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Criminal investigation of Children's Theatre over, police chief announces

Original post made on May 15, 2008

The criminal investigation of the Palo Alto Children's Theatre is over, Police Chief Lynne Johnson announced in a statement today. Although police have evidence of "serious financial misconduct and other possible criminal activity," there isn't proof "beyond a reasonable doubt at this time," Johnson wrote.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, May 15, 2008, 2:31 PM

Comments (75)

Posted by Citizen
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 15, 2008 at 11:37 am

Thanks Police Chief Johnson for leaving a cloud of suspicion over the staff who should, if I remember correctly, be "innocent until proven guilty."

Posted by No more city funds for PACT
a resident of Stanford
on May 15, 2008 at 11:40 am

Oh, Should the Chief have lied and said that the staff did absolutely nothing wrong, even though there appears to be very clear evidence that things were not right at the PACT (part staff fault, part city fault)?/
Would like to know if this sudden decision had anything to do with pressure from the city "elite" to drop the investigation since PACT is a "beloved local institution" and therefore, above the law for some council members and other city residents.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 15, 2008 at 11:46 am

Well, congratulations have done irreparable damage to good people and embarrassed the city of Palo Alto with this incredibly huge waste of time. Oh- and way to cover yourselves with these statements...we understand...wouldn't it be a shame to admit that YOU MADE A MISTAKE?!

Posted by Ann
a resident of Downtown North
on May 15, 2008 at 11:47 am

I know how hurtful this whole investigation was for all the people involved, but I am real glad that this is over!

When is Pat returning to PACT?

Btw, Beatrix Porter's play opening night is tomorrow nigth! I hope to see her around :)

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 15, 2008 at 11:48 am

Sounds like no mistakes to me, just not enough evidence. Hope that the city now gets its act in order and runs PACT with efficient accounting and business practices and that the Directors, whoever they may be, will be made to run their ship completely above board.

Posted by Mayfield Child
a resident of Green Acres
on May 15, 2008 at 11:49 am

MISTAKES = $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

Posted by Kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 15, 2008 at 11:54 am

Only Czar Benest can lift the 'gag order' and the 'do not work' order.HE imposed it. He'll beat this to death until he rides galloping off into the retirement sunset in just six weeks.

Posted by No more city funds for PACT
a resident of Stanford
on May 15, 2008 at 12:02 pm

PACT staff are guilty of shabby accounting practices, the fact that the city was lax in keeping things in order does not absolve the staff from being irresponsible with our money (the fact they they were working with children and/or that PACT is a beloved city institutions is irrelevant).These people, are adults, and are making $100K+ per year--they should have some sense of responsibility.
i am sick and tired of the excuses that some people in our city are making for them and the seemingly blind worship of the staff by residents.
PACT needs to be straightened out and run right without city funds.

Posted by Danny
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 15, 2008 at 12:06 pm

Couldn't agree more with the above statement. The police department and city staff is taking far too many unfair attacks from community members who would prefer to turn a blind eye to any wrongdoing at the theatre.

But I'm thrilled this whole thing is over. Time to turn the page and move on.

Posted by Fireman
a resident of another community
on May 15, 2008 at 12:16 pm

Now, When does the INVESTIGATION OF the CITY and POLICE DEPARTMENT start???

How about the INVESTIGATION of the CITY MANAGER and City Attorney. When will that start.

How about the Council Members who forgot to let the CITIZENS KNOW, JUST HOW INVOLVED THERE WHERE WITH THE THEATRE STAFF.. until the END????

Funny how PALO ALTO, SMELLS LIKE A TUNA FACTORY!!!!!!! Going to investigate that????

Did not think so....

Posted by PA resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 15, 2008 at 12:28 pm

The lax city management and accounting practices need to be investigated and reformed. They are responsible for allowing these bad practices to go on.

Posted by narnia
a resident of another community
on May 15, 2008 at 12:40 pm

Nobody but the management of the theater is responsible for the financial confusions that have been well documented. So, if I leave my door open those who steal my possessions should be absolved?

the Criminal investigation is over- financial crimes are notoriously difficult to sort out. But as a city resident I want to know what was done with city moneys. The civil part of this suit is not over until the city recovers misspent or missing money. Is that what is going to happen or are the principals of this mess going to retire on full pensions without making the city (us, palo altans) whole?

It's time the theater run as a non-profit and look for their own endowment or else I suggest other groups look for equal treatment. And the city shouldn't look for residents for more money if they don't want to pursue a civil case against the PACT management.I am sure the city is not concerned with what the discovery phase in civil proceedings unearths...

Posted by equal footing for all
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 15, 2008 at 1:13 pm

Andrea, I totally agree. PACT is a giant waste of tax payer money - mine!

