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The Michael Jackson memorial: City Hall blew it

With the exception of the Police Department, the city's handling of the event was disorganized, cheap and pathetic.

July 10, 2009

Michael Jackson, we can hope, now rests in peace. Embarrassment over the way Los Angeles handled his memorial service may be with us for a while.

It's not like the city is incapable of doing anything right. By all accounts, the Police Department and traffic officers handled their end of Tuesday's event flawlessly. But in so many other ways, City Hall bumbling makes Los Angeles look laughably low-tech, shamefully disorganized, simultaneously an easy mark and a swindler, and cheap and pathetic besides.

First, there's sandwich-gate, which new Controller Wendy Greuel, to her credit, is making into an issue. It's great to feed the overtime workers, but nearly 50 grand for catering from a shop in Wrightwood? That's in San Bernardino County. In the mountains. Up a winding road. Greuel said Subway could have done it for $17,000. OK, so maybe one Subway shop in L.A. can't throw together 3,500 lunches in a few minutes. But we're pretty sure there are at least a couple of other lunch places in the city as well.

Or how about the plea to the public for a few pennies to defray expenses? Los Angeles is not New Orleans, and a memorial service is not Katrina. Yes, the city is grappling with a deep budget shortfall and is furloughing workers, but could we show a little dignity? Yes, it makes sense to call on AEG, which ran the show and owns the facilities, to foot the $1.4-million bill. But not publicly, on the day of the funeral. And let's not forget that the city does have an emergency fund for exactly these kinds of unexpected and extraordinary occurrences.

Then, when fans actually start sending in money, would it be too much to ask of City Hall to be ready to accept it? Apparently it would. A high schooler with a parent's credit card (and permission, of course) can get a PayPal account in about 60 seconds, but the city's Information Technology Agency and treasurer couldn't come up with a way to connect would-be donors to the city until the night before the funeral. And then the website crashed and was down all day.

And what does the donation page say? "HELP GIVE MICHAEL THE WORLD CLASS MEMORIAL HE DESERVES." Are we erecting a statue? The city isn't really asking fans "to help us celebrate his life and music." It's asking for a reimbursement for police protection.

Meanwhile, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is on vacation in Africa. The mayor is entitled to his vacation, but after four years in charge, he left the city in the hands of a terrific Police Department and a bumbling, uncoordinated jumble of other agencies. Fixing that dysfunction, and restoring some dignity to the city, should be at the top of his agenda when he comes home.

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