Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, back after a nine-day vacation in South Africa, on Monday did his best to snuff out a smoldering debate over whether the city should try to recoup its expenses for the Michael Jackson memorial at Staples Center last week.
The mayor said the city would pick up the estimated $1.4-million tab for police protection, traffic control and other services and not bill the Jackson family or AEG, the company that owns Staples.
"This is a world-class city, and we provide fire and police protection. Period. The idea that we would charge the family for a funeral is nonsensical," Villaraigosa said, adding that AEG also should not have to reimburse the city.
Villaraigosa, after announcing a summer jobs program, also criticized his staff for launching a website that asked the public for donations to help pay the city's costs. The website, which raised $35,000, was taken down Friday. It's unclear if the money will be returned to donors.
"I thought it was ridiculous, and that was the word I used when I called my staff from South Africa," the mayor said.
The mayor's comments were a sharp departure from a news release distributed by his office Thursday, when he was out of the country. In it, he encouraged Jackson fans worldwide to memorialize the pop star by donating to the city.
The release quoted Villaraigosa as saying: "Michael Jackson's music touched millions of fans across the globe. Donations will help the City of Angels provide the extraordinary public safety resources required to give Michael the safe, orderly and respectful memorial he deserves."
Twitter messages sent out in Villaraigosa's name also encouraged donations, although those messages are written by staff members in his office.The mayor's spokesman said the idea to solicit donations came from the public, and using a city website was suggested by Councilwoman Jan Perry, who served as acting mayor when Villaraigosa was out of the country.
"Mayor Villaraigosa's staff moved forward in support of Acting Mayor Perry's effort with an enhanced online credit card donation site," said Villaraigosa spokesman Matt Szabo. "Mayor Villaraigosa did not support that effort, but allowed the site to remain online until he resumed his official capacity as mayor upon his return to Los Angeles on Friday."
City Councilman Bernard C. Parks said the city spent more than $100,000 for special events honoring comedian Bob Hope after his death in 2003. He said the city annually sets aside millions of dollars in police overtime specifically for unexpected events such as the Jackson memorial.
"I agree that the city of Los Angeles is responsible for responding to spontaneous events," said Parks, a former police chief and chairman of the council's budget and finance committee. "This was very spontaneous, because you don't plan a death."
Still, Parks said it was "inconsistent" for the mayor to say the city should pick up the tab for services provided at the Jackson memorial after he had encouraged AEG to help pay for the city's costs in the recent parade for the Lakers.
Aides to the mayor have been careful to distinguish between the two, saying the Lakers' parade was held on city streets and the Jackson memorial was a private event held at a private venue.
Councilman Dennis Zine has called on AEG -- the promoter of Jackson's London shows -- to pay for the memorial because, he said, the company was likely to profit after selling a DVD of the rehearsals. He said taxpayers should not be handed the bill for the event.
AEG President Tim Leiweke on Monday called Zine a "shameful" political grandstander who was using Jackson's death to grab his own headlines.
"It's a shame this man is taking advantage of this situation because he wants some free publicity," Leiweke said. "We're still out of pocket roughly a half-million dollars. We did not make any money. We donated the arena at zero cost. We donated the Nokia Theatre at zero cost."
Leiweke said AEG has lost $30 million dollars because of the canceled Jackson shows. Once it recoups that investment, 90% of any potential proceeds from the memorial or other ventures would go to Jackson's estate and 10% to AEG, he said.
"We're not making any money off this," Leiweke said.
Times staff writer Maeve Reston contributed to this report.