In Short

Oregon liquor commission chairman Paul Rosenbaum resigns one day after fiery defense of board in bourbon scandal

By: - February 16, 2023 7:06 pm
Distilled whiskey in Kentucky

Oregon liquor regulators had rare Kentucky bourbons set aside so that they could buy them. This whiskey was distilled in Kentucky in August 2016 to mark the total lunar eclipse from Salem, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission chairman Paul Rosenbaum resigned Thursday, one day after delivering a fiery defense of the state’s liquor agency and how it handled a bourbon hoarding scandal. 

Gov. Tina Kotek requested his resignation, Kotek spokeswoman Elisabeth Shepard confirmed to the Capital Chronicle. Shepard declined to comment on the reason the governor wanted Rosenbaum to resign or whether Kotek plans to ask any other members of the seven-person commission to step down. 

During Wednesday’s commission meeting, Rosenbaum spent more than 15 minutes complaining about press scrutiny of the agency and coverage of recent revelations that at least six top-level employees of the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission used their positions to obtain special access to rare bourbon. 

He described the commission as “the most open public agency in this state, bar none” and its board as “the most ethical people you ever want to see.” Rosenbaum stuck to those notes in a one-page statement announcing his resignation, most of which consisted of a list of agency achievements since his appointment in 2017. 

“I am proud of the hard work of my fellow commission members and of the thousands of good and honest employees at OLCC,” Rosenbaum said in his statement. 

Rosenbaum learned about an investigation into six top employees, including former Executive Director Steve Marks, on Sept. 8, 2022, he said. He said he didn’t share anything about that investigation with his fellow commissioners or anyone else, and he said he was told that the employees were reprimanded. 

“Neither I nor any of my fellow commissioners were part of the investigation,” he said. “In addition, neither I nor any of my fellow commissioners were asked to endorse or otherwise evaluate the investigation.”

Rosenbaum and fellow commission members are unpaid volunteers. They set policy and approve or reject applications for liquor licenses, but professional staff handle the day-to-day operations of the agency. 

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum is leading a criminal investigation of the commission employees involved in diverting bourbon for their personal use, and Kotek has requested a subsequent civil investigation into the agency. Shepard said Rosenbaum would be included in the scope of that civil investigation, though the governor has no reason to believe he participated in the liquor diversion. 

Marks, the longtime director of the agency, resigned on Wednesday, two weeks after Kotek asked that he leave. She’s also asked for the other top managers to resign.

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Julia Shumway
Julia Shumway

Julia Shumway has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. An award-winning journalist, Julia most recently reported on the tangled efforts to audit the presidential results in Arizona.