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Children's Theatre criminal probe to be dropped?

Original post made on May 8, 2008

Palo Alto police are expected to announce early next week they have dropped the criminal investigation into financial wrongdoing at the city-run Children's Theatre, sources familiar with the case said this week. Yet Police Chief Lynne Johnson denied that an announcement of the conclusion of the investigation is imminent.

Related material:

  • ARCHIVE: Children's Theatre investigation

    Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, May 8, 2008, 9:59 PM
  • Comments (59)

    Posted by Twixelberry
    a resident of Portola Valley
    on May 8, 2008 at 10:53 pm

    Great scoop, Becky! Bravo Weekly!

    Posted by Jay Thorwaldson
    editor emeritus
    on May 9, 2008 at 12:48 am

    Jay Thorwaldson is a registered user.

    A footnote to the above story:

    Please remember everyone that this is the best information we had as of Thursday afternoon, based on independent, knowledgeable and what we believe to be reliable sources of information -- more than one. Circumstances can change and sources can be mistaken. This is not a closed situation but a fluid one.

    Chief Lynne Johnson's assertion that the investigation is continuing came at the very last minute to include in the story for Friday's paper, and we incorporated that while still remaining confident in the validity of the information from the other sources.

    I personally do not like using un-named sources, as I have written in the past. Yet sometimes it is important to do so to get to the core of a continuing story -- but only after we do our utmost to assure the accuracy and integrity of the information.

    Time will tell, but it now appears that it will only tell next week.


    Posted by Kass Goldfein
    a resident of South of Midtown
    on May 9, 2008 at 5:59 pm


    It seems most likely to me that the errors were not on the part of the Children's Theatre but rather errors on the part of the City of Palo Alto Finance Department that did not communicate generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) and procedures to the Children's Theatre department (and associated support group) and did not provide the financial and administrative support necessary to comply with such principles. It takes time and effort to adequately track expenses and income, and very few volunteers or managers are interested in doing so if not specifically required to do so and given very specific instructions in how to do it. They are rarely finance professionals, nor should they be.

    The downside of not having adequate internal controls and complying with GAAP is that when questions arise, there is no way to prove your innocence. Internal controls and GAAP have been designed to implement accountability and ways to "follow the money". Until you have an experience such as that of the Children's Theatre, it is easy enough to blow off such requirements as nit-picky and not applicable to a small organization. The cost of this investigation, both financial and in terms of people's reputations is far greater than if the city had provided one day a week - perhaps even one day a month - of finance support to this city-owned organization.

    Kass Goldfein
    Retired Financial Analyst

    Posted by Parent
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on May 9, 2008 at 6:18 pm

    The Director of an organisation is not required to be au fait with financial procedures? Try saying that in the business world.

    The City made a big mistake not hiring someone with business knowledge instead of hiring only theatrical people to run the theatre. Or, the City were duped by the directors. Or, the directors were never given adequate job descriptions. Or, they did not do their jobs the way they should have. In any way, the first mistake was made and then the mistakes snowballed into a fiasco.

    Posted by perp walk
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on May 9, 2008 at 6:42 pm

    the friends of pact just do not get it. While there may not be criminal charges, the pact staff may well be guilty of loose ethics and a disregard for financial responsibilty. Under no circumstances should an apology be issued by the city. Also one has to wonder if two council members with conflicts of interest are pulling strings behind the scenes to derail the investigation.

    Posted by Kenneth
    a resident of Old Palo Alto
    on May 9, 2008 at 6:52 pm

    This just provides evidence that such enterprises should be run by private, volunteer boards. Such non-profits usually have a treasurer, and a tax presentation at the end of each fiscal year. They are not perfect, but they are much better than this sad affair.

    PACT does not need to have even another city employee, even part time, to make sure that recepits are kept. PACT needs to be taken off the city tit. Now is the time!

    Posted by Tim #2
    a resident of Crescent Park
    on May 9, 2008 at 10:25 pm

    No, Kenneth. It is not going to happen, and PACT will rise like the Phoenix to be better than ever. And when the staff is exonerated, Perp-walk and Pat-Midtown are going to
    be soooo disappointed. Now maybe "Detective Yore" can find out who robbed Valero or
    Baskin and Robbins or who held up a resident with a gun on Harker, or who broke into cars this week. First things first.

    Posted by pootie
    a resident of Midtown
    on May 10, 2008 at 2:54 pm

    There is a difference, I believe, between an artistic director and a business-type director. The former is right-brained, creative and relatively more rare than the latter, left-brained type. It might be argued that a creative type is born and a business type is made... which is not to say that creativity isn't required for business innovation. However, creativity is not required (and not usually encouraged) in accounting. Think of movies and the difference between the producer (business type director) and the artistic director. A person usually isn't equally adept and talented at both types of endeavors and their functions and responsibilities are quite different.

    Posted by Kenneth
    a resident of Old Palo Alto
    on May 10, 2008 at 3:49 pm

    Right-brained, left brained...who cares? Any fool should know to keep receipts, and account for them. PACT is out of control, and should be restructured, without any PA funds. Only then, will it rise from the ashes.

