OLCC chief to media: "Stop asking questions"

Well, yesterday's meeting of the board of the besieged Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission (slogan: "What Could Go Wrong?") was even more entertaining than was expected. The chair of the board, Paul Rosenbaum, spent the first 15 minutes berating the media for daring to ask for comments from him and the other commissioner bobbleheads about what I'm calling Bourbongate (but nobody else is picking up on my cute name). 

If you're just joining us, this is the collector-booze-diversion operation that illegally enriched at least a half dozen OLCC executives. The mid-level manager in the middle of it, who moonlights on the Sandy City Council when he's not in the hospital on a bender, has implicated potentially dozens of other well-placed people in government, including elected members of the Legislature. There is a criminal investigation under way into who benefited and how.

It's the biggest news story in the history of the agency, and the governor just fired the CEO, but according to board chair Rosenbaum, people should stop "aggravating" him by asking him about it.

It's hard to tell from media reports of his harangue exactly what he was saying happened. At one point, he seemed to say he didn't know, but then he suggested that he did know but had to keep everything confidential because it was a personnel matter.

"What did we know? Nothing. Nothing. There is not one person up here who knew a thing about the process, the procedure, the thing we're all discussing today," Rosenbaum said. "Not one. And if we didn't know about it — and we didn't — how could we participate in it? We didn't. So stop asking questions about that, I'm telling you nobody knew anything about it."...

"Now here's the kicker to this whole thing, to me. I was told that this employment record was confidential," Rosenbaum said. "Let me say it again, it was confidential. Let me say it a third time so the press understands it more than anybody else — it was confidential. In this day and age, people think they can lie and it's perfectly okay. People think that confidential means that you breach it."

"Eight months later when this blows up in The Oregonian, The New York Times, The New York Post and everything else," he continued. "You want to look at me and ask me, did I do the right thing? Yes I did. Yes I did, I look at you and tell you without a doubt, this was the right thing to do. Confidentiality is confidentiality."...

"We're the most ethical people you ever want to see," Rosenbaum said of the other board members. "These are all wonderful people, they're all business people, they're all doing this as a matter of public service."

"Our job is to set policy," he declared at one point. Making sure there's no corruption is not his bag, apparently.

Eventually Rosenbaum's tantrum got so ridiculous that one of the agency lawyers in the room told him, not in so many words, that he was in a hole and should stop digging. 

"We're going to get to the agenda after I finish my opening statement," Rosenbaum responded. "Because my opening statement is in response to what we're doing here and the aggravation we have taken. And I think it's important that we get this out."

Then, as if to add to the comedy, one of the other commissioners, a guy named Marvin Révoal, started waxing poetic about what a wonderful, beautiful group of people the OLCC was.

Commissioner Marvin Révoal signaled he was prepared to fight efforts to privatize liquor distribution, a change grocers have proposed for years....

"I also want to thank you for stepping up. Make sure to keep your job open, just in case," said Commissioner Marvin Révoal, chuckling. "For a number of years I've bragged about Oregon — 'Oh, we didn't do what that state did, we didn't do what that state did.' I'm not ready to stop bragging about Oregon and OLCC. We're going to need your help."...

“I’m not ready to stop bragging about Oregon and OLCC,” Reveal said. “I’m not ready to see us, on my watch, go down like Washington went down.”

It's too bad Portlandia is off the air. This would have been a heck of an episode.

So now what?

If I were Governor Kohoutek, I'd be on the phone with old Paul today, first thing. Maybe old Marvin, too. And this would be my end of the conversation:

1. I have question for you: Have you ever received preferential treatment at an OLCC liquor store or at a cannabis store? Would you be willing to repeat that under oath?

2. Thank you for your service, but I want your resignation on my desk first thing Monday morning.

3. Before you decide what to do, take a look at the statute that allows me to remove you from the commission. Among the acceptable causes are "inefficiency." I'm willing to test what that word means in your case.

These people really, really don't get it. The more they insult the media, the more questions that are going to get asked. Questions that they definitely don't want to be answered in public. Can you imagine what might be going on with all the money flowing through there, and a bunch of ethically challenged cowboys at the top?

But Paul's running this show, so stop with your questions. Before coming to the OLCC, he was on the Port of Portland commission for quite a while, you know. More of those "most ethical people you ever want to see." Uh huh.

CORRECTION, Thursday morning: KGW is now calling it "Bourbongate," too.

UPDATE, Thursday evening: He resigned today.


  1. Actually their brazen arrogance is in perfect alignment with the career political class that routinely tells us pesky citizens that all is well so stop complaining…..oh, and vote yes on the upcoming capital gain tax plan so the lawyers who won’t work for the public defenders office can sue landlords who hope to receive rent payments from tenants. Any chance the homeless class might relocate to local apartments and then refuse to pay rent?

  2. The privilege afforded many of Oregon’s political appointees crept into corruption years ago. The local media was happy with their occasional press release and never thought to ask some obvious questions.

  3. Why would anyone “volunteer” to be an OLCC commissioner? There has to be some reason!

  4. I saw a portion of Rosenbaum's rant and had to turn away it was so cringeworthy. Shushing your own lawyer when they are trying to get YOU to shut up is so on brand.

    1. It's the exact opposite of damage control. In the old days, they would have hired Gard + Gerber to do containment. And they would have put a muzzle on Mr. Hothead.

  5. So many hidden interests are invested in the liquor monopoly status quo. Among the largest is the beer and wine industry who benefit from relegating the sales of their competition to shabby little strip malls (with huge mark ups).

    They know that having liquor on the shelves in grocery stores will cut into their sales, and that the transition from wholesale liquor mark ups to some other form of retail alcohol tax will probably factor them in as well.


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