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Theater 'Friends' group asks to be cleared

Original post made on Feb 12, 2008

"We've been dragged into the mess although we have done nothing wrong," President Paula Collins of the Friends of the Children's Theatre group told the City Council Monday night. She asked that the group's name be officially cleared in an ongoing police investigation of the theater.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, February 12, 2008, 7:36 AM

Comments (31)

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Posted by JA 3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 12, 2008 at 8:50 am

A possible financial crime or crimes may take significant time to fully research here; clearly, a judge -- presented with some evidence -- was willing to issue multiple warrants for the search of certain facilities.

Time cures all; I suggest patience is prudent here.


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Posted by Take-It-Private
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 12, 2008 at 9:02 am

Did Larry Klein recuse himself from this discussion? This article does not seem to say, nor does it appear that the reporter understands the implications of Klein's potential conflict-of-interest in this matter.


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Posted by EOPACT
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 12, 2008 at 9:10 am

Not sure if Friends of the Children's Theatre are actually being investigated. Looks to me like they dragged their own name into the situation by vehemently supporting PACT, and by not allowing the PA police to conduct their investigation.
Now it looks like they got another of the city hall "good old boys" involved, Vic Ojakian is now a representative for FOPACT. Perhaps they felt with his connections at city hall, he could interfere and get te investigation suspended.
After all, the people at PACT could not have done anything wrong--FOPACT has said so. We do not need an investigation, just the word of FOPACT.

to me, FOPACT displays an intolerable arrogance and disregard for the law and how things are supposed to be done.

Shame on FOPACT, Paula Collins, and former mayor (and failed city councilman) Ojakian for trying to influence the city council to interfere with a police investigation


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Posted by Over Taxed
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 12, 2008 at 9:16 am

"We don't want to (pit) the credibility of the police versus the credibility of the theater," Kishimoto said. "We all do support the speedy resolution of the investigation."


That is if steeling money from children and tax payers ever had credibility.


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Posted by Not Periwinkle
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 12, 2008 at 10:47 am

"Former Mayor Vic Ojakian told the council that he was appointed to the board of the Friends organization Saturday."

Vic Ojakian has interesting connections for a person who has just joined the board of the Friends of the Children Theater.

He was one of two people (the other was then Mayor Kishimoto) who was listed as the contact person when a press release was issued last year announcing Frank Benest's impending retirement and Benest's many accomplishments for the city (Web Link).

I can understand having the current Mayor as a contact person for the press regarding Benest's retirement, but it was strange to see Ojakian, who wasn't even on the Council at the time, listed as the other contact person.

Ojakian was also the co-chair of the the task force that recommended building a new Police building, and he is a chief spokesman before the Council in favor of going ahead with the building without a vote of the electorate.

Now, when posters on this forum regarding the police investigation of both the Theater and the Friends group are often critical of the police and Benest, Ojakian suddenly offers himself as a new board member for the Friends group.


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Posted by Joanna
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 12, 2008 at 11:04 am

What a joke!


Clear your name when your name is cleared. This isn't a popularity contest.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Again confused by Theatergate
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 12, 2008 at 11:12 am

How are the Friends involved in all this? Someone please elaborate what they need to be cleared on.


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Posted by Periwinkle
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 12, 2008 at 11:14 am

I'm constantly amazed at how some residents paint almost every giving activity undertaken by public and/or city officials as if it was a crime. This appears to be a clear case of what is known as "cognitive projection". If someone's cognitive skew is such that the world is conceived as a suspicious and unforgiving place, that someone will color their life with that perception. How unfortunate, sad, and completely counterproductive of building community.

The Mayor's activities are completely legitimate, within the boundaries of law, and completely outside the boundaries of any conflict of interest.

Mr. Ojakian's actions are completely legitimate, and in keeping with someone who has a long history of positive contribution to our city.

These good men deserve out praise; they are outstanding public citizens.


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Posted by connect-the-dots
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 12, 2008 at 11:26 am

A couple of years ago, Tony Klein, the mayor's son, spoke before the Palo Alto city Council in support of the children's Theater, showing a movie which obviously cost a lot of money to produce. Victor Ojakian, said after the presentation: "well I guess that I now know where the money goes that we spend on this place" (or words to this effect). Victor Ojakian had been on the City Council for about six years at that point, and seemed to have little concern about the lucrative subsidy going in this operation.


Ojakian is a longtime friend of special interest groups here in Palo Alto. He has claimed to be a fiscally prudent council member, but never once voted NO on the city budget, or ever really asked any the hard questions about the rising cost of government--which almost doubled during eight years that he was on the city council.