    Posted by pootie
    a resident of Midtown
    on May 10, 2008 at 4:09 pm

    The amount of blood lust exhibited by some people on here is really quite disturbing and disgustingly over-the-top. One can almost see the saliva drool on their posts.

    Posted by Gil
    a resident of Monroe Park
    on May 10, 2008 at 4:21 pm

    Just take PACT off the PA dole. It is time that they grew up. No more excuses. This is hardly blood lust. In fact, we taxpayers have had the blood sucked out of us for many decades by PACT.

    Cut PACT loose, now! If those folk have any snap, they will come back stringer than they are today.

    Give the $1 million/year dollars back to the general fund. We need it!

    Posted by Cary Quayle
    a resident of another community
    on May 10, 2008 at 7:07 pm

    Perhaps the short-sightedness on the City's part was in not replacing Pat's supervizor when he left, so that for many years she was responsible for half of his job as well as her own. Michael was similarly covering the Technical Director's job as well as his own. They, Rich and Allison were on-call 7/24 on those theatre trips although paid 8 hrs M-F. The youths were taught a lot and were well supervised. Each expense was rigorously reviewed before payment. How much has been paid now to investigate a few hundred dollars discrepancy? Perspective, anyone?

    Posted by Kent Vickery
    a resident of Midtown
    on May 10, 2008 at 8:00 pm

    In response to Gil's concerns.... There's a reason that the PACT has survived 70+ years - it makes a difference in our community's kids and young adult lives. Ask Joe Simitian, Liz Kniss, Larry Klein, Judy Kleinberg and most of the members of our political leadership - they have personal experience how the theatre has directly benefited their families along with thousands of other kids throughout the years. Bottom-line, the program works for all of us because it plays a crucial role in helping to forge more responsible and articulate human beings that in turn help make Palo Alto the magical place we call home.

    Posted by Me Too
    a resident of Meadow Park
    on May 10, 2008 at 8:12 pm

    Kent, that's is great of course and who could disagree. But no-one is saying that PACT shouldn't survive - of course it will. The issue is whether the city should fund it.

    This episode, regardless of the outcome, has shed a bright light on a program that is a historical legacy and should be brought into the present - kind of like our libraries, police HQ, etc. We need an appropriate structure, and that seems likely to be an independent theater, funded by its users and supporters.

    So good luck to PACT, which I'm sure will have a bright future off the public dole and with an independent board instead of city bureaucrats.

    Posted by cary q
    a resident of another community
    on May 10, 2008 at 10:26 pm

    Those who write of "the public dole" either are uninformed or not thinking long-term, a common failure in business and politics. The training our youngsters get at the CT is cheap: responsibility, honor, respect, community, honesty, time-management. Also a haven for some from troubled families, with the first adults they can truly depend on. Where would these kids be, and at what loss to the community, without the support so inexpensively provided through this program? I am reminded of a new governor who cut family planning funds 25% "to save on welfare costs". There are foreseeable consequences.

    Posted by Bryan
    a resident of Midtown
    on May 10, 2008 at 10:27 pm

    I don't care. I just want to police to do something about the out of control burglaries of houses under construction in Palo Alto!!
    The hundreds of dollars unaccounted for by the children's theatre pales in comparison to the tens of Thousands of dollars being stolen by burglars at each house they rob!! Why hasn't anyone been giving that city issue some attention?!?

    Posted by Michael Landus
    a resident of Greenmeadow
    on May 10, 2008 at 10:31 pm

    I am confident that this will lead to a Privitization of the Theatre. Hopefully the sucess of that privitization will lead to other fringe services to be taken off the city's dollar. Like that olohone school. Any school that dosen't give graded evaluations can't possibly help a child get into college!

    Posted by Ohlone Parent
    a resident of Greenmeadow
    on May 10, 2008 at 11:01 pm

    I guess Mike went to "privite" school. That's why he doesn't know that "Olohone" isn't funded by by City or that its an elementary school only, so grading is not an issue. And that kids who go there are more likely, not less likely to go to college.

    Posted by Parent
    a resident of Old Palo Alto
    on May 11, 2008 at 10:29 am

    Right brained, left brained? They knew how to ask the city for money, knew how to go to the bank and deposit it into their accounts, knew to use their own personal credit cards instead of the city issued cards. Knew how to get travelers checks. But couldn’t figure how to turn in a receipt because they were only creative types.??? This will be dropped only out of political pressure. They knew what they were doing was wrong.

    Posted by Tim#2
    a resident of Crescent Park
    on May 11, 2008 at 12:33 pm

    Sorry 'parent' there were receipts, there was documentation. Do not believe what you read in Detective Yore's statements or what HE put into search warrnats. . You have only heard one side because of the 'gag order' imposed on staff. Wait until THEY can talk - you and everyone else - before you continue this malicious 'gossip. If you don't have all the details, then cease and desist until you do.

    Posted by parent
    a resident of Old Palo Alto
    on May 11, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    Tim#2 Am I not supposed to believe that the San Carlos police found thousands of dollars worth of travelers checks either. PACT didn’t report that. And that’s what has been found. That’s a fact.

