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Another top TABC honcho departing amid controversy

Steven Weinberg abruptly quit this week as commissioner of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, which has been roiled by reports of extravagant spending, mismanagement and heavy-handed regulation.

Commissioner Steven Weinberg attended the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission's quarterly meeting via video conference on May 23, 2017. Weinberg quit the day of the meeting. Chairman Kevin Lilly, left, alongside Commissioner Ida Clement Steen, right, recognized Carla Thompson with a promotion to Captain.

There’s been another departure from the upper echelons of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, which has been dogged by reports of extravagant spending, mismanagement and heavy-handed regulation.

One of three TABC commissioners who oversee the troubled agency, Steven Weinberg of Colleyville, abruptly quit Tuesday, The Texas Tribune has learned.

The move came just hours after Weinberg effusively praised embattled director Sherry Cook, whose abrupt retirement in April was hailed by Gov. Greg Abbott as a “good start” in cleaning up the problems at the TABC. Cook officially left the agency on Tuesday, the same day Abbott’s office got Weinberg’s resignation letter.

Weinberg, appointed to his post by former Gov. Rick Perry, did not respond to messages seeking comment.

On Wednesday state Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, cheered Weinberg’s decision but said other TABC officials need to go, too. Davis has been looking into the agency from her powerful perch as chair of the House Committee on General Investigating and Ethics.

“I’m glad to see further changes at the commissioner level of the TABC,” Davis told the Tribune. “That being said, more changes are needed with respect to the executive management team of the agency. Sherry Cook was not the only TABC employee taking advantage of their position with a state agency at the expense of Texas taxpayers.”

When Cook announced her retirement last month, the governor also suggested there was more to come.

“It's time to clean house from regulators not spending taxpayer money wisely,” Abbott said on Twitter at the time. “This is a good start." 

Davis put Cook and other top officials in the hot seat during a TABC oversight hearing in her committee in mid-April. At the gathering, Cook acknowledged that TABC misused state resources when it created a now-infamous flyer depicting top agency honchos partying at out-of-state liquor industry conferences.

This graphic humorously references a trip that top state liquor regulators took to the National Conference of State Liquor Administrators in 2015 at a cost of more than $7,000 in taxpayer money. The illustration was created by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission during work hours on a state computer with input from top agency officials, records show. Pictured from left to right are TABC Director Sherry Cook, Licensing Director Amy Harrison, Analyst Jesse Valdez and then-TABC technology contractor Jim Andrews. TABC illustration


The flyer came to light during a Tribune investigation of the agency. The Tribune revealed trips the top brass took to resorts in Hawaii, California and Florida on the taxpayers’ dime, widespread misreporting of state-owned vehicles, and employees cozying up to the very industry they were supposed to be regulating.

Legislators from both parties also have criticized the agency for its supercharged regulatory tactics, including the action TABC took against Cuvée Coffee in Austin. TABC fined the bar’s owner and kept his beer-canning “crowler” machine for months after judges told regulators to return it. 

During a regularly scheduled board meeting Tuesday — the last with Cook as agency director — Weinberg’s praise of Cook and other top agency officials stood in stark contrast to the statements made by Abbott, Davis and other top Republican officials.

“I was around when we picked you as the executive director and I pat myself on the back every day for that decision,” Weinberg said. “I congratulate you for an incredible job well done.” 

Weinberg also said he planned to “educate” the new chairman of the commission, businessman and former Army tank commander Kevin Lilly of Houston. Lilly, Abbott’s first TABC appointee, was brought in to help clean up the agency. Abbott recently elevated him to chairman of the three-member board.

In a brief interview Tuesday, Lilly said his first order of business is finding a replacement for Cook.

“A new executive director is going to be brought forth with a mission to foster and promote a culture of excellence, professionalism and accountability,” Lilly said. “If that is not being done at any level within this organization, then he or she has the absolute support of me to make changes as changes need to be made.”

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