Clearly, Ojakian is being "brought on board" to use his influence to try to diffuse this situation. With Ojakian, Joe Simitian and Larry Klein all in the middle of it--can there be any reason not to be very concerned about a cover up?


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Posted by Kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 12, 2008 at 12:38 pm

Whoa, everyone. The PAPD said tens of thousands of dollars were involved. It never said it was 'cash' . The Children's Theater staff itself reported equipment and other items missing last summer - value not stated. It is the theater staff who asked the PAPD in early January 2008 the status, if any, of an investigation asked for last summer!! It was the PAPD who used th term 'financial crimes'. If staff were involved, would it make sense if they asked for an investigation of missing items?? Wouldn't it have been easier not to even mention it?

To connect-the-dots. YOU are waaaay off base and throwing gasoline onto the fire. Vic Okakian is an honorable person, a private citizen, and he can join whatever he wants or be on any Board to which he is appointed. Larry Klein has a business. He's a lawyer specializing in trusts, estates, and wills. A lawyer CANNOT change the wording of a legal document. ALL he can do is carry out the wishes of the decedant according to the terms
as set forth in a legal document. He/she cannot change it - only disperse funds as specified under the law. And I'm sure the PAPD will be looking over his shoulderand examining the documents. All Klein can do is execute the document. It's rather cut and dried. The executor, Simitian, just 'hired' Klein to do the legal paper work, etc. Klein cannot change one word or one direction. It's written 'in stone'.


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Posted by connect-the-dots
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 12, 2008 at 1:46 pm

> Ojakian is an honorable man ..

The comments about Ojakian are intended to call question to his objectivity and competence as a city council member--and nothing else.

Let us remember that Ojakian was mayor when the Nancy Lytle "affair" raged across the headlines of the local newspapers. Ojakian allowed it to happen, did not deal with it very effectively--calling in an outside law firm so that the details of the "investigation" could be considered as "work product" and hence not be subject to public view--seemed to be his "contribution" to resolving this "problem".

When the matter finally came to conclusion (with some council members accused of a possible crime by Jack Morton), these council members were not found guilty of anything. Ojakian did not do anything to change the policies of the council (such as push for an strong ethics code), so that these sorts of "unpleasantries" could be avoided in the future. Instead, Ojakian worked very hard to "move on".

Ojakian's role in this Children's Theater situation will probably involve a lot of behind-the-scenes contacts, of which the public will not be privy.

But then .. that's the "Palo Alto Way".


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Posted by Ernest Kinsolving
a resident of another community
on Feb 12, 2008 at 3:13 pm

In an anonymous public forum like this, people often indulge in irresponsible speculation and angry words that they'd be reluctant to sign their names to; I'd caution anyone reading to take things that are said anonymously with a large grain of salt.

As far as I understand it, the police investigation of the theater premises was conducted during the theater's brief closure. I am puzzled as to what purpose is served by keeping staff members -- even if they are under investigation themselves -- from carrying out their jobs. And just for the record, based on my interactions with Allison and Pat and Richard I am convinced that they can not have been knowingly involved in any wrongdoing.


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Posted by connect-the-dots
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 12, 2008 at 3:50 pm

> people often indulge in irresponsible speculation

The posting above included the comment:

"Ojakian's role in this Children's Theater situation will probably involve a lot of behind-the-scenes contacts, of which the public will not be privy."

There are no laws requiring public officials, or city council members, to log their telephone calls--this is well known.

It is difficult to believe that a former city council member has been brought into this situation for no good reason. It is further difficult to believe that Ojakian will not contact sitting city council members and/or city staff about this matter.

While these comments might qualify as "speculation", they are by no means "irresponsible"-- the comments are simply stating publicly what everyone knows about how local government works privately.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by captain kid
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 12, 2008 at 5:08 pm

nobody moves- nobody gets hurt


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Posted by support the police
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 12, 2008 at 5:13 pm

I suggest supporting the police in doing an investigation unfettered by prominent city politicians. Their commentary is questionable under the circumstances. The investigation must be impartial, not influenced by prominent officials (past or present) who have/had children involved with PACT. Conflicts of interest must be avoided in order to maintain credibility with the public at large.


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Posted by JA 3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 12, 2008 at 5:46 pm

"...If staff were involved, would it make sense if they asked for an investigation of missing items?? Wouldn't it have been easier not to even mention it?"

These two (2) questions may imply there is very little likelihood of a crime; such implication, if intended, is likely unwise. If not intended, these questions may be of very little value here.