    Posted by Jenny
    a resident of South of Midtown
    on May 12, 2008 at 8:10 am

    "I'm confident that this will lead to the Privatization of the Theater". Michael, you have more faith in the City Council than I have. With so many of our CC intimately involved in the PACT organization, this will never happen.

    I predict Council will vote to increase tax dollar support for PACT. Mayor Klein has been very verbal in his support of the Children's Theater and critical of his own Staff's actions. Watch our CC line up behind the Mayor. The increase will be cleverly hidden somewhere in a very complicated City budget.

    Meanwhile, as a property tax payer in PA I want to know if we're going to get our money back. If not, I plan to vote against any bond measure this Council places on the ballot this coming November, just to show my opposition to their handling of the City's financil future.

    Posted by Perp walk
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on May 12, 2008 at 8:26 am

    The mayor need to recuse himself from any decisions regarding the Theatre .
    He has major conflicts of interest vis a vis the children's theatre:

    Web Link

    Council member Morton also has a major conflict of interest, yet he continues to use his position to defend the staff and attack those that are leading the probe:

    Web Link

    Both councilmembers are acting unethically (but not surprising considering the antics by the PACT staff that they are supporting)

    Posted by guy
    a resident of another community
    on May 12, 2008 at 10:01 am

    Oh "perp walk", when will you realize that you have been so misguided in your absolute certainty that Pat, Michael, Rich and Alison were criminals. They've been cleared of the robbery and in a few days the case will be dropped. The fat lady has sung (as you like to say) and you have nothing left to hang on to. You're like Hillary, desperately clinging to a vain hope that has no more basis in reality. I've said all along that I wanted this investigation to conclude and demonstrate the innocence of the PACT staff. It appears that in only a few short days this will be done.
    I was the first person to mention the alarm having been tampered with and the back door malfunctions. I said that before the PA Online reported it or the documents were released. I've yet to be proven wrong in anything I've posted. PA is a small community and people talk, it doesn't take much to find things out: a friend of the wife of the repairman, the girlfriend of the brother of a cop, the father of a kid from PACT. I'm actually surprised at how little has come out. I'm thrilled that by the end of this week, Pat, Rich and Alison will be back at their place of work doing what they love to do, helping children.

    Posted by Perp walk
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on May 12, 2008 at 10:31 am

    Guy--so far they have been cleared of nothing. As Jay Thorwaldsen mentioned above, the PA Weekly story, was based on reports by an un-named source. We have not yet heard the final word from the police and DA.
    Regardless my post above had nothing to do with the staff's guilt or innocence, but rather with conflicts of interest by members of our city council.
    Also while the staff may not be charged, they are still guilty of financial malfeasance and ethical lapses which should not be allowed to happen in a city funded entity.
    I guess you feel that if people are "helping children" then they can do whatever they want, as appears to be the case with the PACT staff.

    Posted by guy
    a resident of another community
    on May 12, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    perp walk- I'll defer to the law enforcement agency on whether or not there was any wrongdoing, and if there was, it would be unacceptable. However, it appears as though no charges will be filed, meaning that malfeasance cannot be proven. Malfeasance requires an unlawful act to have been committed, and if no charges are filed, we must assume there was no malfeasance. Perhaps you meant to say that there had been misfeasance ("performing official duties irresponsibly"), in which case, the blame lies with both city auditors and PACT staff. You also cite "ethical lapses" as having occurred, when it appears as though all that may have happened is good people made bad decisions, not out of any malice, but out of a lack of understanding of proper accounting procedures. I believe that people should be bound by the law, but I also believe that people ought to be given the benefit of the doubt and the assumption of innocence until malfeasance is proven. Is that not an underlying principle of the Constitution? I am fully aware your most recent post had nothing regarding guilt or innocence, I chose to address you, as I have in the past, because you have been one of the most outspoken critics and accusers of the PACT staff. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] The city council has no role in police investigations, and the city manager runs the administrative investigation. You are very untrusting of peoples' abilities to put aside feelings and examine a case objectively, perhaps this is because throughout this case you have been unable to do so. I believe in the PACT staff's innocence because looking at the facts that have been presented, there is neither proof of intent nor proof of any criminal action. There may be reason to believe that procedures were deviated from, but that fault lies not exclusively with the PACT staff, nor does it amount to a criminal action as, according to the CA Penal Code, a "fraudulent intent" is required.

    Posted by Gil
    a resident of Monroe Park
    on May 12, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    The outstanding issue, here, is the $1 millon per year that the City pays for the operational expensives of PACT. I was not aware of that, and I think that many PA citizens have just found out about it, becasue of this investigation, and the attendant publicity.

    This must end!

    Surely, if PACT is as valuable as its supporters (for example, Kent)state, and if it has so many powerful people supporting it, there should be no problem developing private funds to support its operations. Clearly, other youth groups do as much. What is PACT waiting for?

