City Councilwoman Helena Brown, of District A, wouldn't allow six staff members to leave a meeting last April until everyone signed a document saying Brown had told a 22-year-old staffer she should seek medical care because of her pregnancy, according to a letter that employee filed with Mayor Pro Tem Ed Gonzalez on April 23.
Brown said during the meeting that there was "need to let Sandra go due to her pregnancy," according to a letter obtained by The Houston Press. Sandra Kim, who'd written the letter, had gotten pregnant by another office member, Bryan Lengoc, 24.
"Sandra, you need to go to a doctor to get medical leave and I need to make arrangements for your absence," Brown told Kim.
In the days following this meeting, Brown's chief of staff, Leticia Ablaza, her deputy chief of staff, R.W. Bray, and an intern all resigned. Everyone had signed the letter. "We were forced," Ablaza said.
Bray told the Houston Press his job with Brown "compromised his integrity." Both Sandra Kim and Bryan Lengoc are still employed by Brown.
The meeting capped several weeks of tension inside Brown's office, in which staffers clashed with each other following the addition of a man named Enrique Reyes, who some inside the office speculate had been hired to "usurp Ablaza and Bray's authority." According to interviews with staff members, Reyes spied on others in the office and texted comments from internal meetings to Brown or William Park, Brown's volunteer "senior adviser."
Park, according to numerous interviews with those familiar with the situation, dictates virtually all of Brown's actions on City Council. He was banned from the finances industry last year for failing to pay a Los Angeles woman who had successfully sued him for a slew of investment law violations. Park still hasn't paid the woman.
Brown, and her ties to Park, are the subject of this week's cover story, Strings Attached.
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Following Ablaza's resignation, Brown released a statement implying that she had quit to become a full-time mother -- which wasn't true. "I was really upset about that," Ablaza said. "And I have no idea what was going through her head."
Adding mystery to a situation already riven with them, Brown -- who has vociferously opposed all unnecessary spending in the city budget -- recently bought at least one plane ticket to Korea with public money. The trip cost $10,883.57, according to Brown's expense report. Hotel accommodations haven't been added yet.
Her office didn't respond to inquiries involving the trip, but after surveying airline costs at numerous airlines, it's apparent that an $11,000 ticket to Korea isn't a bargain. Economy fares hovers below $2,000 and even first class -- though it can go well above $11,000 -- is often much cheaper.
For a woman who says Houston can't afford payment to caregivers of the chronically ill, or to fulfill pension obligations, she apparently doesn't have any qualms with spending public money on first-class trip to Asia.