Richard Curtis, former program assistant at the Palo Alto Children's Theatre, was fired Monday afternoon but plans to challenge the firing, former union leader Phil Plymale said.
Curtis was fired because he accessed his computer at the theater Feb. 16 while he was on administrative leave due to the police department's investigation into embezzlement at the theater.
On that day, when challenged by colleagues who knew he should not be on the computer, Curtis reportedly said: "I don't care what happens to me. They can terminate me, whatever," according to police transcripts.
But according to one of Curtis' many supporters, the longtime employee made a "stupid, impulsive mistake" and was trying to clear his name.
Curtis intends to challenge the city's decision to fire him. The final determination will be made by an outside arbitrator, Plymale said.
City officials are not announcing the actions due to personnel rules.
Curtis first received notice May 16 the city intended to fire him. He then had a half-hour hearing where he presented information to Deputy City Manager Kelly Morariu, Plymale has said.
Curtis was informed of the city's final decision late Monday afternoon.
Curtis was not terminated for his role in the suspected embezzlement at the theater, although he was one of four employees placed on administrative leave Jan. 24 in relation to the investigation.
At the time, he remained in relative isolation, became depressed and stopped eating and sleeping well, a source close to the situation said. Then, Curtis was hit with the death of his close friend, Assistant Director Michael Litfin.
On Saturday, Feb. 16, the day before Litfin's memorial service, Curtis and other on-leave employees had received permission to enter the non-public areas of the theater to help set up for the service.
But while inside the theater in the late morning, according to police records, Curtis instead told his colleagues he needed to access the box office for a "pad of paper."
He spent at least half an hour inside the office, some of the time with the door shut, police records state.
According to a Curtis supporter, Curtis was accessing documents he knew would prove to police that money for a particular show in question had been handled properly.
"He had a compulsion to correct what he felt was a false line of inquiry," the supporter said.
The police transcripts reveal that Curtis spent much of that time on the computer and when he had trouble printing a document, he asked his colleagues for help, a request that made them uncomfortable because they knew he should have not been in the office, according to the transcripts.
Curtis also asked other theater workers where the box office sales reports were located.
"At that point I was getting a little concerned because he was asking me a lot of questions I knew he shouldn't be asking me," one colleague told police.
At one point, a contract employee confronted Curtis.
"Rich, if you don't care what happens to you, that's fine, but you're putting (your colleagues) in a really awkward position," the worker said.
When confronted, Curtis responded angrily, according to police records.
"I don't care what happens to me. They can terminate me, whatever," he reportedly said.
Curtis accessed the box office more than once that day, police records state.
By closing the door to the office, "it made him look very suspicious," one colleague told police.
"I don't want to like rat Rich out, but he's putting us in an awkward position," another theater worker said.
One theater worker said Curtis' action was shocking.
Curtis knew he wasn't allowed in the box office or on computers, that colleague told police.
"It's a total violation of everybody's trust," the colleague said, according to the transcripts.
"My first impression was that he had something to hide."
Curtis was also asking the Friends of the Palo Alto Children's Theatre for information about the trips, police records state.
Curtis began his career at the theater by playing Ebenezer Scrooge. He worked part-time at the theater throughout high school until 2000, when he became a full-time program assistant. He has run the box office since 1995, according to the city's Web site.
"He really likes working with the public and if he sends someone away with a smile on their face, he feels he has done his job right," the Web site states.
Eleven supporters of the theater and staff spoke to the City Council Monday night under oral communications.
Lisa Michael, a former member of the Friends of the Palo Alto Children's Theatre board, said she worked at many hot dog shows with Curtis and was impressed by his "hypervigiliance" about cash handling.
"I am shocked that he would be involved in anything that wasn't the most upstanding," she said.
"Today's decision is grossly unfair," Friends' spokesman Ralph King said, acknowledging that Curtis had made an "impulsive mistake" by accessing his computer.
"I hate to say this and I don't do it lightly, but in my view this city is out of control," King said. "The city's management had a number of remedies available to it. ... Instead it chose the most extreme remedy perhaps to avoid the humiliation of a criminal case that fell flat.
"I only hope our new city manager is reasonable and just and can step in and restore a sense of proportion to the city, reinstate Rich and give him the opportunity to redeem himself," King said.
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