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Texas alcohol agency grilled about expensive travel, events and take home cars

Tens of thousands of your tax dollars are spent on travel to exotic locations for events featuring square dancing, mariachis and alcohol. (Courtesy: Texas Tribune)

SAN ANTONIO - Tens of thousands of your tax dollars are spent on travel to exotic locations for events featuring square dancing, mariachis and alcohol.

Officials with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission were grilled by lawmakers in Austin about those trips.

A legislative committee questioned TABC's executive director about the $85,000 she and her deputies have spent on out of state travel since 2011. The panel also had questions about the events, paid for in part by the liquor industry, which they are supposed to be regulating.

The Texas Tribune got a hold of PowerPoint slide made by TABC staff while on state time. The Tribune obtained it through an open records request. It shows TABC Executive Director Sherry Cook, her staff members and some venders humorously depicted as flying to one of the conferences while drinking beer.

Cook claimed she had no role in creating it, but lawmakers read her an email in which she asked another executive if she liked the design of the slide.

“We agree with you it's not appropriate and it's not something we would ever hope to see coming out of our offices in the future," says Cook.

As for the airfare, hotels and meals paid for with taxpayer money,

some of the destinations included Hawaii, New Orleans and even San Antonio.

Cook could not recall how many TABC employees attended the San Antonio conference when questioned by Committee Chair Sarah Davis.

Davis: “And who would have paid for, so many employees that you don't know the number of, to go to San Antonio?”

Cook: “It would have been considered training.”

Davis: “So the taxpayers? For an unknown number of employees to go to San Antonio. Taxpayers paid for their hotel, right?”

Cook: “Correct."

Cook said the conferences allowed her staff to exchange valuable information with officials from other states and the liquor industry.

The committee also asked Cook why it was necessary for her and other executives at TABC to become commissioned peace officers a few years back, which entitled them to receive hazard pay, take home vehicles and guns.

Cook replied that on rare occasions they have to respond to the scenes of emergencies.

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