Posted by Whitecollar man
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 15, 2008 at 1:15 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by fireman
a resident of another community
on May 15, 2008 at 1:20 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by narnia
a resident of another community
on May 15, 2008 at 1:48 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
In this case, however there seems to be a real need by some to absolve PACT management actions because "they" think the city is mismanaged. I ,for one, do not believe that even if the city is terribly mismanaged (as some say) PACT management could possible justify mingling their own private funds in their bank accounts with city funds. That I'm afraid is not all right. It is usually considered corrupt. Does the inland revenue want to take a look? I hope so.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Resident
a resident of Southgate
on May 15, 2008 at 1:50 pm

Accounting irregularities can be discovered by forensic accountants and remedied by instituting appropriate accounting practices and procedures. But irregularities may not be criminal - it depends on what those irregularities are - that's what bothers me about this entire episode. What were the irregularities? Were they innocent booking errors? Accounting mistakes by inexperienced bookkeepers? Bad management of money? Or stealing of public money? What exactly happened? No one knows or can't say, but with the criminal investigation over, we should be told. Are there new accounting practices or oversights put into place? The real waste of time and taxpayer money comes if nothing is done to prevent this from happening again.

Posted by Ferdinand II
a resident of another community
on May 15, 2008 at 1:53 pm

Now that's it's over, I think I found the place where the PAPD got their play book for this one:

Web Link

Posted by Sean
a resident of another community
on May 15, 2008 at 2:21 pm

Finally... Now if the investigation of the City Manager could just get started then maybe the residents that are upset about shotty accounting could see where the policies actually come from. The buck stops with the one who creates the accounting practices that must be followed and here they weren't there and there wasn't any accounting. Well, at least until they decided to shut down the Theatre and sully the reputation of an institution by starting a criminal investigation before a financial investigation was started.

Now get the administrative investigation finished and the staff back to the Theatre!

Posted by Just a Tax Payer
a resident of another community
on May 15, 2008 at 3:03 pm

After all is said and done with the blunder of the PACT investigation, the good citizens of Palo Alto are spending over 80 million dollars on a new and improved Police Station. Will they get better service and honest answers for their investment?

Posted by C Munson
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 15, 2008 at 4:08 pm

The staff should be returned to do their jobs as soon as possible. The Palo Alto children's Theatre is a unique and valuable asset to the current and future generations of Palo Alto.

Posted by narnia
a resident of another community
on May 15, 2008 at 4:13 pm

Somebody please tell which part of the police investigation was not proper?
There was a well founded suspicion of a crime ( some say there still is) and they investigated.
Some people's actions are never investigated because they are thought of as being above the law?

Now, whose money is PACT management and whose is the city's? Who is to say? The Franchiser tax board? The IRS? Or are we going to know because of an administrative investigation? Should the city not do that at least?

Posted by fireman
a resident of another community
on May 15, 2008 at 4:15 pm

Palo parent.. At least she has a question???? And if you can't find an answer in there??????
Put yourself in the CAUSE line.... Just graze in the grass.. The Rancher want you to be nice and fat... Get more at the market that way...

You missed the MORAL OF THE STORY...

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 15, 2008 at 4:33 pm

It is clear from this mess that PACT must be disengaged from city affiliation/taxpayer financing. Thank you. Stand on your own like thousands of other youth performing arts organizations.

Posted by narnia
a resident of another community
on May 15, 2008 at 4:37 pm


hear, hear

Posted by fireman
a resident of another community
on May 15, 2008 at 4:43 pm

Maybe the Citizens of Palo Alto could,????? VOTE on it? I hope they would vote yes, but that's just me..

Posted by outraged
a resident of Downtown North
on May 15, 2008 at 4:44 pm

What sort of place is this? I just went to Starbucks and can you believe they had NO fresh brewed coffee. S-T-A-R-B-U-C-K-S! No fresh brewed coffee! Un F'n believable. Heatwave or no, I need my java.
Palo Alto is pretty special, y'all.
I'm starting an investigation into this travesty.

Posted by PaLY
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 15, 2008 at 4:48 pm

So are the employees going to return the money they STOLE?

Posted by fireman
a resident of another community
on May 15, 2008 at 5:02 pm

Outraged, Palo Alto was a Special place. really was,can still be but, not like how it is running now. Wrong direction for sometime.

I worked a Super Bowel,World Cup Soccer, Olympic games. Worked at SLAC... This City put me through Stanford Paramedic School, Work with Stanford Hospital for lots of years. Ronald Mac Donald house. The foothills, Lots of history and lots to be proud of.. Just no recently... Awhile

It has what it needs to be special... Just too many people trying to ride on its

REPUTATION. as a special place with special people..

Not there actions..... as members of the City of Palo Alto. Seems they will do whatever they have to.

Posted by Mike
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 15, 2008 at 6:04 pm

Sold lots of advertising space...

Posted by Ferdinand II
a resident of another community
on May 15, 2008 at 6:34 pm

Oh, Mike you're as cynical as I am!!! (Hahahaha!)

Posted by guy
a resident of another community
on May 15, 2008 at 6:59 pm

ok... can i say "i told you so" now perp walk?

Posted by Daniel
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 15, 2008 at 7:00 pm

I'm overjoyed that Johnson - despite her negative statements - did the right thing. You gotta remember - these are the same folks who thought that the costume sales were embezzlement - so their judgment is highly suspect.

