place to live.
In deciding what the worth of the Children's Theatre is, one should look into all the ancillary benefits it brings. Wouldn't its closure mean that all the elementary schools in the entire city have to spend more money if they were to put on plays or to grant theatrical experiences (ones presumably taught by non-drama specialists)?
Would the children who no longer had the Children's Theatre programs be driven to other after-school youth programs that might need their budgets upgraded to help look after them?
Might some children find no program to find them, which could lead to them having a life with less structure and discipline?
Could the loss of such a unique regional feature mean that Palo Alto loses a quality of life in some way?
Will Palo Alto lose some of its appeal to the affluent and will less of the artsy people who find it desirable be less likely to move here--which could affect the property values of my small home?
After all, if city cuts down one of its big trees, does that not mean that we all get less shade?
The Children's Theatre BUDGET is an intriguing topic.
I wonder what the experts such as (perhaps) Leon would say about the history of the budget and if Pat Briggs ever gave comments on it.
I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the budget is where it is at right now because over the years, they have seen a certain social return on what the program has done to the point that they decided to increase its budget every year.
I certainly don't know this for a fact, but I imagine that a Pat Briggs probably went in every year or so with a few different budgets explaining what she could do for the children and the city with x dollars, with y dollars and with z dollars and that the City always made what they felt was the wisest amount for the infrastructure.
In a way, the budget growing to such volume indicates that the programs and budgets preceding it were seen as successes.
Yes, that budget does seem like a lot of money to me as well,
but we should look at what sort of money that saves the elementary school system budget and also perhaps come up with a figure to see how many dollars a year we should be spending on every Palo Alto kid--and in how much of that money should go toward the arts.
I think there are about 12,000 kids we are talking about here--most of whom all get some exposure to the theatre's outreach program as well as the main theatre in some variety.
I'm not the expert, but this could be a bargain, sort of like how innoculations for babies is relatively cheap and in how pouring money into research and development is a good bargain for industrial companies. Cutting back could potentially be penny wise but pound foolish.

Thoughts?





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Posted by Eddie
a resident of Atherton
on May 21, 2008 at 8:29 am

I saw a play at the theatre in 1980 and another one in I guess 2002.
The place looked fabulous in comparison.

I think some of the operating budget went into improving the land and the facility. Am I wrong about this? (I guess they expanded because supply couldn't keep up with demand.)

In a way, didn't the budget money that got poured into improvements vastly increase the net worth of the property and doesn't
the City now have a much greater physical asset?

Nothing makes an economic impact quite like a brand new opening of some new sports or commerce or art center, but in a sense, maybe all the constant and relatively minor physical improvements to that lot had a pretty good economic impact as well even if it was spread
across many years.

As for me, I would vote to cut the budget by 10% and IF the demand began to strip the supply, then the decision to bring things
back up to where they might need to be to best maximize the
economic benefit to the local economy.

It's tricky though.

Cutting a budget 10% might reduce the benefit by 15%.




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Posted by Sarah
a resident of University South
on May 21, 2008 at 8:59 am

Hasn't she suffered enough repercussions already?

Clearly, the suspicious people who went by names such as perp walk even know by now that this woman didn't do anything criminal or selfish.

Reinstate her already.

With Michael Litfin no longer around, she is more indispensable then ever.


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Posted by Perp walk
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 21, 2008 at 9:12 am

Sarah---Ms Briggs may not have been engaged in criminal activities, but she clearly was irresponsible with taxpayer money. She was getting more than 100K salary and is guilty of financial mismanagement. even many of her supporters admit that that PACt was at times dysfunctional, disorganized and money was wasted.
No one is indispensable--as you state Litfin is no longer around and the theatre will survive without him.
Let her make public the letter she got from the city with grounds for her termination


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Posted by Adam Stempel
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 21, 2008 at 9:25 am

