The head of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission has announced she will leave her post in May amid revelations that she spent state money on expensive trips to conferences funded largely by liquor companies.
Sherry Cook, executive director of the commission since 2012, said in a news release Monday that she plans to retire from the agency May 23. The decision comes a month after the Texas Tribune reported that Cook and other agency employees spent thousands of dollars in taxpayer money for trips to resorts in Florida and Hawaii, among other places, for meetings hosted by the National Conference of State Liquor Administrators, an industry trade group.
Cook, a Bastrop resident, did not say in the release why she was retiring, and agency spokesman Chris Porter did not provide additional information.
“I want to thank all of the employees and peace officers at TABC for their hard work, dedication and support. I’m very proud of all they have accomplished keeping Texans safe and regulating a growing industry,” Cook said in the statement.
Reacting to the announcement, Gov. Greg Abbott said in a tweet: “It’s time to clean house from regulators not spending taxpayer money wisely. This is a good start.”
According to the Tribune, Cook, 57, makes $153,503 a year. The agency regulates the sales, taxation, importation, manufacturing, transporting and advertising of alcoholic beverages.
Cook was grilled last week during a House General Investigating and Ethics Committee hearing about, among other things, a flyer that depicted Cook and other top agency officials holding or drinking Lone Star Beer as they rode on a plane on their way to a liquor administrators conference.
According to the Tribune, Cook told lawmakers that the flyer was an “inappropriate use of our time” and agreed it was a misuse of state resources to exchange emails about creating it.
Among other issues the Tribune has reported:
• Since 2011, the agency has spent at least $85,000 on trips out of state
• The agency billed the state $8,000 for a conference trip to San Diego and $10,000 to send four people to a conference in Honolulu. The liquor administrators conference, which is funded in large part by the alcohol industry, paid another $2,000 for part of the agency officials’ latter trip.
• The agency spent $28,000 to send 17 employees to a conference in San Antonio and plans to send others to the conference this year in Colorado.
• A complaint was filed against the agency for not following its own rules and obtaining a permit to serve alcohol during last year’s conference in Austin. Agency officials said that it had conducted an internal investigation and turned over the findings to the Texas Rangers but later said the Rangers never received the investigative report.
Cook, who oversees more than 600 employees, an $84 million biennial budget and almost $200 million in annual revenue collections, joined the agency in 2006 as an information resources manager before moving up the ranks. Before that, she worked for the Texas Department of Public Safety in a variety of roles, including crime analyst.
Commission Chairman José Cuevas Jr. applauded her for 40-plus years of public service in the news release.
“Sherry Cook epitomizes the strength of Texas women, having risen from a single parent working at the Department of Public Safety to the highest ranks of the leadership at TABC,” he said.
The commission plans to discuss Cook’s replacement during its May 23 meeting.