It is worth remembering a judge issued warrants to search certain facilities and premises outside the theater. In a rough, general sense, there is some reason to believe that the judge thought the warrants were justified. Given our country's long-standing belief in innocence prior to a proof of guilt, it makes sense -- full sense -- little information is divulged here by the police department.

Clean politics depends on a strong commitment to avoiding any and all conflicts of interest. Unfortunately, there is some evidence here not all City elected officials are strongly attempting to avoid any such conflict or the public's possible perception thereof.

Again, appearances matter in politics and here the appearances are not entirely favorable to all involved.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Gannon
a resident of Triple El
on Feb 12, 2008 at 8:36 pm

In all thing crooked, there will be someone who drops a dime, first.

You could be first, save yourself and let the others twist in the wind.



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Posted by Watching from outside
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 13, 2008 at 1:15 am

O'Jakian always supported the money interests in Palo Alto and the development interests, with an overlay of sentimentality about children's sports.
Seeing him become part of this mess does not instill confidence.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Check your facts
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 13, 2008 at 1:38 am

Kate, Larry Klein does not specialize in wills and estates. He does not "have a business." Where did you get that from? He is a member of a very large law firm and his specialties are

Mergers and Acquisitions
Tax Litigation
Venture Capital and Emerging Companies


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Herman
a resident of another community
on Feb 13, 2008 at 7:21 am

This is starting to smell really foul.

I think someone needs to call the folks with the three letters:

FBI




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Posted by EOPACT
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 13, 2008 at 9:19 am

Another screed in today's PA Daily Letters to the Editor from the PACT acolytes who feel this whole issue should be swept under the rug because "they know that the poor innocents at PACT could NEVER do anything wrong". This letter tries to blame the press for "trying and convicting" the 4 martyrs from PACT.

Web Link

It would be refreshing for these blinded followers of PACT to wait for the results of the invetigation to come out before they vilify those that report on the event and those that feel an investigation is warrented


 +   Like this comment
Posted by experienced
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 13, 2008 at 10:27 am

to ja 3+ and others who point to the issuance of search warrants as an indication that this is more fire than smoke. don't be so naive. have you ever fought a traffic ticket and heard how little an officer has to say to convince the judge the ticket is valid -- pretty much blink? there is a close relationship between the police and judges -- don't overestimate how much proof, err, speculation, it takes to support the issuance of a search warrant. that's why we have juries.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 13, 2008 at 10:33 am

There is a difference between civil disobedience and crime.

A police officer issuing speeding/traffic tickets has to justify his actions. A police officer investigating a crime has to justify that he has evidence of probable/possible cause to enable them to look for evidence in the case of a search warrant. Remember the tiger mauling at the zoo case, the police wanted to get a search warrant for the car and cell phones and the judge wanted to know what evidence had already been garnered before issuing a search warrant.

If a search warrant has been issued by a judge in this case, I feel sure that it has been issued because the police have already found something incriminating and are looking for more.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by numb3rs
a resident of another community
on Feb 13, 2008 at 10:34 am

Herman - call the FBI??? What makes you think they're not involved already??? It wouldn't surprise me if they'd been involved from the beginning. But, don't count on any press releases - they're not accountable to a city council. And, they don't exactly show up with a marching band...


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Posted by connect-the-dots
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 13, 2008 at 1:08 pm

> Larry Klein does not specialize in wills and estates.

> He is a member of a very large law firm and his specialties are

Mergers and Acquisitions
Tax Litigation
Venture Capital and Emerging Companies

According to the article about this:

> Palo Alto Mayor Larry Klein has been retained by state
> Sen. Joe Simitian to handle the technical details of
> Michael Litfin's estate,

So .. what makes Klein the best lawyer for this Litfin job, since he doesn't seem to have any particular expertise in this area?

And being the Vice Mayor (soon to be the Mayor) of this key Children's Theater employee whose organization has been under investigation for months and is funded via Council Vote doesn't raise any "red flags"?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Jim
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 13, 2008 at 1:57 pm

Doesn't anyone remember the Enron scandal a few years ago? Weren't the people involved with that considered "pillars of the community" before the scandal?

Financial crimes can be complex - it can take months (or years) for trained and experienced investigators to unravel the web of deceit they create.

Ultimately, this case will end up in front of the Grand Jury. They, and they alone, will decide if a crime has been committed, And they will ultimately who to indict, and who to vindicate.

Don't expect to hear any more information until this case has been evaluated by the Grand Jury. It would constitute dereliction of duty on the part of the Police Department to release any information before all of the facts have been presented to the Grand Jury for deliberation.

It appears to me that the Police Department is acting with the ethics and professionalism that we demand of a law enforcement agency. We should be proud that we can afford to hire the best, and that we've done that. Let's let the true professionals do their job.