Posted by guy
a resident of another community
on May 15, 2008 at 7:18 pm

Looking at this entire saga, what strikes me is the fervent passion exercised by both extreme flanks. It's like we were back in the 90's and OJ was back on trial. However, at this point, no charges will be filed, the investigation ran its course and soon the administrative inquiry will be finished (I hope).

Personally, I am dismayed by Chief Johnson's statements that evidence of wrongdoing exists, but that no charges will be filed. The truth is that evidence does not equal proof and suspicion is not fact. It was a potshot at the PACT staff from an officer who has taken a lot of heat for an investigation that has been subject to huge public scrutiny. And while I can understand her frustration at her inability to seal the deal and ring proof, declaring guilt without trial is simply wrong.

Chief, put up or shut up. If you could prove something, you'd have filed charges, but you cant.

That said, I think that would wrong to criticize the police for conducting an investigation n good faith, and I haven't. I think particularly given that the PAPD has attempted to conduct an impartial investigation, Johnson's parting shots were even more unfortunate, as they betray a bias that, while it may not have impacted the investigation, surely will only serve to strengthen suspicions of police misconduct and anger at the department as a whole.

Posted by Ferdinand II
a resident of another community
on May 15, 2008 at 7:24 pm


Judgement highly suspect, an understatement if there has ever been one. Please remember this is the organization that brought you Munks and Bollanos in SM county, The Albert Hopkins beating, The Verberra sexual assaults on female suspects, and much closer to the PACT the false murder accusations by Detective Yore.

I'm glad the SC DA shot this one down (see the article in the daily). I hope the county will start a Grand Jury investigation into the PAPD.

For the size of PAPD, it seems to have "corruption eruptions" far in excess of the statistical norm for a department so small. Something is seriously wrong here and I hope the County will follow up on it.

Posted by still more questions
a resident of Professorville
on May 15, 2008 at 9:36 pm

I find it strange that Jon Parsons, the administrative attorney for Pat Briggs is quoted by the Weekly (online her on May 1, 2008) at having said Briggs has been handling finances like this for a long time, perhaps 20 years, see quote below copied and pasted from the 5/1/08 article

Parsons said that years ago, perhaps more than 20, Briggs asked what to do about leftover traveler's checks once the city's advance was reimbursed. He said she was told that it would cost more to reimburse parents and donors for the small amount of leftover funds than the reimbursements would total, and that she should keep the checks for future trips or other uses.

I'm assuming that he got this information from his client Ms. Briggs. They are basically admitting that this has been going on for the last 20 years. I'm curious to know how many years the city keeps all of it's financial records. I would bet it isn't 20!

Also, to "guy" you are of course entitled to your opinions as we all are on this forum, but just to correct you, the police department has no place in filing charges against anyone. They are the fact finder, they present what they have found to the district attorney, and it is the district attorney that issues charges and prosecutes defendants - criminal law 101.

Posted by litebug
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 15, 2008 at 9:51 pm

I have been so un-impressed by each and every statement made during this case by the PAPD chief, as reported in the press. Her recent remark, to the effect, "I know they're guilty but I don't have evidence to prove it", is transparent PR and self-serving CYA. My opinion of the chief fell even lower when she just couldn't pass up another chance to make a snotty slur against the PACT staff, leaving as big a slime trail and cloud of suspicion as possible to distract and deflect criticism of herself and her department.

I would certainly like to know just how much this investigation has cost the taxpayers so far. I too would like to see an investigation of this investigation, starting at the TOP for a change!

Posted by guy
a resident of another community
on May 15, 2008 at 10:06 pm

still more questions - it's fairly clear that you have no legal education. While it is true that the police do not file charges, the police can choose to submit a case to the DA for prosecution. In this instance, the case was not even submitted to the DA for consideration because the police determined that there was insufficient evidence. So while I did write incorrectly, implying that the police are not involved in filing charges is simply wrong. The police can decide that charges will not be filed by not submitting the case, as happened here.

Posted by Ferdinand II
a resident of another community
on May 15, 2008 at 10:24 pm


Wrong. Please read the daily article:

Web Link

And I'll quote some here for everyone's info:

"Deputy District Attorney Steve Lowney said the evidence does not support the theory that employees had been embezzling funds because there is no proof they had specifically intended to deprive the city of money.

The traveler's checks officers found at the theater in the employees' names had not been spent and remained on city property, Lowney said.

Moreover, the city continued to advance funds to Briggs between 2000 and 2004, despite the fact she never submitted receipts during that period.

"That's a big gap in the proof," Lowney said. "It appears the city basically either wasn't concerned or ignored or authorized Briggs to conduct her financial affairs in the manner in which she did."

Posted by guy
a resident of another community
on May 15, 2008 at 10:32 pm

Ferdinand II - the DDA was providing legal commentary and while he had been "discussing" the case with the PAPD, if you go back to previous articles it was clear that the case had not been submitted. The PAPD obviously wanted to see what the burdens of proof would be, "very high" according to Johnson, and the only way to do that was to speak with the DA's office. However, the case had NOT been submitted and WILL NOT be submitted. There are several reasons to not submit the case, lack of evidence to support the intent required of embezzlement and there not being evidence of crimes not past their statute of limitations, but the DA could not press charges because the probe was "dropped" prior to being submitted.

