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What went wrong? DA cites gaps in theater case

Original post made on May 18, 2008

The Children's Theatre may have warranted an investigation but the case could not be prosecuted because of its complexity and serious gaps and flaws in evidence, according to Steve Lowney, the deputy district attorney closest to the case.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Saturday, May 17, 2008, 8:56 PM

Comments (16)

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Posted by A disappointed Resident
a resident of Midtown
on May 18, 2008 at 2:35 pm

Saved by the Statute of Limitations.

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Posted by Tim#2
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 18, 2008 at 5:01 pm

So anyone in the Accounting Office being 'terminated'. Benest has children in school - and this is not a school vacation two weeks. Strange that suddenly he's gone on a two week vacation when things are 'heating up'.

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a resident of South of Midtown
on May 18, 2008 at 6:41 pm

Strange that a young man who was nothing but friendly and often worked weekends insuring that the public had tickets to matinee productions is recommened to be terminated. Yet the City Manager, who heads up the entire department, is rewarded with a nice home paid for by taxpayers and no questions asked why he did not investigate the processes of direct reports under his watch.

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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on May 18, 2008 at 8:57 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.

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Posted by Bill
a resident of College Terrace
on May 18, 2008 at 9:35 pm

I really think trying to lay all this at the feet of Frank Benest is unfair. And it's particularly wrong to discuss his vacation. Can we not stick to the issues raised by the investigation, and the subsequent actions by the police and the DA? The city manager has nothing to do with the progress of any police investigation, and if he did, everyone would be screaming that he was interfering! Let's just try to turn down the volume on the hysterics over this now that it appears to be winding down.

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Posted by Ferdinand II
a resident of another community
on May 18, 2008 at 10:26 pm


Sorry, but Benest has been a big part of this since 1/24 when he closed down the Children's theater and put staff on administrative leave.

He does have the authority to do that in the context of an internal City investigation, but by Benest's own admission, he hadn't started an administrative investigation when he shut down the Children's theater, and took his actions based on non-public information provided by the police.

In a private company, would the police have the authority to shut it down through an internal administrative process?

No, of course not, nor would they have any authority to place staff of any organization on "Administrative Leave", and that includes the City.

Benest has intentionally crossed the line between police activities and administrative rules within the City, providing the police with things that are not within their power. Specifically, a gag order on staff, and forced administrative leave, which in practice, is the same as "house arrest"

Do you work in Palo Alto Bill? Hope you will consider the precedent Benest has set here if you or co-workers are ever a little behind in "child support" or have an unpaid parking ticket.

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Posted by CH Insider
a resident of another community
on May 18, 2008 at 10:55 pm

This doesn't make sense to most people because most people care about money and nothing else. Ms. Briggs is actually losing money by continuing to work for the City. If she retired she would be making MORE money than she does while working. She is entitled to over 2.7% for every year she worked times her highest year's salary. According to the article above, she started in 1961. That is 47 years of service. 47x2.7=127% of her highest annual income for retirement pay.

She is actually GIVING UP money by continuing to work. She is either crazy or dedicated depending on your point of view. What motive does she have for these crimes that have been suggested? If the police had just looked at that fact and the realization that the person she spoke with in accounting has long since retired, we would never have been in this mess. Ms. Briggs cares only for the children and PACT. Money is not even a close second. God bless her.

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Posted by Howard
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 19, 2008 at 12:25 am

I can't beleive people are still defending these weird antics that escape criminality by a hair's breadth.

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Posted by Time#2
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 19, 2008 at 3:51 am

Howard, THERE WAS NO criminal behavior. Get over it. The DA knew it. People connected with PACT knew it from Day# 1. NONE, ZILCH, NADA. Benest beat it to Australia and is away from the uproar. The employees involved in the "Utilites Scandal" - which really was illegal, had and still have their identities protected - and most are still working for the city.
It is Johnson AND Benest who handled this so poorly, ruined reputations, closed down the theater during a rehearsal and frightened the chlidren - bad top management all around. And how much does Benest get when he retires at the end of June? More than most of us can even dream of - and how long has he been here - ten years? THe Children Theater was Pat Brigg's life. It will be a long time before this City recovers from the Benest-Johnson-Yore debacle- and evidently Yore is retiring too. How convenient.

