The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission is facing tough times. The agency’s acting director quit recently, and several high-level employees were fired after a news investigation revealed spending sprees on out-of-state trips.
Trouble with the agency came to a head when a controversial TABC flyer depicted staff drinking at out-of-state conferences. Texas Tribune Reporter Jay Root, who headed the news site's investigation, says Licensing Director Amy Harrison was fired as a result, and Director Ed Swedberg quit in solidarity.
The flyer was symbolic of a larger problem. Root says Harrison and others at TABC were taking lavish trips that troubled legislators.
“High-ranking bureaucrats, including the director of the agency, Sherry Cook, and the licensing director, Amy Harrison were also involved in going on some of these junkets to Hawaii and spending taxpayer dollars, which was much criticized in the legislature,” he says.
Root says, as a result, the legislature froze the agency’s travel fund for two years. It’s also barred from taking money from outside groups.
The agency is also being criticized for overregulation of Texas businesses like Spec’s and Austin’s Cuvee Coffee.
“[At Cuvee] you could get beer, like, canned, and then take it out with you. There was a regulatory action on that,” Root says.
Root says the message the TABC is sending to businesses with liquor licenses conflicts with Gov. Greg Abbott’s pro-local government stance.
“It does not go along with the narrative that we’re hearing from the way state government or government should be treating businesses,” he says.
In the case of Spec’s, Root says the TABC wanted to take the entirety of Spec’s liquor licenses, or fine the company $713 million, for not paying an invoice to the agency on time.
“This was a case of regulatory overreach on steroids,” Root says.
Written by Caroline Covington.