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Jackson memorial: L.A. controller blasts city agency for ordering out ... way out [Updated]

July 8, 2009 |  1:37 pm

Los Angeles officials are still struggling to get a handle on how much the Michael Jackson memorial cost the city’s treasury, but newly elected City Controller Wendy Greuel had sticker shock when one relatively small bill crossed her desk. 

The Emergency Management Department spent $48,826 for 3,500 lunches from Jensen’s Finest Foods in Wrightwood in San Bernardino County for first responders during the memorial.

The controller didn’t know about the request until after it was approved, because expenditures under $100,000 can be expedited when the city is “operating in an emergency,” according to a letter she sent to the department’s head, James Featherstone.

Greuel told Featherstone she would have rejected the expenditure, particularly after her staff called a nearby Subway and was given an estimate of $17,491.25 for 3,500 boxed lunches. “That’s a potential savings to the taxpayers of more than $31,000,” Greuel wrote.

“While it appears your office followed the rules for when an emergency is declared, it does not appear your office took steps to find the lowest possible price to provide lunch for the first responders,” Greuel wrote. “Additionally, in an effort to support local businesses during these difficult economic times, it would have been preferable to make this purchase from a business located in the city of Los Angeles, as opposed to nearly 80 miles away.”

Featherstone could not immediately be reached for comment.

On Monday, Greuel sent a letter to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, City Council President Eric Garcetti and the council's budget chairman calling for a new policy governing financial responsibly for extraordinary events to “protect our scarce resources during this budget crisis.”

[Updated 4:27 p.m.:Featherstone said late today that the lunches his department ordered for first responders were intended to keep them fed for what could have been an all-day deployment.

"We have to feed the 3,000-plus responders who are in a ready-response posture. They checked in before dawn and had potential to go for 12 or 15 hours. It wasn’t just a boxed lunch."

The boxed lunches that the department ordered from Jensen's -- a vendor that Featherstone said the city had used for years because of its ability to prepare several thousand lunches for first responders like firefighters within 24 hours -- included two sandwiches, two drinks, package desserts like cookies or brownies, a candy bar, trail mix, chips or crackers, a granola bar and a pack of gum.]

-- Maeve Reston at L.A. City Hall