Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Helena Brown only violates city law this week

Terrance McCoy at the Houston Press -- who had the lengthy expose' last week -- remains hot on the trail of Council Member Helena Brown's troubles adhering to the law. It might not be as bad as violating federal laws regarding the altering of employee timecards, but fundraising during the blackout period is still a legal no-no.

In an attempted violation of city law, and in yet another puzzling move by embattled City Council member Helena Brown, the District A representative solicited money from local Korean businessmen late last month for a trip she took this week to Seoul -- though she had already paid for it with public money.

According to chapter 18 of the City Charter, Brown cannot receive direct contributions unless it's during city-sanctioned campaigning months -- February before an election until March afterward. During "blackout" periods, if a candidate or council member gets direct money, said City Press Secretary Jessica Michan, it's a violation of city law. Whether Brown actually got money is unclear -- but she sure did ask for it.

In a recent e-mail, which the Houston Press obtained, Brown said: "The trip to Korea is a costly trip. ... Please make checks out to Helena Brown who will personally be offsetting the costs."
But that wasn't true. Brown paid for airline tickets to South Korea with public money -- $11,000 -- according to her expense report. Enrique Reyes, her director of communication, said last week hotel costs hadn't been charged yet, but declined all questions. Brown's office said the council member returned to Houston (yesterday).

Asking for direct contributions under such circumstances appears to break both city law and Harris county policy. Brown not only solicited money during a period when it wasn't allowed, but in her e-mail she also asked all contributors to pay her at a June 28 gathering held at a Harris County building in Spring Branch, a violation of County policy. Meeting organizers are informed before forums that fundraising isn't allowed. "If solicitation for money was happening, that's not right," said Ricardo Guinea, director of the Sosa Community Center, which housed the gathering.

Hard to tell where the stupidity ends and the corruption begins with this woman. The Chron reports that "misstatement" is the order of the day.

A statement released by Brown's office Tuesday states that her adviser William Park - who is not a paid member of her staff - sent an email to Korean community leaders saying that if they wanted to sponsor a businessman on the trip they could do so via Brown's office.

"That statement was sent in error. While CM (council member) Brown could be the vehicle by which private financial assistance of non-city employees could be handled, CM Brown understood full well that this type of situation might be misconstrued as a campaign contribution during the "black-out" period and therefore instructed all potential contributors who communicated to her to deal privately with potential delegation participants instead," the statement reads.

Helena Brown is simply a poor representative for her district, to say nothing of overseas with Asian officials.

As Charles notes, there has to be a lot of cringing going on among the District A lords and ladies who got behind Brown's campaign to unseat incumbent Brenda "I've been in every bar everywhere I need to be" Stardig last year. There are likely handfuls of differing factions of conservatives holding competing meetings already, discussing 2013 campaigns for the Oak Forest/Spring Branch seat on council.

But another year and a half of Helena Brown is 18 months too much. She should resign now and negotiate a plea for the crimes she has (allegedly) committed and save herself and the city further embarrassment.

Update (7/14): Brown's Asian vacation has gone national.

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