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Posted by daniel
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 19, 2008 at 6:06 am

Earlier articles stated that Benest approves Johnson's press releases. Did he approve the most recent one in which Johnson defamed the staff by accusing them of criminal acts?

I appreciate what a difficult position that the City Manager must be in - and am reluctant to throw this at his feet. However, if it is true he approved that release, he's placing the City at risk. I'd think he would want to do the correct thing by the staff - if only to separate himself from an out-of-control police chief and her loyal henchman.

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Posted by Disbeliever
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 19, 2008 at 9:17 am

Quite honestly I did not follow local politics until this issue blew up. Now for some reason when I see Palo Alto I associate Benest or Yore with the words. They are as ubiquitous here as Emperor Palpatine or Darth Vader.

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Posted by C Munson
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 19, 2008 at 11:14 am

Wow!! after reading the article there are so many questions.
First when will the city accounting systems and Frank Benest be reviewed/investigated? Second...Why are the city records from 2000 to 2004 missing? Third...Why were the costume sales investigated when they were signed off and approved by the city before the costume sales?
Lastly, What does this say about the whole thing ...
based on the previous posting Benest has slinked off out of the country!!!!!

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Posted by anon.
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 20, 2008 at 8:47 am

how come the city is not looking into the auditing practices? Who is in charge of the Auditor? That person should be fired!

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Posted by Wilson
a resident of another community
on May 20, 2008 at 10:20 am

I am a complete outsider fascinated by this and who is writing a screenplay based upon these events.

Let me know if this is what has happened in a nutshell:

Four people running a public children's theatre did well by the children from all accounts, but were sloppy with the accounting
to the point that people suspected theft.

There was an actual theft, but the thieves were not employees and the quartet running the theatre were not suspects but it triggered a manhunt of sorts.

The sloppy accounting was in effect a large partial result of City Hall not instituting any sort of GAAP checks or balances, perhaps because they were seen as a formality given the nature and size
of the expenditures.

Through everything, Patricia Briggs seems to have displayed
behavior that placed the intent of the theatre first and the
seemingly impossible task of keeping pace with the ever changing bureaucracy requested of her from the city second.

A large criminal investigation took place which showed no sign that money left the theatre into anyone's personal account or possession.

The investigation ended up costing vastly more than whatever the amount of the suspected missing funds ended up being and apparently, scapegoats are now potentially being sought to justify the investigation.

Is this basically accurate?

Other questions (to hopefully impartial people)

Is this an attack on someone because they are past a retirement age? (ageism?)

Is there some sort of vendetta against the theatre?

Are there people potentially plotting to remove Patricia Briggs in favor of having their people placed in charge?

Is there a group of angry people or parents who always wanted to run the theatre?

Sounds like there was some casual sloppyness that was wildly overreacted to and then positioned so as not to embarass the few who didn't uncover what they had hoped to uncover.

Have I missed any main points?

Are there any specifically dramatic moments in time that could potentially be covered other than the sad timing of the man's death and the closing of the theatre in the middle of a rehearsal which, wuite dramatically, postponed a play rehearsal?

What is the other side of the story?

(if it is transparent and not cloaked in some sort of secrecy.)

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Posted by narnia
a resident of Midtown
on May 23, 2008 at 11:53 am

Police investigation: On may 17 2008 this newspaper reported:
"Lowney has been with the District Attorney's office since 1994 and specialized in fraud until recently......

On Thursday, Johnson said she has proof that on 150 occasions Briggs received money from both the non-profit Friends group and the city for the same purchases.

"There's no doubt that that occurred," Lowney said.

..........But the discovery of the double payments provided additional motivation to continue the case.

"You see that conduct and it can't be ignored because it did in fact occur," Lowney said.

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Posted by JFP
a resident of Midtown
on May 23, 2008 at 12:18 pm

What I want to know is how much of the town is being run like this? No receipts, no tracking of expenditures. It is crazy.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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