I've refrained from posting a comment for several articles now, but despite the scorn and misinformation going back and forth, it seems like somebody's reading them, so I'll say a few words.
I was a Children's Theatre participant for nine years, from age nine to age eighteen, and it (very obviously) changed my life. I'm am in no way unique in this respect. I realized about a year ago that, after my father, I had spent more time with Michael Litfin than any other man in the world. Pat might not be number one for women, but she's certainly in the top five.
The Children's Theatre is a place where good people are made. I'm not going analogize with any other organization I've seen because quite frankly I don't think the Children's Theatre can be compared to a little league team or AYSO or a library or even a school. One of the most important things about the Children's Theatre (aside from teaching responsibility, social skills, confidence, technical skill, and acting) is that it is always there. Always. It is, of course, conceivable that there are other employees who work harder than Pat Briggs, but I've never met any of them. The reason the City should fund the theatre, historical importance of being the first children's theatre in the country to actually have a theatre, is that PACT really can't function on donations alone, not the way it needs to. Another poster pointed out that the Children's Theatre and Pat Briggs are not one thing, and this is true. But there are precious few souls who are willing to work 16 hours a day with hundreds of children for six to seven days a week 11 months out of the year. The Children's Theatre is special because it doesn't work like other community organizations. It isn't something kids do for four days a week after school. It's something kids do for years and years, nonstop.
Yes, I know kids who would have committed suicide had not the support of the Theatre been there. Yes, many would have turned to drugs instead of musicals. But these aren't the norm, and they don't have to be for us to still want the Theatre. I couldn't be where I am now without the help of Pat Briggs, without the help of the entire Theatre staff or without the other kids I met there. This IS the norm, for hundreds upon hundreds of current participants and alumni. This is the bond we share.
As of last summer, I no longer live in Palo Alto. But it seems that the city has a decision to make; a decision it's been putting off for some time now. Does Palo Alto want to be the kind of town that asks and gives little of itself to its citizens, indistinguishable except by median income from its neighbors, where the motivated kids play on sports teams coached by their parents and the unmotivated kids smoke pot in basements? Or does Palo Alto want to be a beacon of community dedication, a city that respects and supports its unique institutions, where "Palo Altan" means something enviable, and where the children are raised by the village and not the nanny?
Yes, Pat Briggs should be excepted from strict accounting standards. There are exceptions to rules, and the Palo Alto Children's Theatre is one of them. I hope with all my being that the citizens of Palo Alto and its City Council will realize this, and back away from the abyss of apathy and irrelevance.
Sincerely,
Adam Stempel
PACT 1998-2007


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Posted by Perp walk
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 21, 2008 at 9:32 am

"Yes, Pat Briggs should be excepted from strict accounting standards. There are exceptions to rules, and the Palo Alto Children's Theatre is one of them. I hope with all my being that the citizens of Palo Alto and its City Council will realize this, and back away from the abyss of apathy and irrelevance."
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Raising Ms Briggs and the PACT to levels where the rules do not apply to them is dangerous, unwarranted and ridiculous.
Let's get real--Ms Briggs is a responsible adult. Her handling of taxpayer money was incompetent to say the least. if she could not do it properly, then she should have asked for help.
PACT will survive without Ms Briggs


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Posted by Adam Stempel
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 21, 2008 at 9:47 am

I'm not really going to respond much to the above comment, but keep in mind that they couldn't really ask for help. There's been a hiring freeze for the last couple of years which I believe continues. Pat was already doing the job of two or three people, and for a time so were Michael and Rich.
I'm not trying to excuse bad accounting out of hand. If there were problems, and it seems there were, they should be fixed. My argument is that punishing Pat with termination doesn't help anybody at all, and that we should look at the Theatre in the context of what it does, rather than strictly enforcing a set-in-stone checklist of things that have apparently been ambiguous for decades.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on May 21, 2008 at 11:38 am

narnia: I hope you will reconsider leaving the forum. Your comments make sense and are of value.


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Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on May 21, 2008 at 12:37 pm

There are alternatives to termination, such as reorganizing the PACT so that Pat Briggs can continue to do what she does best, and have someone else handle the financial side. Based on everything that's been written & posted, it's hard to believe there is any criminal intent.

But this whole issue reflects on how city hall has been run. Most companies have a finance department, with a controller. Cash advances should have to be approved by a supervisor, and the controller at some point should have had trouble reconciling the "books" when money was not accounted for. This should have escalated to where a investigation would not have been necessary. So then one needs to question on how money is handled by the city.
So although, the PACT may not have followed rules & processes dealing with some expenses, the next layer of financial controls should have raised issues, unless there has been no controls.


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Posted by Janet
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 21, 2008 at 12:44 pm

If we are to recuse everyone who has been a little irresponsible with taxpayer funds, then won't City Hall be left with a skeleton crew working its corridors?

The question isn't whether the theatre will survive without Pat Briggs or Rich Curtis, the questions are whether
it will survive anywhere near as well without them
and
will it get back to full force anywhere near as quickly without them?


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Posted by fireman
a resident of another community
on May 21, 2008 at 1:34 pm

Mr Stempl, A hiring freeze. Do not let then fool you. They hire and promote who they want. Period. It is an excuse.
Remember the HR department just gave someone o huge raise, that would of employee'd at least one more person. Two people can do more work than one. How do you or anyone explain

If they need or want someone they will get them. So what now, since there is a FREEZE no new City Manager or assistent manager.

