A Houston City Council member known as an aggressive budget cutter has taken heat for taking a trip to Asia with taxpayer dollars.
District A council member Helena Brown is known as "Dr. No" to some at Houston City Hall. She has voted against funding for after-school programs and bike trails, among other things.
Her decision to spend almost $11,000 of the city's money to travel to Asia might seem a little out of character.
The purpose of the trip was to campaign for more direct airline flights between Asia and Houston. Brown accompanied the city's aviation director on the first leg of the trip to China and Taiwan, but then she went to Korea on her own.
Brown's district has a large Korean population. She gave City Council a report Wednesday about her trip.
"While in Korea, I had the opportunity to look at the demilitarized zone off the 38th parallel that divides North and South Korea," Brown said. "I saw, firsthand, the very real tension along the DMZ and the danger North Korea presents to South Korea."
Mayor Annise Parker said no city business was done in Korea.
"I think the council member is going to have a very spirited conversation with her constituents," Parker said.
Paul Kubosh is one of Brown's biggest supporters. He said other City Council members have spent city funds for trade trips, so he won't pass judgment on her without getting more information.
"I don't know why any City Council person should ever have to leave the city," he said.
In a news release sent after KPRC Local 2 aired this story on Wednesday, Brown's spokesman said that while in Korea, Brown spoke to officials about direct flights to Houston.
"In Korea CM Brown met with officials from the cities of Incheon and Seoul. There was much interest and excitement among the city officials about the possibility of a direct flight to Houston. They believe it is vital to have this flight to increase economic trade opportunities as Houston is the center not only of the oil industry but also the Medical Center," said John Griffing, Brown's director of communications.