When Gov. Eric J. Holcomb asked David Cook, ’72, to become Indiana’s new Inspector General, the request came as a bit of a surprise.
“I didn’t apply for the job,” said Cook, who began his appointment on Feb. 8. “The governor has expressed a considerable amount of confidence in asking me to accept the position, and I’m humbled by that.”
The Office of Inspector General was created in 2005 and is statutorily charged with addressing fraud, waste, abuse, mismanagement, and wrongdoing in state government.
Of Cook’s appointment, Gov. Holcomb said, “I am grateful that David has agreed to serve Indiana in this position, and I am confident that he is the right man for the job of ensuring Hoosiers get the great government service they deserve.”
Cook previously served as chairman of the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission (ATC). He was appointed to the ATC by then-Gov. Mike Pence in 2015 and reappointed by Gov. Holcomb in 2017. That commission is responsible for regulating and licensing the alcohol and tobacco industries and directs the Indiana State Excise Police.
Prior to that, Cook served as judge of Marion Superior Criminal Division 7, a high-volume misdemeanor court. From 1995-2008, he was the chief public defender for Marion County. Additionally, he served as a judicial officer on civil and family law cases in the Marion County Circuit Court. From 1979-1989, he worked in the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office as chief trial deputy. He also spent time in private practice.
A business major at Ball State, which he attended after serving in the U.S. Army in Europe, Cook made the Dean’s List several times as an undergraduate. “I have good and fond memories of Ball State. The quality of the instruction, I recall, was excellent and prepared me to be successful in law school at Indiana University.”
As a prosecutor, Cook handled 13 capital cases—an experience that he said “changed my life, professionally and personally. It caused me to really look at both sides of a particular dispute to make determinations about what was or wasn’t appropriate going forward, and to not take any of that lightly.”
Looking at both sides of an issue was a trait he became known for at the ATC.
Indiana’s alcohol and tobacco laws are “very, very complicated; a series of legislation beginning in 1933 that has just kind of stacked up on top of each other. And it creates a very difficult to understand and navigate situation for people who are just trying to do a business and make a living. They are dealing with a serious, addictive substance that is worthy of regulation, and so how you balance regulations without interfering with business development in the state is a tricky balance sometimes.”
Cook learned early on that, in the minds of many of those who owned businesses serving or selling alcohol, the ATC’s State Excise Police “were just trying to trap them doing hyper-technical violations so they could write them tickets and so forth. So, without conceding that that was necessarily true, certainly if that was the perception then that was a problem.”
Shifting the focus
Under Cook’s leadership, “We tried to shift so the primary focus was educating people on what these complicated laws were, why they were in place, and actually assist them with compliance, rather than just be punitive in nature.”
To help facilitate that change, Cook launched a series of roundtables that created an open dialogue between the agency and industry. “It was a long process, but I think that we’ve made considerable progress. We have developed a good, strong relationship with the industry, and they now look to our officers for answers to questions rather than trying to avoid them.”
At the same time, Cook perceived a problem with the ATC not being alerted soon enough about bars and taverns “that were not good neighbors and were harboring criminals or having a lot of violence or drug activity.”
In response, the ATC and Excise Police established PACE (Proactive Alcohol Compliance Enforcement) to coordinate with local law enforcement agencies and focus limited excise enforcement resources on alcohol premises that have become a public nuisance.
A new challenge
Cook sees his new role as Indiana IG as “in line with what I’ve done my entire career, which is try and improve the product that’s coming out of whatever agency I have a leadership position in. My background is in prosecution and investigation, and making decisions about some difficult topics fits in with what I’ve been doing my entire career.”
When not working, Cook said he relishes time with his wife, Chris, and their family, which now includes two grandsons and two granddaughters (a third granddaughter is due later this year). He mentions that his Nashville-based son, Kyle Cook, is lead guitarist of the internationally famed rock band Matchbox Twenty. He loves to cook and do home improvement projects, and he longs for the time when the COVID pandemic is over and he can enjoy weekly Sunday family dinners at their Indianapolis home.
At a time of life when many of his peers have already retired, Cook said he’s not considering it. “It would be uncomfortable for me to just sit home all day long. I’m not ready for that. As long as I can contribute, I’d just as soon be involved and active and accept a new challenge. And that’s what I’m doing.”