Top liquor regulator got ‘hazardous duty’ pay on Hawaii junket

TABC (Texas Tribune Photo)
TABC (Texas Tribune Photo)

AUSTIN (Texas Tribune) — The state’s top liquor regulator got “hazardous duty pay” — typically provided to state employees doing risky work — while attending alcohol industry conferences at fancy resorts in Hawaii, Florida and California, state records show.

The reason: Sherry Cook was trained as a “peace officer” — a cop — a designation that allowed the director of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission to increase her take-home pay, get a state-owned vehicle and fill her tank with free state gas.

Cook is not alone.

TABC paid to help Deputy Director Ed Swedberg get trained last year as a certified police officer and gave him a car even though he — like Cook — is a civilian employee whose job description does not require peace officer certification, records show.

The agency’s annual reports show the number of employees provided state-owned cars at TABC’s Austin headquarters has more than doubled in less than a decade. In 2008, six people at agency headquarters had state-provided cars, the report that year said. By the 2016 fiscal year, that number had shot up to 15, the reports show.

High-powered weapons apparently come with the job, too. A top former TABC official said he ordered Cook an M4 Carbine — an assault rifle similar to an M16 — plus a Glock pistol, a bulletproof vest and handcuffs, all as part of the standard-issue package peace officers at the agency get.

“They are just carrying their peace officer commissions to reap benefits,” said Darryl Darnell, the agency’s former inspector. “They just wanted to be peace officers so they could drive a car and carry a gun.”

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