    Posted by Perp walk
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on May 12, 2008 at 1:55 pm

    Guy--You are entitled to your opinion on this matter as am I. I feel that the City Council should stay out of this matter and the council members should refrain from offering opinions on the investigation. I do find it disturbing that the majority of sound bites coming from the council are emanating from the two members with clear conflicts of interest in this matter.
    While they may not be trying to influence things from behind the scenes, the appearance of any such interference should be avoided as well.
    I will agree with you that the staff alone are not to blame for this mess, and that the city auditors and/or manager share in the blame. However using the excuse that the staff was "helping children" to absolve said staff of any and all responsibility for city funds is wrong. The staff are mature adults with experience in the real world and should have known how to handle public funding--the excuse that they have not been told how to handle money or that they have been doing it that way for years does not work either. Responsible adults should know what is right and what is wrong.
    I think, if the staff is allowed to return to their posts, the financial end of the theater should be carefully monitored and audited in the future. And I also feel, as do others, that the city should cease to provide public funding for the theatre in the future.
    Also, I doubt that they will be back at their posts by the end of the week.
    BTW, Guy, would you have preferred that the whole issue had been handled the way the friends of PACT wanted it to be handled--ignored and swept under the rug since the staff, in their eyes, is above reproach.

    Posted by guy
    a resident of another community
    on May 12, 2008 at 2:32 pm

    PW- In response to your final question: No. I as stated in my previous post "I believe that people should be bound by the law", and in prior posts something to the effect of: "I want the investigation to run its course so that the staff will be exonerated".

    In response to your third issue, I agree that all accounting done at PACT, and city auditing of that accounting, should be a focus for improvement in the coming months and years, as it obviously needs to be improved.

    I have never attempted to excuse people because they were "helping children". Quite the contrary, I have stated that if a crime was committed, they should be punished, I simply don't think a crime has been committed, and, so far, the evidence (or lack thereof) supports my thesis.

    As far as the city council members are involved, certainly the appearance of undue influence should be avoided. However, for anyone willing to do a minimal amount of research who has graduated from middle school can understand that the council has no role in this matter, as they themselves have stated many times.

    As far as public funding goes, it would be a shame to see the theatre shut down as a result of lack of city support. It is a unique institution in the Bay Area, and perhaps in the United States. People often bemoan the loss of music and the arts in schools as budgets are cut. How would the elimination of PACT be any different? The theatre serves children from across Palo Alto across many ages, from 8 year olds to 18 year olds. It would be fantastic if people only had to pay for government programs which they agreed with and everything would turn out fine. That isn't the world we live in. And in a time when budgets are stretched thin and students are losing out on the ability to develop creatively, what could be more important that keeping a program alive that brings hundreds of children each year the ability to express themselves? The theatre produces shows not only at its main location, but also at elementary and middle schools across Palo Alto. I will concede that while the staff may not be back at their desks next week, it should be sometime soon, and I look forward to that day.

    And on a personal note, it really is such a shame to see people in a community that has been so blessed with abundance so reluctant to share that which they have be given with the next generation. Each generation owes it to the next to try and provide better than they themselves received, and in a time when it appears clear that Social Security will be cut, school funding is being cut, medicare is being cut and the economy appears to be headed downward as American power diminishes, is a Children's Theatre really too much to ask?

    Posted by Ryan Murray
    a resident of another community
    on May 12, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    Having grown up at the Children's Theatre for over 12 years, I am astounded and appalled by the allegations and by some of the comments I have read here today. I know that PACT is a place for children and young adults to learn and maintain creativity of the mind and spirit, create relationships that will last for a life time, a place that teaches them the value of hard work, responsibility, art and culture, team work, never giving up, the value of following through, the importance of being accountable, and many more skills a parent could only wish for their budding child. I know that I and all of my friends flourished and came into ourselves as a result of the love, support, and guidance of the Children's Theatre and the staff- all of whom put their own lives on hold and gave their blood, sweat, and tears for us!!! Pat and Michael and the rest of the staff deserve so much more than what has been given over the past 11 months. I understand that the city needed to be as thorough as possible...but there is no reason for any of us to forget what this establishment has meant to the Palo Alto community for 70+ years- including some of the heartless people who say that the city should just "cut PACT out of the budget all together." In the world we live in today- it is crucial that our children of tomorrow grow up in the type of environment that I explain above. When I first walked through the doors at PACT I was a follower and very much unclear as to who I was at the mere age of 10... and I know that when I left 12 years later, I was a changed man- a leader, confident, and sure that I wanted to be an actor for the rest of my life- and I give full credit to the Palo Alto Children's Theatre!
    Let's help keep them alive for another 70 years, and get Pat and the staff back in as soon as humanly possible! Michael would have wanted it no other way- may he rest in peace!
    With all my love!

    Posted by Gil
    a resident of Monroe Park
    on May 12, 2008 at 3:01 pm


    [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] Nobody is saying that PACT is not a valuable experience to those kids who are top performers in the theatre arts. However, you guys and gals are a very small minority (12 years in PACT). Almost everything you said about PACT could be said of Little League or Boy Scouts or any of a number of youth organizations. PACT is not so special, generally, Ryan, despite your promotion of it. It is special to you, but relatively few others.

