The chairman of Oregon’s liquor control agency stepped down under pressure Thursday, a day after making an impassioned speech that acknowledged he’d known of an agency scandal for months.
Paul Rosenbaum announced in an evening statement that he’d submitted his resignation at the request of Gov. Tina Kotek.
“As the Governor requested this morning, I submitted my resignation as chair of the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission today,” Rosenbaum said in a brief statement that included a list of his accomplishments during six years atop the volunteer board overseeing the agency.
The statement did not specify why Kotek had asked for Rosenbaum to step down as chair of the OLCC Board of Commissioners. A spokeswoman for the governor, Elisabeth Shepard, would only confirm that Kotek had asked for the resignation, but would not explain what led to the move.
What is clear is that Kotek had not requested Rosenbaum’s resignation prior to a 15-minute speech he made at the outset of an OLCC board meeting Wednesday morning. In that speech, Rosenbaum tore into press inquiries he’d received after revelations top OLCC managers had reserved bottles of rare bourbons for their own purchase.
The speech seemed aimed in part at defending the seven-member OLCC board from suspicion that they’d covered up an internal investigation into the matter.
“What did we know? Nothing,” Rosenbaum said. “There is not one person up here who knew a thing about the process, the procedure, the thing we’re all discussing today. Not one. ... So stop asking questions about that.”
But then Rosenbaum seemed to contradict himself, revealing that as board chair he’d been told of the matter last September, and had not said anything because he believed the investigation to be confidential.
“As I explained yesterday at a public Commission meeting, I was informed about the bourbon diversion investigation and its disciplinary conclusions on September 8, 2022,” Rosenbaum said in his statement Thursday. “Neither I nor any of my fellow commissioners were part of the investigation. In addition, neither I nor any of my fellow commissioners were asked to endorse or otherwise evaluate the investigation.”
The bourbon scandal has led to a criminal investigation by the Oregon Department of Justice, which Kotek’s spokesperson cited as a reason she could not say why the governor had asked Rosenbaum to step down. “He’s still subject to the investigation,” Shepard said.
With Rosenbaum’s resignation, the rare bourbon investigation has now claimed two of the OLCC’s top officials — longtime Director Steve Marks resigned on Wednesday.
More departures seem certain to follow. Five other agency managers who acknowledged reserving themselves bottles of rare liquor are likely to be fired by Craig Prins, the agency’s new interim director, who was handpicked by Kotek.
An attorney, former Michigan state lawmaker and current CEO of a chemical manufacturing company, Rosenbaum was tapped to lead the OLCC by former Gov. Kate Brown in 2016. In the role, he helped guide the agency from being entirely alcohol-oriented to its new rule overseeing and regulating recreational cannabis within the state.