Velvet Lounge, a popular downtown bar decorated with reclaimed lumber and local art, is a quiet place to grab a drink with friends; it is not a raging nightclub, an ambience underscored by the smiling, 150-pound young man who checks IDs at the door. He is there to streamline the bar and keep underage kids from entering; arm-twisting, crowd control and heave-hoing drunks aren't part of his job description.
Yet, this particular doorman, Adam Mattern, who makes $10 an hour and often stands just a few hours a week, was recently slapped with a $435 ticket for failing to be certified by a little-known state agency, the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, which among other tasks licenses "private security professionals and private investigators."
"I'm bummed," wrote Velvet Lounge owner Cori Hamilton in an email. "I wish they would have just let us know that we were not following the rules correctly and I would have done whatever was needed to be in compliance."
That ticket, along with three other hefty citations on bars and staff downtown last week from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC), has bar staff and owners miffed—and nervous. Critics said such complex laws and certifications seem excessive—especially given that many bar owners said they were unaware of the DPSST law.
News of the alleged infractions spread quickly through the tight-knit community that runs Bend's favorite watering holes. Many of those same bartenders and owners say the recent enforcement of an old law is only the latest round of crackdowns from a state-controlled agency that they see as redundant, outdated and unnecessary.
Bartenders and bar owners are concerned because the penalties handed out last week aren't for some gross oversight or dunderheaded negligence—like failure to card an underage drinker or over-serving a drunkard—but instead relate to the particular and precise qualifications and job description of the bar's doorman.
What is particularly onerous for small and low-key businesses like Velvet—the club was surprised to find out last week—is that a staff member specifically designated as a "doorman" must complete a seven-step application packet, which includes a pre-printed FBI fingerprint card and "Form PS-4" (an affidavit of the person rolling fingerprints), pay $115 and complete a full day's worth of training, which covers crowd control tactics, among other lessons.
Velvet Lounge was issued a warning for noncompliance. And Hamilton is working to get an outside security company to work the door, a move that will cost the bar triple, according to Hamilton, who noted that the former "doorman" left because expensive and intensive training hardly seemed worth the hassle, especially after receiving a $435 ticket.
"I have worked in bars in Bend since 1995 and have never heard of this [DPSST] requirement," Hamilton added. "I was never updated on the law change."
But that's the rub: It isn't a new law, just one that hasn't been enforced often, at least not in Bend.
According to the DPSST's Karen Evans, a private security training/investigator, the law requiring DPSST certification, which she said focuses on de-escalating aggressive behavior, has been on the books since 1995 and enforceable since 1997.
"The Oregon Legislature saw a need for this law," said Evans.
The Legislature might have, but D&D owner Ricardo Orazetti doesn't. Orazetti's downtown bar also was recently handed a ticket for a non DPSST-certified doorman. Orazetti is contesting the fine, which could cost the bar $1,650—the penalty for "allowing illegal activity," according to OLCC Regional Manager Katie Siefkes. The D&D's doorman also received a fine.
"I thought I was doing everything right," said Orazetti, who added that like Velvet, his bar isn't one for making problems.
"Any one of my employees can control the crowd," Orazetti said. "And we can call the cops [if need be]."
Crying foul and claiming ignorance, however, has Bend's OLCC regional manager baffled. Siefkes showed me the extensive checklist she offers every new bar owner. It is meant to help with compliance; DPSST certification is clearly on the list.
Additionally, Siefkes and the DPSST's Karen Evans offered a bar summit in early June in an effort to answer questions as well as alert area bar owners that OLCC operatives would be making the rounds this summer checking for compliance with various laws, including those barring overpouring and requiring DPSST-certified doormen. Siefkes said she invited 50 licensees, but only 12 showed up.
Siefkes concurs with Evans—DPSST certification isn't a new law. She said recent enforcement may be due to "some turnover in the enforcement director up there [Portland]." Siefkes noted that the OLCC is working for statewide consistency and insisted that no bars were being targeted or singled out.
But such talk is hard to swallow for Orazetti and others who still distrust the OLCC because of a 2010 scandal, in which Jason Evers, a rogue OLCC state liquor enforcement manager, stole the identify of a murdered 3-year-old in order to avoid deportation to his Bulgarian home, as well as a 2010 internal audit that found a host of problems at the OLCC, including poor oversight, recordkeeping and self-regulation. Such stains only enhance critics' views of the OLCC as a relic of Prohibition.
Oregon is one of only 18 "control states," where state-run agencies have a monopoly on liquor sales. The OLCC grew out of the temperance movement, was established as prohibition ended in 1933, and was meant to control and profit from distribution and sales of liquor. As a control state, Oregon joins Alabama and Mississippi, which have similar laws. Washington, a longtime control state, opted to privatize liquor sales and did so beginning Jan. 1, 2012.