Posted by Expensive Bank
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 15, 2008 at 10:33 pm

'still more questions': I do believe that Accounts Payable told Ms. Briggs that it would cost the City more to refund the money. I've worked for the City and have been told by AP that it costs $30 to issue a check. I find this incredible, but probably very true. I don't know WHY it costs the City $30 to issue a check, but maybe someone should ask.

So should the City spend $300 to refund 10 kids $10 or less each? There could have been better ways to deal with the whole situation, but I believe what Ms. Briggs told her attorney. If she was truly pocketing the leftover funds, why were so many traveler's checks still around and uncashed?

Posted by Ferdinand II
a resident of another community
on May 15, 2008 at 10:45 pm


I'll cede the technical point to you for the sake of argument. But then what are you saying? That the DA would prosecute even when they have stated publicly that the evidence has no merit?

Posted by renee deutsch
a resident of another community
on May 15, 2008 at 10:52 pm

I wonder how much it would cost to sue a city manager and a police chief, just a thought. Renee.

Posted by guy
a resident of another community
on May 15, 2008 at 10:56 pm

Ferdinand - I was arguing the technicality mainly for the sake of argument. It has been my experience that most often, the decision of whether a prosecution will occur happens by the police chief, the question as to what charges and what punishments will be sought occurs in the DA's office. This happens mainly because the Chief and police department works with the DA to determine what burden of proof needs to be met, if the police can gather that evidence, they submit a case and it generally goes to trial, if they cannot meet that burden of proof, it is never submitted. This allows the DA to look tough on crime and supportive of law enforcement ("I've prosecuted 95 percent of the cases brought to me..."). In this case, I think the PAPD wish they could have submitted the case, but knew the DA wouldn't prosecute and they would look like impotent fools. So, while technically only the DA can file charges, the de facto decision is generally made by the police chief looking at the evidence they have versus the burden of proof the DA would need.

Posted by More Expensive Bank
a resident of Professorville
on May 15, 2008 at 11:18 pm

Expensive Bank,
Do you believe that Briggs really stated how much was exactly left over when she supposively contacted AP? If thousands were deposited in her bank accounts how do you justify the $30 expense? Think about it why would you hold fund via travelers checks if they amounted to thousands of dollars? For those of you that say that they were not finance people then how is it that they can run their personal finances? A manager is responsible for all aspects. There are no controls that can be put in place when there is collusion - the claim to ignorance is not an answer! Even with the best of controls no system is safe if someone has the intent and collaboration to take what is not theirs. The statement that it would cost $30 to send out a $10 check is out of line. How much does it cost to fly out of town like Oregon or NY? Do you think a $10 refund is the right amount? If you manage a program you manage all aspects not just the program, so don't fall for the they are not accountats, you do not need to be an accountant to do the right thing. How many accountants would it take to micro manage all aspects of an agency? People need to be responsible for what they manage and stop blaming others!!!

Posted by Bob
a resident of Barron Park
on May 15, 2008 at 11:51 pm

lifebug quotes Chief Johnson as saying "I know they're guilty but I don't have enough evidence to prove it". Not so. She is quoted as saying have evidence of "serious financial mismanagement and other possible criminal activity"...there wasn't proof "beyond a reasonable doubt at this time".

guy has fairly clearly stated the problem with submitting a case and who is responsible for what action(s). Thank you.

Many posts either misstate what is written either by the PAPD or the newspapers or offer opinion as fact. And the newspapers may or may not report accurately or completely what they learned in an interview.

Chief Johnson has issued recently at least two lengthy statements about the police investigation. I believe they are factual although without all the information people want and may not have a right to. Before accusing her of improper procedure, be sure of your facts.

Posted by Marie
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 16, 2008 at 12:54 am

Johnson's remarks (as usual) make no sense. The article states "She said theater supporters raised money by selling costumes and staging extra performances, giving the proceeds to the Friends. The Friends then gave that money back to the city to pay for the trips, Johnson said.

"Legally, those funds are the city's. They are taxpayer dollars," she said."

If the money is given to the City (which she says the Friends did) , why is she complaining that it was given to the City???? That woman makes no sense. Where's the crime??? Sounds like sloppy thinking to me.

Posted by Daniel
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 16, 2008 at 6:30 am


Johnson refused to apologize because "We did it with as much professionalism as we could". Was breaking up a rehearsal instead of waiting a half hour as professional as she could muster? Was Yore's act of terrorizing kids as professional as she could muster? These ARE facts.

Johnson says she hopes "that people would realize we get paid to conduct criminal investigations when we have reasonable cause to believe that crimes have been committed." Apparently, she's thinks the costume sale was probable cause. Sounds more like fantasy than fact to me.

However, it appears she is speaking the truth when she said "I haven't even thought about it," when asked about the cost of this fiasco. Her LACK of thought is what caused this whole mess.

Posted by fireman
a resident of another community
on May 16, 2008 at 6:49 am

I hate to rain on anyones parade but, this is not the first time the City has known of possible illegal activity dealing with the public's funds. And did not want to investigate any farther.