    [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

    Posted by Daniel
    a resident of Adobe-Meadow
    on May 12, 2008 at 3:15 pm

    I beg your pardon, Gil, but get your facts straight. THOUSANDS of kids go through the doors of PACT every year. If you knew anything about the theatre, which you clearly don't, you'd know about their Outreach program - which brings theatre to all the kids in all PA schools that wouldn't get a theatre experience otherwise. If you knew about the theatre, you'd know about their camps, which bring theatre to little kids. If you knew about the theatre, yiou'd know about the Second Saturday program. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

    Posted by Take it private
    a resident of Barron Park
    on May 12, 2008 at 3:23 pm

    Piggybacking on Gil's message: the little league, AYSO, YMCA basketball, etc. etc. etc. all have "everyone plays" policies. PACT favors giving lead roles to the same few kids. If anything, it should be the other way around: favoritism at private organizations but strictly against policy in a taxpayer funded organization. Why should we fund a few chosen ones? Why should we fund children from other cities? [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

    Posted by Gil
    a resident of Monroe Park
    on May 12, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    [Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

    Posted by re: Gil
    a resident of another community
    on May 12, 2008 at 3:42 pm

    Gil - [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] First off, the tears Ryan is shedding metaphorically (though he never actually states that he himself is "weeping" so I'm not sure where you're coming from) would be, from what I gather from his impassioned post, genuine.

    Second, the free market and privatization is not the solution for every problem in the world! Look what happened with the de-regulation of CA energy companies. Or what the private market has done to the price of gas, health care and the inability of the free market you so adamantly advocate to curtail pollution.

    Thirdly, your argument about the Boy Scouts and Little League is totally fakakta. Both receive government funding and/or preferential treatment with regards to land use. Moreover, the city builds the baseball fields, you really think Little League could function without government aid? Really? Moreover, both of those programs cost the participants money, and not insignificant amounts. The PACT does not charge the children it casts in its plays. It is a government service that has been around for over 70 years [portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff].

    Posted by re: Gil/Take it private
    a resident of another community
    on May 12, 2008 at 3:54 pm

    As far as "everyone plays" in AYSO and Little League, you get favoritism there too. Better kids play more. Just like better kids get better roles in plays. Also, out of city kids get charged more for summer camps so that they are not subsidized. But I can see where you get off on not wanting to pay for services you don't like. I'm not a big fan of the TSA, can I stop funding them? I'm not a fan of warfare, can I cut out my funding for the War in Iraq? Suck it up, you live in Palo Alto and you're complaining about spending $16 per person on a resource that benefits thousands of children? You're median family income is $117,574. Actually, thinking about it now, I'd hate to be spending 3/100 of 1 percent of my household income on the arts too.

    Posted by Ok...?
    a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
    on May 12, 2008 at 3:55 pm

    Re: Gil - not sure I follow your post. The idea that scouts and sports are funded like PACT is not really correct. PACT has city employees and charges no (or very low) fees. Other orgs are run by private employees and charge significant per child usage fees, as well as seeking out sponsors. PACT has free use of a city owned facility. While some other youth orgs do use city facilities, they must pay upkeep and usage fees (which are going up); I believe the Little League does in fact own its own facility on Middlefield Road.

    Bottom line is that PACT is a net $1M line item in the city operating budget (not including the facility cost); others are $0, in fact they are net contributors through facility fees.

    I think it would be fine if an independently funded PACT had use of the Childrens Theatre for a reasonable upkeep/usage fee. I also think it would be fine if PAUSD or the city contracted with PACT to provide certain services that were broadly available and deemed useful. That would put it on a similar footing to other organizations.

    What does not seem right is PACT getting over $1M in taxpayer operating subsidy, being managed by City Employees, and with a free, city-provided facility, providing a free service to children from PA and any other town. No other town does it that way, and with good reason. It makes sense to bring ourselves in line with modern practices and see an independent, and independently funded, PACT.

    Posted by re: Ok...?
    a resident of another community
    on May 12, 2008 at 4:06 pm

    My point is that not everyone can afford significant participation fees. The PACT provides a vehicle for children who cant. The original facility was a gift and the expansion money was raised privately. You say they receive a $1M subsidy. This is true, but think of it this way: What if PACT was private, but the city had determined that the entirety of services provided by PACT are useful and had contracted with them to provide all of their funding in exchange for all of their services. That seems like a fair proposition for me. In this scenario the PACT would probably receive the same amount of money from the city, or perhaps more so that it could pay for upkeep and usage fees. Instead of dealing with an independent organization, of which you are the only client, isn't it easier just to keep it public, where the city actually has more control over the budget.

    Posted by re: people
    a resident of another community
    on May 12, 2008 at 4:10 pm

    I guess my overarching point is this. The PACT will continue to exist in some form, private or public. Given that, there are two options, the city can maintain full control, or the city can cede control to a third party non-profit with whom they will contract out everything PACT does currently for the same amount of money that the city currently spends. It's a Catch-22. And, even if I thought privatization was the right answer, which I don't, it wouldn't matter, because the city would still want the same services at the same cost, it's just a matter of whether the organization is private inn theory, because in practice it's always gonna be public.