It seems that the oppisite is happening a FIREING OUTBREAK>

Casey O'neil, Brandon Porter... Mr Brigg's... I think the rolling heads are to keep you looking in a differant direction??


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Posted by fireman
a resident of another community
on May 21, 2008 at 1:35 pm

Ms Briggs, sorry, hit the wrong key(again)


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Posted by Nicholas Sousa
a resident of Professorville
on May 21, 2008 at 2:29 pm

Excellent letter, Mr. Stemple -- my personal favorite so far.

Common Sense, thank you for the common sense. We don't have to solve problems using the ancient Hawai`ian _kapu_ system (all rules have one penalty: death by clubbing); we can actually work to fix them (hire an accountant already! make the city as well as the theater go through a re-training session in how cash advances, donations, etc. are supposed to be handled, and then audit regularly, not once in a blue moon).

There is a way to cure the ills without amputation. Let's work toward that.



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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 21, 2008 at 3:00 pm

If we can fix the money pit that PACT seems to have been, maybe we can then afford to finance PACT on a sensible budget, charge the partricipants a realistic fee, give the paid staff a reasonable salary with the responsibilities of running the Theatre as a business with financial acumen and then perhaps we could afford some of the other necessities that our kids need, like bathrooms at our parks, changing rooms with lockers at our swimming pools so that we don't have to hide our keys and wallets under our clothes while we swim and other things that are deemed too expensive for poor Palo Alto to fund where other cities manage to do it quite nicely.


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Posted by fireman
a resident of another community
on May 22, 2008 at 5:43 am

The Fire Department leaders waste millions and never pay any price.
Ms Briggs is part of a group. A group that inclueds the CITY leaders and other City departments that have been involved with a program that has be mismanaged (maybe) over a long period of time. With no help from the City accountting departments.Or an Audit. The people who's job it is to keep track of the money in the City. Have not done so well, it looks to me. So Ms Briggs becomes the SCAPEGOAT. And the City will take a way everything she has worked for. FOR 40 years?? Sure seems that if the City lets this go on from so many year, have the RESOURCES to handle money (accounting and auditors. Why should Ms Briggs pay the HIGHEST price the City can draw from her. 40 years of her life and work, while others slip off into the shadows. Look what this City has done to there lives. Anyone want to walk in her shoes?? And her voice has been taken a way. She can not speak to the public. That is who she works for. Not Frank Benest or the rest of them.


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Posted by guy
a resident of another community
on May 23, 2008 at 8:34 am

I hope that everyone here takes the time to read Mr. Stempel's posts. They are perhaps some of the most cogent, reasoned and intelligent that have been made on these forums and mirror my feelings exactly. I am proud to have known Ms. Briggs and the late Mr. Litfin, and hope that I will see both Pat and Rich back at work during the coming summer.

People on these boards often decry how PACT supporters are biased an incapable of objectively analyzing the situation, calling them "zealots" or making other ridiculous charges. Mr. Stempel is a clear example that this is a truly erroneous assumption. To the contrary, I would submit that people who know and understand the theatre are more capable of rendering informed opinions. I truly hope that people will follow in his example and post thoughtful, respectful comments that seek to further discussion without demonizing any who disagree with them.

And to "common sense" -- I think you pseudonym could not have been more aptly chosen. Really, every full-time employee is working at least 12 hours almost every day during the summer months and the theatre still barely runs, maybe they need some extra help? I really don't think it would be a stretch for the city to bring in an accountant to work there one day a week. It's not exactly a complicated system; people buy tickets, the theatre buys supplies.


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Posted by Perp walk
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 23, 2008 at 8:46 am

Guy--no city employee and no organization should be exempted from basic rules as suggested by Mr Stemple.
No organization should rise to the level where citizens consider that problems occurring with said organziation should be ignored. Wasting taxpayer money should not be excused, shoddy accounting practices should not be excused (I will state that the city shares the blame for accounting issues at PACT--however Ms Briggs was the $100K+/year employee in charge--she should have known better.)
No employee is indispensible.
Time for a change at PACT. time for Ms Briggs to step down. PACT will not collapse without her.


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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 23, 2008 at 9:16 am

This is not a unique organization. It should be operated consistent with other similar organizations.

If taxpayers are funding it, we deserve it to be operated professionally with transparent financials.

I think the best route is to detach it from the city, but I am guessing that will be hard to do because of the unionized employees?! So we taxpayers are stuck with this unsatisfactory situation?