If anyone can remember during the SANDBAG scandal. It first was thought that June Flemming was the one who misused the public funding to sandbag her home. Then after not wanting to investigate it at all. The public pushed the issue.
The investigation found June to have no knowledge of the incident. This pointed to then Fire chief Ruben grijalva. Deena Mosser then made the comment in the newspaper that ,The investigation is over with June.. Not wanting to look any farther for the guilty CHIEF.. Nice Deena..
This shows to ME, a DOUBLE STANDARD???? and you?

Posted by Gordon
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 16, 2008 at 7:10 am

Johnson said she has no idea how much the criminal investigation has cost.

"I haven't even thought about it," she said.

Gee don’t you think that our chief police would have a bit more curiosity than that? Shouldn’t she wonder how her department is spending the tax payers money?

Posted by chrisk
a resident of University South
on May 16, 2008 at 9:49 am

the supporters of PACT should have been more curious about how their money was being handled; it has responsibilities to its members and should not have depended on the city to be its watchdog

Posted by PACT parent
a resident of Downtown North
on May 16, 2008 at 11:10 am

Daniel wrote:
"Was breaking up a rehearsal instead of waiting a half hour as professional as she could muster? Was Yore's act of terrorizing kids as professional as she could muster? These ARE facts."

Daniel, I still don't understand why the police could not wait until the children were out of the building to close the theater... Some of those kids were really confused/agitated about the situation. And you are right, they only needed to wait an half-hour for the rehearsals to be over. Sad!

But I also have to say that the presence of a group of photographers from our local press snapping photos of every single child that entered the theater when it re-opened was also very stressful for many.

And how ironic it is that the local press did not bother to write a single review of the play that was opening on that same week.

Posted by Gordon
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 16, 2008 at 11:47 am

Let's see if I have this straight. Palo Alto Police Chief Lynne Johnson has evidence of "serious financial misconduct and other possible criminal activity." But after a year long criminal investigation, the cost of which she freely admitts that she hasn't even thought about, she is unable to prove the evil doers guilty.

So what dose our Police Chief do? She gives up! But not before she grants an interview to the press in which she says that she knows that the staff of the PACT are guilty even thought they have not, and will not, be charged with any crime. Then she says that she's just doing her job. She will not apologize. Are we suspose to believe that this is the sort of Cracker Jack Police work worthy of Dick Tracy? What the heck am I missing here?

Posted by curious
a resident of Downtown North
on May 16, 2008 at 1:22 pm

I just saw the photo on this article! If you double click on it you can see the following message: Parents and youth at the theater shield their faces from the camera. Photo by Norbert von der Groeben.

That is real interesting, Norbert! In your web site the statement is the following: The best part of being a photojournalist is the access a camera grants. People let you into their lives and trust you to be honest with your work. It's not only a great honor but also a privilege to be trusted like that.

Norbert, why do you think the youth at the theater shield their faces from you... Do people really let you into their lives, and do they really trust you?

Here is a link to Nebert's site: Web Link

Posted by Sean
a resident of another community
on May 16, 2008 at 1:34 pm

Hey Palo Alto Online. "curious" is right, get rid of that picture. There is one adult that is shy and blocked their picture from being taken and you give the title: "Parents and youth at the theater shield their faces from the camera." That's not at all fair. You posted pictures of minors faces without their permission and then post that. I know drama brings readers but that is just not fair. Take it down and do the right thing.

Posted by Katie Christman
a resident of Professorville
on May 16, 2008 at 1:56 pm

Just a ponder(I had written 'quick ponder; clearly not my forte), but as I understand it, the Children's Theater is not considered a 'fund-generating' branch of the city. It is run at a deficit, which is the cause of much of the ire directed toward the theater, the Friends, and the participants in this forum. The moneys generated by charging the public to attend performances and charging for classes, seminars, and the summer conservatory defray a large portion of the costs. The remainder for budgeted items is covered by the city.

Initially, the entire cost was funded by the city, except for the buildings donated by Lucy Sterne and the thousands and thousands of volunteer hours put in by parents and other citizens, including my great-grandmother. Over time, the needs (or willingness to provide services) increased, so the Friend's of the Theater organization was set up as a public/private partnership to come up with MORE MONEY, not given by the city. Money was raised for improvements, additions, and trips (all of which were theater-related and educational).

So if you look at the trend, it is more self-sufficiency and less dependency on the city dollar/tax dollar.

When I was a kid there was a constant problem with costumes piling up everywhere. Costumes wear out. Kids come in different sizes. Fashions change, which doesn't matter for Little Women or Rapunzel, but certainly does for, say, High School Musical and other newer shows. Old costumes also involved endless buttons and HOOKS! often on the back of costumes for girls, which are hell on the old quick-change. The fire marshall was always on PACT's back, saying, get these old costumes out of here, they constitute a fire hazard! But throw them out? That would be plain wrong.