    Posted by HEY PA ONLINE STAFF!
    a resident of another community
    on May 12, 2008 at 4:19 pm

    Is there a way for you to explain why you remove certain parts of posts? I mean, some of my best lines got taken out... though you kept "fakakta", so I guess I can't complain too much.

    Posted by Parent
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on May 12, 2008 at 4:33 pm

    Why should PACT kids get their jollies for free. I know many families who do theatre, and they certainly can afford to pay for their kids' activities. This is not a poor neighborhood, so we don't need to subsidize for the poor kids who would otherwise have nothing to do after school but play on the streets. And, I believe there are scholarships around for any kid in sports who is unable to pay fees.

    So please do not play the charitable do-gooder side of this PACT.

    Posted by narnia
    a resident of another community
    on May 12, 2008 at 4:55 pm

    Would decent and honest people put city money into their personal accounts and buy quaint travel checks when the city issued credit cards? I don't know but I don't like any department run this way. It is charitably stupid or unethical . So, I am voting to have the PACT managers off their managerial duties forever. The matter of a children's theater that serves a very small percentage of children in our community and leaves out the most financially challenged should be revised. Surely PACT can have a development office that deals with their funding
    ( I am not opposed to city limited contributions for a limited time) and attract those benefactors who believe in their mission.

    Posted by Ok...?
    a resident of Meadow Park
    on May 12, 2008 at 5:05 pm

    re People, why do you think the city would continue to pay for it? The core idea is that the users, sponsors, and benefactors would pay - just as they do at other children's theaters, just as they do in other youth activities. The city can help with a venue (given that it owns one), just as with playing fields. But the cost would shift from the PA taxpayers to those that see and receive the value.

    So it isn't just "privatization" - it is a shift from public to private funding, as well as control. The core principal is fairness - why should the city pay for this youth program but not others?

    Posted by narnia
    a resident of another community
    on May 12, 2008 at 5:08 pm

    The children's Theater building was a gift of Lucie Stern as the names indicates. Gifts such as the building ( and the Lucie Stern Center) come with strings attached. So, please don't start to dispose of the theater building as if the grantor hadn't made her wishes well known ("I think it would be fine if an independently funded PACT had use of the Childrens Theatre for a reasonable upkeep/usage fee" says Ok...?). We don't know what's possible because we (the general public) don't have any idea what fulfills (legally) the wishes of Lucie Stern. And I , for one, would very much like to know.

    Posted by Parent
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on May 12, 2008 at 5:23 pm

    I think it is time that the City got a few things straight about the theatre.

    1. Whether the City continues to fund the theatre, or it becomes funded by participation is, as Narnia suggests, not necessarily the issue. What should be the issue is the transparency of the budget, the annual accounts and all bookkeeping methods. Gifts, via Friends, or elsewhere, must be accounted for properly and all petty cash transactions must be receipted and included in the annual reports.

    2. Whether the directors are given their jobs back or not is not the real issue. What is the issue is that in future all theatre staff must be accountable for their expenses, their accounts, and that the bookkeeping must be a priority. If they are not able to do this then they must be replaced with at least one director who has management skills.

    3. All theatre property, whether costumes, props, equipment, or anything else must be categorized and an annual (if not more often) audit or stocktake must be done to ensure that nothing gets misappropriated in any way.

    4. All of the above must be done and seen to be done by City oversight with public records kept.

    These are not too much to ask.

    Posted by Ok...?
    a resident of Meadow Park
    on May 12, 2008 at 5:28 pm

    Fair enough narnia. I have asked, both here and of city emps, if there is an obligation on the part of the city to provide the program. There has been some pretty passionate defense of the PACT program on these forums, so I would think if "we are obligated to do it" were an argument, it would have been made. But you may be right and it would be good to know.

    But simply that "Ms Stern wanted it that way" would not in my view be a good enough reason to do it. Times change; our city has changed. 70 years seems sufficient time to honor her gift, absent a binding agreement that says otherwise.

    It's not clear, btw, that to keep the building we should fund a $1M a year project. That kind of gift would be pretty expensive. If, as a result the city not funding PACT the building reverted to a non-profit trust (or whatever) which made the building available to the new program provider, that would certainly be fine by me too.

    Posted by guy
    a resident of another community
    on May 12, 2008 at 5:55 pm

    Parent - I agree that tighter book keeping is needed, and have stated so publicly. As far as yearly audits go, that happens, and that's how more items came up missing throughout the year.

    narnia - Good point about the fact that the city may be legally bound as far as building use is concerned. As far as the process of receiving funds, the directors themselves called it "screwy", but you have to realize that these people are like a million years old. Back in the early days, they couldn't use credit cards, because there weren't any. Perhaps they didn't want to make the transfer because they were just used to the old way. I don't know. The fact is, Michael and Pat could be obstinate curmudgeons.

    Ok - My point with privatization is that the city receives the vast majority of the services of the theatre, the outreach programs, and the summer camps (which are partially subsidized for only PA children just like many other city programs). Perhaps there would be a small shift away from city funds, but most of what PACT does is for the city and the programs would stay the same. Therefore, even as a non-profit, the burden for funds would remain on the city.