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Posted by guy
a resident of another community
on May 23, 2008 at 9:50 am

perp walk - First, I think you mischaracterize Mr. Stempel's post by stating that he believes that PACT "should be exempted from basic rules". He clearly states: "If there were problems, and it seems there were, they should be fixed". Furthermore, while I agree that no employee is indispensable, I think that after 47 years, Ms. Briggs has earned the right to help shape the future of PACT by being involved in picking and training the person who will take her place and the place of the late Michael Litfin. It is likely that she would have needed to step down soon anyways, and would surely have been looking to find a successor.

I find that the punishment doesn't fit the crime. You repeatedly say that the city deserves better accountability, and I and Mr. Stempel both agree. However, Ms. Briggs was the CEO of the theatre, not the CFO. Ms. Briggs is being fired for trying to do a job she wasn't hired to do to the best of her abilities, particularly given limited resources and training. Quite frankly, she was stretched thin. She wasn't hired to be the bookkeeper, she was hired to put on plays. Look to other organizations. The director/CEO is generally not the person who directly oversees finances. The city never hired a person to oversee all financial matters for the theatre. As such, people in the theatre were being forced to shuffle those responsibilities and their own, without training in the former.

Now that these problems have been clearly identified, there are remedies that are bettter suited to addressing the problem. Hiring a part-time accountant dedicated to the theatre is one option, I know many accountants who work with bigger budgets in more complicated fields who only need to go to those businesses once a week. Re-directing an accountant already on the city's dime to the theatre. Hiring a replacement for Mr. Litfin with financial experience whose job responsibilities include overseeing finances is a third option. Also, I think training all employees in proper accounting is a good idea regardless.

My problem is that the city dropped the ball and Ms. Briggs is paying the price. She wasn't asked to submit receipts, so she didn't, and now she's under fire. There weren't audits of the theatre, and now she's being blamed. When Pat was asked to submit receipts, pre-2000, she did, when she wasn't, she didn't.It appears to me that she is being excoriated for actions she didn't take even though she was never asked to perform those actions. Please explain to me the fairness in that.


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Posted by Perp walk
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 23, 2008 at 10:15 am

Guy--from Adam Stemple's initial post:

"Yes, Pat Briggs should be excepted from strict accounting standards. There are exceptions to rules, and the Palo Alto Children's Theatre is one of them. "

Pretty clear to me that he is saying that PACT should be exempt from the rules/.

We do not really know what the "crime" is that Ms Briggs is being terminated for--she has not made public the letter she got from the city.
Whil she may have been CEO and not CFO--she was the head ---the buck stops with her.

The city is partially to blame for this whole mess--but managing money is not our city's strong suit, is it??

Ms Briggs should have say in recommending a successor, but she should definitely move on.


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Posted by guy
a resident of another community
on May 23, 2008 at 11:14 am

perp walk - your quote from his initial post is accurate, but it was qualified in the second. I think it's clear that Adam believes that better accounting is required. While it is true that we don't know exactly what caused Pat to be recommended for termination, I think it's been suggested that it stems, in part, for double reimbursements, or allegations thereof. But I think that we do need to know more in order to form more educated opinions. Regardless, I think that Pat handled finances as best she could, and that the blame falls on the city for not correcting a problem years ago. Accounting issues are easy to fix, you hire someone who has experience, or you train a person so they know, the city did neither, but is content to let Pat take the fall.

I'm somewhat confused by your next two points. You say first that the buck stops with Pat, but the city is bad with money, so they can be excused. Quite frankly, I think the city has far more experience than Pat in financial matters, and they should be held to a higher standard. If the buck stops with Pat, then I think it's fair to move the buck on up the ladder. While a CEO is ultimately responsible for the entire business, they are only as good as their fellow CO's. Pat was acting as the CFO, COO, CPO and CEO all in one. She wasn't as capable a CFO as she should have been, but that was a problem the CITY needed to address in one of the manner's I have previously described. it was an easy fix for the city and an impossible fix for PACT, but PACT is what's being thrown under the bus, and that's what I object to.

I'm glad that you see a role for Pat in setting the direction of PACT. Even if she wasn't going to be moving on previously, I think it would be hard for her to continue for any more than a few years after this ordeal. I think that may be best for the organization, let Pat set the tone, groom a successor for a few years, and let PACT move on from this mess, whether deserved or not. I wouldn't want her to leave immediately, and I think there will always be a role for her in the organization. But after almost 50 years, it's probably time for someone else to shoulder the burdens of command.


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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 25, 2008 at 5:53 pm

So...what's next. Or are we taxpayers to be kept in the dark?


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