Helena Brown Stayed at Luxury Hotels on Publicly Funded Trip to Asia

JW Marriott.jpg
cityweekend.com.cn
JW Marriott in Beijing: the "most cost-effective option available" in Beijing
Marking yet another strange turn involving City Council Member Helena Brown's recent trip to Asia, Brown stayed at a series of luxury hotels in Beijing and Seoul, charging the city more than $2,000 in six days of lodging expenses, according to her expense report. A Brown spokesman wrote in e-mail to the Houston Press that she chose these locations because they were the most "cost-effective options" available in Taipei, Seoul and Beijing.

She must not have been looking very hard. In Beijing, she stayed in at the five-start hotel, JW Marriott, which calls itself on its Web site "spectacular," featuring the "most luxurious accommodations," three "exquisite" restaurants and rainforest showers. Brown stayed three nights at the hotel, spending $1,210. It's unclear what her specific accommodations were; her office declined repeated requests for comment.

Next, she jetted to Seoul, South Korea, where she checked into the downtown Lotte Hotel, another opulent number complete with -- believe it or not -- a Greek statue inside the gym. The city got charged for $650 for her two nights there.

According to her travel itinerary, she met with at least two large, state-run oil companies while in Beijing -- the China National Offshore Oil Corporation and SINOPEC Corporation. These meetings weren't mentioned in Brown's press release last week, and it's unclear why, on a trip she said was to orchestrate a direct flight between Houston and Seoul, she sat down with large Chinese oil companies. She also met with Cameron International, another energy company, which is actually based in Houston.

She apparently traveled with her volunteer "senior adviser," William Park, who was banned from the investments industry last year for failing to pay a Los Angeles woman who successfully sued him for a bevy of financial law violations. Park, who was involved in energy investments while in the industry, has extensive business contacts in Los Angeles and Houston Asian communities, according to several people we interviewed. Park's relationship with Brown was explored in last week's cover story, Strings Attached.

Though Brown ultimately charged the city $13,573 on her trip to Asia, she ran a separate fund-raising campaign for the trip last month involving at least one e-mail and meeting with the local Korean business community. She asked them to make checks out directly to her. It's unclear whether she was successful raising money, but if she had been, it would have been a violation of city law under Chapter 18 of the City Charter, which bans direct contributions except during a campaign.

The trip -- and its extravagance -- contrasts with the narrative Brown projects at City Council meetings, where she castigates fiscal wantonness and needless spending. In her six months in office, she's voted against payment to caregivers of the chronically ill and against fulfilling city pension obligations.


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11 comments
krisfarring
krisfarring

I just have to say that Houstonites (is that the word?) should count themselves lucky she's not going on these kinds of trips on their dime: http://www.travcoa.com/why-travcoa/over-the-top. $2K over 6 days is pretty steep for most people, but when you factor in all meals, transportation, etc., it may not be all that much... A moderate hotel could be $200/night...

Doug
Doug

This would have been interesting if the author had done two things. First, check to see what alternative hotels were available at what prices in those locations. Second, it would have been interesting to see the expense sheets for the other councilmen (and the mayor) for similar junkets. Absent such additional data, it's just repeating the info provided by the mayors office against ms brown.

mgb88
mgb88

 Terrence McCoy, this is a non story. Of course she's going to stay at the JW Mariott. She's a sitting city council member for the fourth largest city in the United States. Where is she going to entertain heads of state, Best Western? How much did Annise Parker's trip cost.

break
break

Do as I say, not as I do.

Anthem281
Anthem281

Can she be impeached or recalled?  I need to start looking into this.

Dennis H.
Dennis H.

Sounds like she's using her council position as a front for a vacation.  Checks from the Korean community made out to her personally.  Doesn't pass the smell test in my opinion.

Roberto Campos
Roberto Campos

Good point. If she were traveling for personal reasons then that is a story, but I didn't get that impression from this article. Actually, after re-reading, I can't tell one way or the other.  I think this article lowered my I.Q. 

Dennis H.
Dennis H.

Was she conducting "official business"?  Sounds to me more like a vacation to the Far East. 

Dennis H.
Dennis H.

This comment is an insult to dog catchers. 

Roberto Campos
Roberto Campos

This is a non-story. The hotels' marketing material is hyperbole to begin with. The prices are, at worst, average. I would expect a city representative traveling in an official capacity to stay at a location within the sphere of influence of their destination that has the facilities necessary to effectively conduct business. Those places are not cheap. 

Thenonymous
Thenonymous

$2,000 for six nights? [shrug] That's an average of $333 per night for hotel stays in major international cities. Big deal. Go to London. Go to Tokyo. Go to Washington DC. $333 is well within the range of what you can expect to pay for a comfortable in-town hotel. That's not even necessarily "luxurious." That's just "nice." Helena Brown isn't fit to serve as dog catcher, but if you keep ragging on bullshit like this, you're going to end up undermining your arguments by looking petty.

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