Meanwhile, funding sources other than city money became more important as the programs grew and grew, due to the dedication of its staff. Outreach plays began at the elementary schools, which included any interested student old enough to participate. The Conservatory was born. Someone said, hey! Let's sell some of the old costumes off, and raise some dough. Questions were raised as to how to write the checks, and queries went in to the city. Sometimes they answered one way, sometimes another, but as one city official told me personally in 1999, "It doesn't really matter so much as long as the money is earmarked for the theater. We can't really spend it on anything else."
People began to donate their old halloween costumes and navy uniforms, out-of date tuxes and worn out ballet shoes. The sale was a hit.

Likewise, when trips were suggested, money was raised. 'Extra' performances served the purpose of a charity auction, an opportunity to allow children to travel and perform, to travel and compete, like the band or the choir. The amount needed was determined, the drive went forward, the money was collected. Rubber ducks and t-shirts were sold. Each parent paid a sum for his or her child, which was a part of the total. But additional funds were needed for scholarships, etc., and these funds were raised by the Friends.

All of these efforts allowed the theater to do more without requiring that the city pay for it all. Thousands of more hours were put in by volunteers, selling hot dogs, sorting costumes. The costume racks stopped smelling bad ( I am not exaggerating, In The Snowqueen I wore a complete fur suit that had my grandmother's name in it from 1933. Fur is not easy to wash, and it had greasepaint and baby powder all over the inner neckline. Good for one halloween, but no longer functional for four performances under the lights!). City money tended to go for staff (not a penny wasted, each did the work of three people) upgrades to the building, safety concerns, etc.

My question is, if money was raised by the theater or the Friends, for the theater, how is that owed to the city? Is there a clause that says that have to pay the city back every penny of operating expenses before spending on, say, a new light board? I don't think so. And I know that as a taxpayer if donate money to the theater, it is earmarked for the theater, and for the city to use it for any other purpose is, I believe, unlawful. If unbudgeted amounts were advanced by the city, and paid back with donated funds, how is that embezzlement, or missappropriation of any kind? If I donate money to the Junior museum for snake food, can it be used to pay for a large egg sculpture in the plaza? I don't think so. It can't be used to fix the street or provide sandbags or even buy a microphone cover for city hall. If you donate money to reseed the little league field, can the city sieze it and use it to clean up after the horses in the may fete parade? Somebody enlighten me, please (not you perpwalk, I still need to know what YOUR cause is so I can help you write a grant).

I am generally quite pro-police, my kids collect the 'baseball cards' However, I would appreciate our Police force bringing charges if they think they can prove them or dropping the whole thing completely, not resorting to libel or slander or whatever you call saying something bad about someone that you can't prove (if the paper quotes you but you SAID it, I'm not sure which that is).

We do need oversite in our town, to make sure that money goes where it is supposed to go, and doesn't get spent somewhere else.

Love to all,

Posted by narnia
a resident of another community
on May 16, 2008 at 2:40 pm

for all that's said in this forum I still would like to know why moneys belonging to the city were "kept" in the PACT management private accounts.

Posted by CH Insider
a resident of another community
on May 16, 2008 at 6:23 pm


Up until this whole investigation started, it was standard (i.e. written) policy for the City to issue a check to employees as a travel advance. The check is written out to the employee, so it really could only go into our personal private accounts. The policy requires an expense report and a payback of any unexpended funds within 30 days after the trip.

Katie, that was a nice summary of how PACT is funded. I hope this will all blow over soon. But I believe serious damage was done to City morale in all departments. I don't understand why this wasn't just kept as an internal affair like the Utility Department scandal. I guess Fireman's double standard applies because that is an enterprise fund that MAKES money for the City. PACT is much loved, but it isn't a "money maker".

Posted by a Palo Alto parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 17, 2008 at 9:45 am

One comment about the "extra" performances. I was surprised to see that misstated as a way to make money whenever "extra money was needed". The only times performances were added was when the regular performances were sold out and there were still calls for more tickets. The times of the extra performances were planned ahead and filled as needed to accommodate the demand for shows.

The other strange misconception that seems to float around this issue is that PA could ever stop sponsoring the Children's Theatre. The Theatre is a department of the city that originated as a grass roots establishment in 1932, and the theatre itself was a gift to the city of Palo Alto in 1937. The city will no more stop funding the theatre than it would suddenly stop funding one of the libraries or recreation departments.

I think it's important to realize that a few hardworking young staff members have been running every aspect of the theatre on their own since February, and if the city is firing the staff members they put on leave, they need to act quickly to fill the vacated positions, not to mention hiring a reasonable number of staff to do the work required to run the theatre properly, something that would have eliminated all the chaos and possible wrong-doing in the first place.

The buck stops at the top, and the top is laying the blame on people below them. I hate to think that this is what our kids are learning from growing up in Palo Alto.

Posted by narnia
a resident of another community
on May 17, 2008 at 11:38 am

CH insider,

If the moneys are in the PACT member private bank account and not all expenses are duly recorded and matched against those checks then the PACT managers W2 will have had to reflect it. Tax laws require tax payments for those moneys if they are not refunds. I'm afraid that whatever wrongs, if any, the city did do not exonerate PACT management from their fiduciary duties and certainly not from the payment of taxes over unrefunded moneys.
I am hoping that an investigation can clear all these matters.

