Sherry Cook, executive director of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC), announced that she will retire from her job this May amid reports that revealed she had spent taxpayer money on lavish trips to conferences that are largely funded by liquor companies.
Cook's decision to leave comes less than a month after the Texas Tribune reported that Cook, as well as other agency employees, spent thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds to attend conferences held in Florida and Hawaii, among other places.
Cook has led the TABC since 2012 — she plans to retire on May 23, almost five years later. The conferences were hosted by the National Conference of State Liquor Administrators (NCSLA), an industry trade group "that brings liquor interests and government regulators together at swanky resorts around the nation."
In March, the Texas Tribune reported:
"The gatherings aren’t cheap. TABC billed the state at least $8,000 for the jaunt to San Diego alone, records from the agency and the state comptroller's office show. And in 2013 TABC shelled out more than $10,000 in taxpayer funds to send four people to the association’s annual conference at the Sheraton Waikiki in Honolulu, according to the records.
NCSLA — funded in large part by the alcohol industry — spent another $2,000 in direct-billed lodging and airfare reimbursements for the island adventure, state records obtained by the Tribune show.
The state comptroller's records show the alcoholic beverage commission has spent at least $85,000 on out-of-state travel since the 2011 fiscal year, much of it on liquor industry conferences. Almost $17,000 has been paid to NCSLA for registration and membership fees over the same period, the comptroller records show."
Over the years the liquor association also provided travel reimbursements to the agency and its employee, although the TABC did not indicate a specific amount.
Cook did not give details when she made the announcement in a news release.
“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's statement reads.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott is most likely pleased with Cook's decision — he tweeted that it was "time to clean house" after the Tribune first published its report.
Cook's retirement from the agency also comes after members of the House General Investigating and Ethics Committee grilled top TABC officials. Rep. Sarah Davis, who chairs the committee, passed around fliers created by the TABC staff that depict officials in a plane guzzling alcoholic beverages. When Cook was pressed to explain the image, she admitted it was a misuse of state resources, which is illegal.