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TABC director quits after jet-setting across country on taxpayer's dime

Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission?Executive Director Sherry Cook prepares to testify before the House Committee on General Investigating & Ethics on April 13, 2017. (Crecit: Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune)

AUSTIN (AP) - The embattled director of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission has resigned after lawmakers sharply criticized her agency taking taxpayer-funded trips to Hawaii and San Diego.

Sherry Cook's resignation came weeks after the Texas Tribune reported on those trips and the ties between the agency and the beverage industry it regulates.

John Wittman, a spokesman for Gov. Greg Abbott, said Monday that Cook's departure was necessary "to restore trust in the agency."

Lawmakers from both parties questioned Cook after the Tribune report, which included a flyer for one conference featuring Cook's picture with a bottle of Lone Star beer superimposed on her hand.

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Sources: Embattled TABC director resigning after jet-setting across country on taxpayer's dime

Jay Root, The Texas Tribune

AUSTIN, Texas - Sherry Cook, the embattled executive director of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, is expected to announce her resignation as early as Monday, sources with knowledge of the decision say.

Sources inside both state government and the alcohol industry said an announcement of her departure was imminent. TABC spokesman Chris Porter would neither confirm nor deny that Cook was resigning.

The expected move comes after The Texas Tribune reported that Cook and others at the agency had been jet-setting across the country on the taxpayer's dime to attend conferences largely funded by the alcohol industry.

It also comes after Cook and other top TABC honchos got a brutal grilling last week before the House Committee on General Investigating and Ethics about the spending controversies and the agency's failure to produce accurate reports about the state-owned vehicles the top brass has been driving.

John Wittman, a spokesman for Gov. Greg Abbott -- who appoints the commissioners who oversee the TABC -- said Cook's departure would help the agency get back on solid footing.

"It became clear that action needed to be taken in order to restore trust in the agency," Wittman said. "And Ms. Cook's resignation is the first step in that process."

It's time to clean house from regulators not spending taxpayer money wisely. This is a good start. #txlege #tcot https://t.co/Cf5aHd2VOu

-- Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) April 17, 2017

Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, who played griller-in-chief last Thursday as chairwoman of the panel that pressed Cook for answers, said Monday she had not been briefed about the TABC director's future. But she welcomed a shakeup at the top of TABC -- extending beyond Cook.

"If she is resigning, I agree with the governor's office that it is a good first step in restoring confidence in the agency," Davis said. "I think it was more than just the executive director that was traveling on taxpayer dollars to Hawaii. Based on the testimony from last Thursday, how can Texans have confidence in the TABC with the continued employment of any of the witnesses that were called?"

During the hearing, Cook -- who took the job in 2012 -- acknowledged that her agency had misused state resources by creating a now-infamous flyer depicting the top brass guzzling or holding Lone Star beer while jetting off to a California meeting of the National Conference of State Liquor Administrators.

Read related coverage:

Texas alcohol regulators know how to party: records show they've spent tens of thousands of dollars to travel to swanky resorts where liquor flows and industry lobbyists abound. For more than three hours, top TABC officials were grilled by House members for misusing state resources, taking trips to Hawaii on the taxpayers' dime, mixing vacation with state duties, misreporting who has been assigned which state-owned vehicles, and cozying up to the very industry they're supposed to be regulating.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2017/04/17/embattled-liquor-regulator-resign-sources/.

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The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans -- and engages with them -- about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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