Sarah Davis Started Asking Questions About Government Agency Misconduct and Government Agency Executives Started Resigning
When investigative reporter Jay Root reported on lavish trips and questionable expenditures of tax dollars at the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission in the Texas Tribune, State Rep. Sarah Davis went to work.
As chair of the House Committee on General Investigating and Ethics, Davis took seriously her role to serve as a taxpayer watchdog. Within weeks, she had hauled TABC leadership before the committee, asking pointed questions, such as whether it was appropriate to spend tax dollars on a flier promoting their tax-payer funded trips:
According to the Texas Tribune:
Davis, "put the top brass on the hot seat for several hours. A few days later the executive director resigned. By July, a total of seven top agency honchos had left the agency — including the executive director, the deputy executive director, general counsel, licensing director, chief of enforcement and head of internal affairs.
"'This hearing was initiated by investigative reporting that revealed a pattern of inappropriate and unethical conduct within the TABC,'Davis wrote. 'The response from this hearing was decisive, with multiple top TABC officials tendering their resignations.'"
Davis Exposed a Pattern of Waste, Fraud and Arrogance
“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.” (https://www.texastribune.org/2017/04/13/tabc-hot-seat-over-trips-and-spending-controversies/)
Davis exposed the head of agency “internal affairs” as a shill who covered up for agency executives:
“Peña was no stranger to controversy at the TABC. As head of the department of professional responsibility, which acted as the agency's internal affairs division, Peña investigated complaints against TABC employees.
Critics called him “Captain Cover-Up,” complaining that he used his position to protect top honchos. Peña investigated whether TABC violated its own rules after it failed to get an alcohol permit for an open-bar hospitality suite during a liquor industry convention in Austin last year. In a Jan. 5 internal report, Peña, who reported directly to Cook, the executive director, said there was “no merit” to the allegations.
“If it involved management, he would cover it up,” said Darryl Darnell, a former TABC lieutenant-turned-whistleblower, who filed the permit-related complaint against Cook.
Peña was questioned about his approach to sensitive investigations during a confrontational April hearing of the House General Investigating and Ethics Committee. Davis, the committee chair, told Peña there is a “culture at the TABC of pay-to-play and ... everyone at that agency is untouchable.”
Peña acknowledged that it’s a “very difficult job to investigate your boss” but he said he stood by his reputation and his work product over his many years in law enforcement, much of it in an internal affairs capacity.
“I welcome scrutiny of what I do,” he told Davis.“Well,” she responded. “You’re certainly going to get it.” (https://www.texastribune.org/2017/07/06/two-more-liquor-regulators-leaving-troubled-tabc/)
Other media outlets began to weigh in as Davis’ investigation unveiled new facts:
"Why would leaders of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission become certified peace officers? So they could qualify for ‘hazardous duty pay’ while traveling on junkets. That's the testimony induced by Houston state Rep. Sarah Davis in a House Ethics Committee meeting that ultimately resulted in the resignation of TABC director Sherry Cook. Cook and staff were busted for misuses of travel money during a Hawaiian junket.” Houston Chronicle, Editorial, 4/20/2017
In addition to exposing a certified peace officer scam by agency officials, Davis asked pointed questions about employees who were hired at TABC after being fired at other state agencies:
“Davis made her comments after her committee began digging into a controversial practice that came to light…One of them, former General Counsel Emily Helm, had been fired — and deemed ineligible for re-hire — at the troubled Texas Youth Commission during a turbulent period there a decade ago. Helm said through a spokesman shortly before leaving the TABC that her superiors knew about her history at the TYC.”
Texas Tribune, July 27, 2017