    Posted by Ruth
    a resident of Old Palo Alto
    on May 12, 2008 at 6:05 pm


    Exactly. Lucie Stern also provided the Boy Scout office and campfire circle. She felt that the Boy Scouts were a very good community activity. However, her plaque, in the BS office, was removed, once the Human Rights Comm. decided that the Boy Scouts didn't pass muster, becasue they reject the homosexual agenda. Clearly, the CC can reject anything that Lucie Stern provided, should they feel so compelled.

    An analogy is Jane Leland Stanford. She demanded that alcohol be banned within one mile of the campus. That one was tossed aside in the late sixties or early seventies.

    PACT is only a sacred cow, because so many of the power elite in Palo Alto are connected to it. It costs us taxpayers $ one million dolalrs a year, aside from the facilities. I find this astounding!

    I don't mind that PA provides a theatre facility, based on Lucie Stern's generosity, but why should we be paying for the PROGRAM?

    Posted by Ok...?
    a resident of Meadow Park
    on May 12, 2008 at 7:06 pm

    guy, I'm still not sure I agree. Sure the city provides those services today for free. But the point is that they would stop - the summer camps would charge a fee, the outreach would have sponsors. Things would be different, though if there were demand and support for the services (as I imagine there is) the programs would go on. The city might still buy some theater services - but maybe it would offer other services instead (like free baseball camps? or free music camps? or ...?).

    It's not easy to become self-supporting, but after 70 years of government support, I imagine PACT can stand on its own.

    Posted by guy
    a resident of another community
    on May 12, 2008 at 7:13 pm

    ok - the summer camps do charge a fee, just like other city-sponsored camps, normal outreach and theatre productions are the only things that are fee-free. The problem with your argument is that the theatre already has outside (non-government) support in the forms of advertisement sales in the programs and regular donations. I doubt that PACT would remain in business without substantial government support. Given that I believe that arts should be supported by the government, I think that supporting an organization with a 70 year proven track record of results is a better investment than starting a new untested program (music camp).

    Posted by Ok...?
    a resident of Meadow Park
    on May 12, 2008 at 7:24 pm

    Ruth, I tend to agree. It is a sacred cow, it does have a following among the city elite, and $1M - almost 1% of the overall city budget! - is a lot to spend on a single activity that does not serve a huge population.

    I'm not sure how to bring about the change, but I expect the attention brought to the PACT budget will help get the ball rolling.

    Posted by Ok...?
    a resident of Meadow Park
    on May 12, 2008 at 7:39 pm

    guy, I'm sorry to hear that you think PACT could not be self-supporting. From what I can tell, all the other children's theaters in the US are NOT government supported - including the ones in Mountain View, San Jose, and the other towns I could find. They charge fees (sometimes high), get sponsors and donations, etc., and some rely heavily on volunteers.

    Given its 70+ year track record in a very wealthy town, I would hope it could find its sponsoring audience, like the many other activities in town. When we need to go to our citizens for tax increases for basic infrastructure - storm drains, public safety building, libraries, school upgrades - it seems fair to ask why this program should be subsidized.

    Posted by Parent
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on May 12, 2008 at 7:43 pm

    If I was to give a gift that caused the recipient to pay out a great deal of money each year, then I could hardly be called a great gift giver. If I was to give a gift and expected the recipients to use it wisely and fund the running of the gift to be wise and prudent, as well as frugal, I think I would be called generous. Possibly the real gift should be one of accountability. If Lucie Stern's gift costs us money each year, then perhaps she should have also donated money to pay for it.

    Posted by Katie Christman
    a resident of Professorville
    on May 13, 2008 at 7:58 pm

    Ok, folks, simmer down. I just found out some of us don't know that some of you are 'trolls', that is, folks who just like to argue and can be found commenting, usually acidly and with bad grammar, on many different topics on different forums online.

    Putting these folks aside, who frankly seem as if they would rather spend their taxes on a good hanging like in the old days, you know, REAL entertainment, is hard for me, because I love the freedom of speech that our city our state and our country allow, even in these somewhat 'freedom-abrogated' times.

    To all the other people on this forum, theater supporters and those who doubt the worth of the Palo Alto Children's Theater and Friend's organization, I offer the following;

    The 'city owned' buildings were donated. And various enormous improvements and two more additions were funded through the Friend's, we are talking millions of dollars, and those buildings do not belong to that organization but to THE CITY. But a building is only as good as the people who inhabit it.
    Our city and its residents are always seemingly more willing to spend on infrastructure, though that was not always the case. When I was a little girl, if you went to Rinconada pool, they kept your clothes safe for you, and you could buy hot, fresh food at the snack bar. My childhood summers are enriched by these memories. The city spent plenty to build the new pools and I certainly don't mind that, but when I asked, why no service, why no burgers, I was told they no longer have the staff to do it. Which means less jobs for citizens, especially young people.