As for the city not being able to get rid of that department, yes they can either by attrition, dissolution or simply reduction of funds ( with the legal provisos for the employees rights).

Posted by Perp walk
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 17, 2008 at 1:10 pm

As we can see from the quotation below, the friends of PACT are not interested in the truth or for things to be run smoothly:

"We applaud Chief Johnson's decision, at last, to call a halt to this investigation," said Paula Collins, president of the Friends of the Palo Alto Children's Theatre. "The reputations of the suspended staff have been severely tarnished, perhaps irreparably. We urge the city manager to conclude the administrative probe rapidly and favorably, allowing the staff to return to their jobs where they belong and have been so sorely missed."

The only thing they are interested in is a favorable (to them) outcome of any investigation--which means the truth be damned and re-install the staff unto the pedestal from which they can be worshiped by all citizens of PA, since PACT is a "revered local institution" and the staff are all saints.

Entire story at:
Web Link

Posted by Bob
a resident of Barron Park
on May 17, 2008 at 8:59 pm

I see Daniel uses costume sales as the cause of the investigation. It was the incompetent (not enough proof) handling of taxpayers' money that had to be carefully looked into as Narnia has stated.

As far as Chief Johnson saying she hadn't even thought about the cost, she has to wait until the accountants do their job before she can even ask what it is. Should she have speculated? Nonsense.

Posted by Daniel
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 18, 2008 at 7:31 am


The most recent article may shed some light: The Deputy DA says:

"You have to get up in court and say 'This woman stole money from the city,'" Lowney said. "Well, they actually were never cashed. When you hear that somebody stole money from the city that never left the theater. …"

Lastly, Johnson is on record saying her officers were working around the clock and on weekends - all for property that the DA says was never left city buildings in the first place. THAT is mishandling the taxpayer's money. Why didn't she focus on recovering all the property stolen from the theatre (paid for by taxpayers) instead of getting fixated on property that never left the building????

Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on May 18, 2008 at 12:26 pm

Many (not all, of course) of these comments appear to be based on scant knowledge of the details of the investigation, city accounting practices, or the inner workings of the Children's Theatre. They represent gut reactions to a few newspaper articles. I trust that if there had been culpability on anyone's part, Mr. Yore and Ms. Johnson (at the behest of the City Manager) would have found it because they were predisposed to do so. From their own descriptions, they have had unlimited resources (overtime and travel, for example) for their investigation. Let's move on, as the Chief of Police suggests.

My attention has switched from the Theatre to city management and the Palo Alto Police Department. I question the wisdom of Ms. Johnson's written remarks when she admitted that they had found no culpability despite evidence of "serious financial misconduct and other possible criminal activity." The City's sizable legal staff should control Ms. Johnson's oral and written communications better, editing her statements for potential legal ramifications. Public police accusations without evidence can become libelous. Although Chief Johnson is the highest ranking representative of the the Palo Alto Police Department, she is intemperate in her public statements. Why isn't City Manager Frank Benest controlling the city's press responses better and protecting the taxpayers from potential liability?

Better yet, let's look at the performance of our Chief of Police and City Manager. I believe that Chief Johnson is responsible for submitting and administering her department's budget and City Manager Benest is responsible for developing, gaining approval for, and administering of the entire city budget. By her own admission, Ms Johnson stated that she had not even thought about the cost of this investigation.

Wow! Many of the commenters in this forum are taxpayers. Doesn't that bother you more than costume sales?

Posted by Leon Kaplan
a resident of another community
on May 18, 2008 at 3:50 pm

The following excerpt is from a letter to the Editor in the February 9, 2005 edition of the Palo Alto Weekly. It sounds eerily, and sadly, familiar:
"Johnson stated her department "didn't do anything wrong" in their investigation that left the public with a wrongful arrest, $75,000 settlement and an unsolved rape. Rather than apologize to Jorge Hernandez (and the public), she suggested he was linked to the crime, offering no supporting evidence."
I also take issue with the inherent lack of fairness by imposing a “gag order” on the Children’s Theatre staff, under penalty of termination, thereby prohibiting the staff from getting their side of the story out, while at the same time allowing the Chief of Police to cast aspersions and innuendos to whomever she wishes.

Posted by narnia
a resident of another community
on May 18, 2008 at 6:53 pm

I know this much: at minimum uncashed checks were floating around the PACT without anyone in the theater being able to account for them. I wouldn't want these people taking care of my private financial affairs. I do not want them taking care of my public affairs.