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Posted by experienced
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 13, 2008 at 4:59 pm

Resident writes, "If a search warrant has been issued by a judge in this case, I feel sure that it has been issued because the police have already found something incriminating and are looking for more."

"[T]he police have already found something incriminating" - that's what you call guilt without foundation, pure speculation. shame on you.


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Posted by JA 3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 13, 2008 at 5:25 pm

<...don't overestimate how much proof, err, speculation, it takes to support the issuance of a search warrant.>

I have made an earnest attempt, I believe, not to overestimate here; my sentence read as follows:

"In a rough, general sense, there is some reason to believe that the judge thought the warrants were justified."

I understand your point; it is wise not to overestimate. However, I was quite careful with my language; I believe my follow-on sentence -- the one immediately after the sentence I quote above -- is important to note here; such follow-on sentence read as follows:

"Given our country's long-standing belief in innocence prior to a proof of guilt, it makes sense -- full sense -- little information is divulged here by the police department."

In hindsight, I should have followed such sentence with another thought; it is:

I desire justice with accuracy and precision; I desire justice underlain with factual evidence; I desire justice with speed.

In reading many posts here and elsewhere, it seems to me too often some writers wish to make bold statements with no hint of doubt or uncertainty.

I wish to do otherwise.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Katie Christman
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 13, 2008 at 6:11 pm

Though I am not sure an investigation was warranted, I do think that since they are doing one, it is great that they got warrants.

However, if 'reasonable cause' or whatever legal tern is used, is what judge needs to issue a warrant, are you saying that means someone is guilty? And that whomever has had a search warrant served on them is guilty? What country do you live in? If having a warrant served meant guilt, why trials at all? Give me a break.

I say, if we have doubts, great, lets find out what happened.
But the Police only banned the head staff from the theater for four days, as I understand it. The City has put them on Administrative leave. If anyone thinks Pat Briggs is going to locate, and remove or 'hide' evidence that the Police missed in their very thourough investigation, or that she will abscond with funds, or something, they are crazy. Who ever did or did not steal from the theater, and whatever amounts were involved, and no matter how sloppy the paperwork was, Pat Briggs has NO MOTIVE to steal from the Children's Theater, the city, or the Friends.

We are probably paying her more than is involved in the possible crimes to stay home. And maybe that is ok, but it would have been nice if she had a choice.

I am concerned that there has been no exxoneration of anyone; the circle of inquiry jusy gets bigger and bigger, with, as far as I am aware, no charges leveled at anyone so far, just more 'investigation' and searches, for the past six or seven months.

OK. 'Let the police do their jobs' --as if any one of us is interfering with that process by speaking out! But please, let Pat do her job. The theater requires its full budget to function, and it also requires lots more planning than most any sport. Some of the budget is provided by the money from Summer Conservatory and ticket sales, I'll warrent, and those may well be impacted by this situation. I have a lot of faith in the remaining employees of the theater, but planning months of programming for so many children is a huge burden to put on someone who has never handled it solo...and it will be hard enough without Michael Litfin, who has been an integral part of the picture for decades.

For these odd people who keep interjecting spiteful and often non-sequiteur comments, 'get off the line, Guy!'

Sincerely,
Katie


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Was-the-Warrant-Warranted?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 13, 2008 at 7:29 pm

> Though I am not sure an investigation was warranted,
> I do think that since they are doing one, it is great
> that they got warrants.

This is the US of A .. the Police have no choice!

> However, if 'reasonable cause' or whatever legal tern is
> used, is what judge needs to issue a warrant, are you
> saying that means someone is guilty?

NO! It merely means that the police have the need to search a location, or person, for evidence which they reasonably believe might be found at the location specified in the warrant. The police may find nothing, which might mean that the evidence does not exist, or it has been moved, or they don't know what they are looking for .. but it doesn't mean that anyone is "guilty". That said, once the warrant is executed and evidence is found, that person(s) is one step closer to being indicted, tried and perhaps found guilty at a later date.



 +   Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 13, 2008 at 11:37 pm

Yes, I do believe the police have found something incriminating. It may not be that they have found something incriminating against any specific individual. It may mean that there is evidence of something and by using the search warrant to search someone's home they are in fact crossing them off the list.

The police are unable to get search warrants for nothing. If the individuals are innocent, they have nothing to fear apart from the invasion of privacy, but in a case like this they may be pleased to be able to clear their name.

If the police are unable to get the evidence they feel is needed in this case, all we will end up with are questions that have never been answered. I for one hope that what they do find is able to clear this mess up one way or the other.


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