    The Children's Theater and Library, Junior Museum, Boy Scout House and Girl Scout house, and Lucy Stern Community Buildings and Theater are public buildings. They house variously funded community services, classes, etc., some of which are free and some of which have nominal fees. Most are subsidized in one form or another, and residents use some of them for weddings and parties, auctions, and seminars. The Junior Museum is free (with a suggested donation). This community center, just a few blocks from the Main Library and Art center, is a major organ of our city. It serves us all, whether we know it or not. It provides recreation, excersize, companionship, education, comeradery, and many other social benefits including 'keeping them darn teenagers out of trouble'( it is interesting to me that the detailed description of 'theater insider' 'teenagers' (in their twenties) who supposedly helped the thief break in doesn't seem to fit any known theater participants. Probably friends or acquaintences of involved kids, not the kids themselves, if they even existed).

    My daughter started wanting to volunteer at age six. Most organizations don't allow volunteers until twelve or more. Children's Theater starts at eight for volunteering, if your mommy comes too.

    Most 'children's' organizations don't include twenty-four year olds, either, but ours helps kids make the transition from child to responsible adult, in fact the 'kids' in their twenties who have been RUNNING the place in Pat Brigg's absence started there as children.

    This is a VERY SPECIAL place, and I say, if theater is not your bag, it should be a model for similar public/private partnerships. I have a two year old, and when she is eight, her sister will be twenty, yet it will be possible for them to both be involved at the same theater at the same time. Furthermore it has stood the test of time, and my Grandmother was in the first plays way back in the thirties. My kids can go and see pictures of Great Grandma and Mom and Auntie on the wall.

    And if you think I had a childhood of privilage, you are right. But our house was small, we rented, we had lots of kids, and little money. What made me privilaged was LIVING in PALO ALTO, where fabulous resources such as the theater were equally accessible and attractive to children of very different backgrounds, socially and financially. I live here now, because it is NOT a suburb, it is a beautiful small city, and I love it because I found my place here despite being told many times I could never live here as an adult. I hung out with kids who went to Harvard and Swarthmore and Pomona and Santa Cruz, Berkeley and Penn State, and whose parents were doctors and lawyers and teachers and poets or who bagged groceries and kept chickens. Some went to Paris or Hawaii every Christmas, some got in an RV to visit their grandparents in Sun City.

    The Children's Theater is an integral part of our city, and there are many other important parts. I agree that more oversight needs to be put in place, not just for the Theater, either (what is this about a thirty thousand dollar temporary roundabout?!). But you who say, 'get it off the city's dollar' are literally cutting of your noses to spite your face, and I say, instead you should bring YOUR concerns and constructive ideas forward, tell us what you are interested in funding, lets do it! As long as it doesn't require petty mean suppositions about people, or digs at people who aren't cynical, or divisive and cruel innuendos, which are in my humble opinion NOT representative of our city, (I know, I know, we're going to lose some of you trolls on that one, oh, well), I bet you can get a grass-roots movement to include curling or morris dancing or whatever activities you favor. Let me know, maybe I can help you write a grant.

    In the mean time, Hurrah! I can go down and buy my eight dollar ticket and watch my kid and my neighbors' kids and my nieces perform, and sit on the grass with my two-year old, and enjoy ONE building where, at least, we still have STAFF as a priority, and where everyone is welcome.
    Love to my City and all of its inhabitants,

    Posted by Me Too
    a resident of Meadow Park
    on May 13, 2008 at 9:39 pm

    Katie - just answer me this - don't you think, that with the great service the PACT provides and the many who benefit, it could support its programs without city dollars? Especially given that just every other children's theater in the US does so already?

    I don't want to spite my face - I want PACT to thrive just the way other private youth organizations in our city do. And I imagine it will - especially with a 75 year head-start and a beautiful facility.

    If not, I suggest that the city should start hiring staff to provide to the other arts, sports, and youth groups, so that we can really provide a fair and widespread service to all, not just kids who choose theater. My kids play softball for instance - I know the league president works practically full-time at it (in his spare time of course!) - I'm sure a $100K pay check (heck, I bet he'll take $50K) would be much appreciated. It may be expensive and require tax increases, but if we think that is the way to go, we should really be fair about.

    Posted by fireman
    a resident of another community
    on May 14, 2008 at 11:13 am

    Katie, Keep dreaming..

    Posted by anonymous
    a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
    on May 14, 2008 at 11:40 am

    guy writes that tighter bookkeeping is needed...tighter bookkeeping my foot! This is outrageous slackness of handling of taxpayer dollars, whether intentional or not (to be determined)

    Posted by guy
    a resident of another community
    on May 14, 2008 at 3:31 pm

    anonymous - Do you think we shouldn't have tighter bookkeeping? If you do, I don't see any point to your post. If you don't, then, quite frankly, I'm really confused. Perhaps you simply were reacting adversely to my attempt to consider the situation objectively and calmly find corrective courses of action that will help PACT operate better in thee coming years. Or perhaps you simply wanted to yell about something that 18 other people on this board had already yelled about. Now, if you're done with you vent, perhaps you would like to join what Parent, Narnia, Ok and myself been able to maintain as a calm, thoughtful and respectful (if contentious) discussion.

    Posted by Hero
    a resident of Downtown North
    on May 19, 2008 at 8:38 am

    How about a new production for PACT called Palo Alto 911. The chief could write the script with no corrections allowed. You vill like it that is an order!!! Iam sure all of the gang will make great theatre!!!

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