State Rep. Linda Harper-Brown said Tuesday that she has stopped driving a luxury car owned by a company that makes millions through state contracts.
The 2010 Mercedes E550, as well as a 2004 Chevrolet Tahoe, was part of the compensation package given to Harper-Brown’s husband, William E. Brown III, by Durable Enterprises Equipment Ltd.
Harper-Brown (R-Irving) told The Dallas Morning News that she was directing her husband to rework his compensation package from the company to exclude the cars. In theory, Brown would instead receive cash and then buy vehicles on his own. He said he could end up with the cars, but they would be in his name.
"My constituents are more important than the cars," Harper-Brown said Tuesday.
"I did not see that there was a problem driving the car," Harper-Brown said. "Because there is the perception of impropriety, I’ve asked him to change that and I haven’t driven the car."
Harper-Brown maintained, though, that she had not done anything wrong and didn’t see a problem driving the cars, which she outfitted with special license plates reserved for state officials.
She has not reported the cars on financial disclosure statements or in campaign finance reports. She said she was not required to disclose use of the cars because they are part of compensation for her husband’s accounting work.
Harper-Brown said Tuesday she would ask the Texas Department of Transportation to audit all contracts held by Durable Enterprises Equipment and related companies.
And she said she would introduce a bill in the Legislature to require state officials to include the income, gifts and compensation given to their spouses on personal financial disclosure reports.
Democrats have hammered Harper-Brown for driving the cars and have suggested that the arrangement between Brown and the owner of Durable, Jeffrey C. Bryan, may amount to bribery.
The Texas Values in Action Coalition, a group that pushes Democratic Party causes, has turned over information about Harper-Brown and Bryan's companies to the Travis County District Attorney and the U.S. Attorney's office in Dallas.
On Tuesday, the organization continued to attack Harper-Brown's involvement with Durable and Bryan through the use of the car.
"Once again, Linda Harper-Brown is failing to address the serious issues at hand here," said Russell Langley, a Texas Values in Action Coalition spokesman. "She can't un-drive the car and think that the taking of it in the first place was ethical or legal. That's like trying to give back the money after you've been caught robbing the bank."
Bryan owns other companies, two of which have received more than $12.3 million in contracts from the Texas Department of Transportation over the last three years. One of Bryan's companies, Paradigm Traffic Systems Inc., got into the business of selling red-light camera components after Harper-Brown won passage of a controversial red-light camera bill during her freshman legislative session in 2003.
Harper-Brown said Tuesday that she has never cast any votes to assist Bryan's companies. She provided information form the Texas Department of Transportation showing that he got the bulk of his work through contracts that were put out for bid.
Harper-Brown fought back tears when she discussed dealing with perceptions that she was acting unethically by driving the car.
And she conceded that there could be a criminal investigation or one by the state ethics commission and that she would cooperate with authorities.
"I have always been above board and supported transparency," she said. "I don't like that I'm being accused of not being that, or being unethical."