No amount of creativity justify the long time lax manner in which PACT treated its financial reporting and accountability.
I understand how hard it is to be creative and involved in a job in which countless hours are spent beyond the call of duty. So do scientists, artists and the many whose jobs have no hours. But all those people by and large abide by their financial fiduciary obligations even though they would have preferred to employ those hours spent on financial accountability and reporting , working for example on the cure for malaria, the study of blindness or even the production of "Krapp's Last Tape". It's so much more pleasant to receive accolades for a public job than no thanks for a "hidden" one well done. The applause is just not there for that. Nevertheless, it has to be done by those in charge. There is no excuse for supporting this manner of acting.
PACT supporters confuse support for creative work with support for failure to account for finances. They confuse support for the person with support, feeble and convoluted excuses for lack of accountability. They are in a defensive mood in which people are elevated to sainthood and nothing they do is ever to be criticized. I don't know why this reminds me of adoring masses....Well, I do actually.
Briggs should resign. She is the director and the buck stops with her (for the theater) independently of city faults.
Should Palo Altans want to keep in charge someone whose long career ( she has been PACT Director since 1965) is a little longer than the control freak Castro had been in power they are welcome to try to keep things as they always have been. But please respect those of us with a different and reasoned view. In any case it is about time that Briggs leaves PACT and a fresh approach be employed. This crisis just highlighted that no one should be in charge that long (43 years) with or without accountability.
No one is denying Briggs legacy to the PACT (though I don't think it can be said to be exemplary), her dedication and the outcome of her work. But it's time for her to go and the best way would be for her to resign and not prolong this sad chapter in the PACT life. It would also restore a modicum of credibility. Whatever we may think, it's clear she cannot stay there. And clear still, at least to me, l that no one should stay for 43 years.
Leadership requires a path for others. Control freakism just requires a will to stay in power perhaps for the fear that others will not be able to "take the boat to port".
Nobody is indispensable.
This is my last say on this matter.

Posted by Time#2
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 18, 2008 at 7:45 pm

Narnia, this is your last say in the matter?

"Let us rejoice and be glad". It is so easy to say vicious things about other people - under the cowardly cloak of anonymity!! And especially when you don't a have clue what you are talking about!!!

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2008 at 7:55 pm

I second Narnia's comments.

A director has to direct more than just the plays. A director of the theatre must direct the theatre as a whole. A director of plays is just that. Accountability for the running of the enterprise is what she was employed to do, not to direct plays alone.

Posted by narnia
a resident of another community
on May 18, 2008 at 8:12 pm

It is my last say in the theater matter. It is not, however, my habit to let others accuse me of something I haven't done. I have stated my opinion and I have also stated the truth, that Pat Briggs has been directing the PACT for gasp! 43 years. This is not viciousness (that I do not possess) it's the naked truth. Of course, I am anonymous as much as I can. Aren't you also?
Are you then coward? Because I disagree with the PACT status instituted in the very long reign of Pat Briggs I am now disrespected and called names under "your" anonymity. Is this a result of the PACT instituted policies? that we are not to contest whatever the direction of PACT people feel it's right? And we can't either pronounce the truth? 43 years ? 43 years?What exactly in what I said is vicious? It's 43 years not enough?

Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on May 18, 2008 at 8:53 pm

Chief Johnson doesn’t know how much the investigation cost. Does Benest not have quarterly or semi-annual budget reviews for all departments?

Wouldn’t Benest be just the tiniest bit interested in how much this very visible investigation was costing over 11 months? Wouldn’t the city council, in it’s oversight position, be at all interested? Apparently not.

Posted by CH Insider
a resident of another community
on May 18, 2008 at 10:29 pm

It is interesting that in Narnia's final comments, the truth comes out. This whole mess was orchestrated to get Briggs out of power. A coup. Briggs is actually losing money by not retiring. She is entitled to over 2.7% for every year that she worked. 2.7x43=116% of her highest year's salary. She is GIVING over 16% of her salary to Palo Alto right now.

I don't plan to work past 55, but she has made PACT her life. Palo Alto should wish that every City employee were so dedicated. But so few employees actually live in the City (or even close to the City). Some of us live in Modesto and Manteca. Most see it as just a paycheck working for a bunch of rich annoying people. Pat sees children who can bloom into greatness. God bless her. Peace.

Posted by Member
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 19, 2008 at 10:22 am

Town Square,
Despite the lengthy police investigation evidence was too thin to bring charges against the directors of the Children's Theatre. Yet Police Chief Lynne Johnson, chose to sum it up by stating despite "serious financial misconduct and other possible criminal activity," there isn't proof "beyond a reasonable doubt at this time." Closing the investigation vindicates the Palo Alto Children's Theatre. Instead of admitting that she can't make a case, the Police Chief ends the investigation with a tone of self-righteousness and an insinuation of guilt. I think this is a classic example of irresponsible and unprofessional conduct by the Palo Alto Police, who should remain neutral during an open investigation.

Posted by Hero
a resident of Downtown North
on May 19, 2008 at 6:54 pm

How about a new play for PACT called Palo Alto 911? Should make great theatre!

Posted by Paul Wanless
a resident of another community
on May 30, 2008 at 7:59 am

PACT staff -

Your names will never be "tarnished" in my book. Any mistakes notwithstanding, to me, you've all always been a shining example of inspiration and virtue. I don't care what the police or anyone else says. You guys are the best.

Posted by Paul Wanplus
a resident of another community
on May 30, 2008 at 8:00 am

Great Paul, support malfeasance, disregard for taxpayer money, disobediance of the rules etc.
Very fine example you are setting

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