|After enjoying a standing ovation Monday night in honor of his 29 years with the City of Palo Alto, departing Community Services Director Richard James spoke out in defense of recently fired Children's Theatre Director Pat Briggs.
"The fault lies in the traditions and processes set in place more than three decades ago and continued through institutional momentum," James said in a surprise twist to usually predictable retirement comments.
"I believe these are not the faults of one woman and they are certainly not the faults of criminal minds."
He called for city leaders "to understand, to do what's right and to help mend this community."
Most of his 29 years with the city were quite pleasurable, but the last six months have been rough, he said.
"The personal and organizational damage that has been done I think is far-reaching and lasting," James said.
He also thanked the Palo Alto community and his colleagues.
"My years have been very enlightened with meeting great, great people from the past and from the present," James said. "I carry so many memories."
James was the first of a series of speakers to plead with the City Council to reinstate Briggs — terminated June 30 after 47 years.
Monday night's testimonies continued a vigil of sorts that began in January, when the police investigation became public and four theater staff members were placed on paid administrative leave.
Again, the council heard from a chain of community members, spanning generations, that Briggs had been a life-changing role model careful to abide by city policies — 23 people spoke in support of Briggs Monday night.
"Someone has it in their power to halt this. It is way past time to use it," theater supporter Kathleen Walkup said.
"I'm here to speak about what I feel is a miscarriage of justice," Bonnie Bernstein said. "These are two honest citizens who deserve to keep their jobs."
Former Program Assistant Richard Curtis was also recently terminated for breaking a condition of the administrative leave when he used his computer and tried to print out records he said related to defending his performance.
Rather than firing Briggs, instead name her "director emeritus," Alpha Crews said.
Leif Erickson — executive director of the nonprofit Youth Community Service, son of founding members of the Friends of the Palo Alto Children's Theatre (and husband of former auditor Sharon Erickson) — said this incident could compound the skepticism and mistrust of government found in young people.
"I believe this decision will be overcome and reversed," he said.
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