Costume Supervisor Alison Williams celebrated her return, after four months, to the Palo Alto Children's Theatre with a semi-surprise party Wednesday afternoon.
Cake and strawberries, balloons, stickers and colorful pro-employee posters filled the theater lobby and theater supporters, including Williams, were beaming. The open gaiety marked a sharp shift, perhaps only temporary, in the timbre of the ongoing Children's Theatre saga, which has dominated by secrecy, suspicion and sadness.
Williams returned to work Tuesday for the first time since Jan. 24, when she and fellow employees Pat Briggs, Michael Litfin and Richard Curtis were placed on paid administrative leave pending a criminal "financial crimes" investigation.
"We're very glad you're back. It was too long," Friends of the Palo Alto Children's Theatre President Paula Collins said.
"It's wonderful to be back," Williams responded as the 25-or-so supporters raised glasses of sparkling cider in her honor. Before January, Williams spent much of her time in the theater's vast underground costume shop, well-known and loved within the theater community, but behind the scenes of public life.
In January, she became known as a criminal suspect, albeit in a convoluted and questionable case.
On Wednesday, Williams -- who has dark glasses, shoulder-length blondish hair, a trace of an accent and was carrying a small, white flower -- said she is focused on the present, being happy to return to work.
Williams co-workers Briggs and Curtis have been recommended for termination, but Williams hasn't been told what, if any, discipline she faces, former union leader Phil Plymale said Wednesday.
The administrative investigation into Williams' behavior, which is examining her compliance with the city's rules and regulations, is still ongoing, Plymale said.
On Tuesday, Williams met with Human Resources Director Russ Carlsen, Plymale said. Williams had to sign a statement that she would not talk about the case with any city employees and would not work any overtime without the permission of Community Services Director Richard James, Plymale said.
The overtime restriction is unusual and unrelated, Plymale said. Most theater employees work overtime when a show is being produced, yet now Williams won't be able to, he said.
Plymale said he can also confirm the city recommended terminating Curtis, a theater program assistant, because he accessed a theater computer during the February memorial service for Litfin, who died one week into the open criminal investigation while undergoing treatment for stomach cancer.
Plymale said Curtis had printed out a report that documented the theater's finances to show he hadn't been taking money.
Curtis also faces a second "insubordination" charge from the city. During one interview with the outside administrative investigator, Curtis was advised not to answer a question by Adolfo Reidel, the worksite organizer with the Service Employees International Union Local 521.
Plymale said the union plans to fight both charges.
Curtis has a June 5 hearing to present his defense, Plymale has said.
Theater Director Briggs is also fighting her recommended termination and will also meet with personnel leaders to present a defense.