Speed Reads

Buzz kill

Top Texas alcohol regulator resigns after reports of alcohol-fueled junkets

The downfall of Sherry Cook, who announced her resignation as executive director of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission on Monday, began with an illustration TABC staff created — during work hours, on work computers, with input from senior staff — to commemorate a work trip to California.

Cook is the TABC official on the left holding up a bottle of Lone Star, shouting "Woo Hoo!!!" In late March, Jay Root at The Texas Tribune uncovered the illustration while reporting that Cook and other top leaders of the Texas alcohol licensing and regulatory commission had spent at least $85,000 since 2011 on out-of-state travel, largely to meetings of the National Conference of State Liquor Administrators (NCSLA) in posh hotels in places like Hawaii, Florida, and that $8,000 trip to San Diego. The Texas Tribune report led to a hearing last week before the Texas House ethics committee at which Cook and other TABC leaders were grilled about their use of taxpayer funds.

NCSLA is a trade group primarily financed by the liquor industry, and it also kicked in funds for the TABC travel, as well as paying for the open bar at its conferences. TABC officials told The Texas Tribune that the conferences are necessary to network and keep abreast of what other states are doing in alcohol regulation, but critics call the alcohol-fueled NCSLA junkets a way for the beer and liquor industry to maintain control of Texas' sometimes arcane alcohol regulations. "The TABC is ... not protecting the consumer," said Howard Wolf, a lawyer in Austin. "It's not protecting the taxpayer. It's protecting these very wealthy industry companies that own and dominate the industry."

Cook, 57, has worked at TABC since 2006 and held the top job since 2012. She painted her departure as a retirement, effective May 23.