Multnomah Co. Chair Cogen refuses to quit

Multnomah County Commission Chair Jeff Cogen addresses the commission on a resolution calling for his resignation, July 25, 2013 (KOIN 6 News)
Multnomah County Commission Chair Jeff Cogen addresses the commission on a resolution calling for his resignation, July 25, 2013. (KOIN 6 News)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Multnomah County Commissioners brought forward a largely symbolic resolution Thursday morning asking Board Chairman Jeff Cogen to leave his post following his admittance to a year-long affair with a former policy adviser.

Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith speaks on the resolution asking Chairman Jeff Cogen to resign, July 25, 2013 (KOIN 6 News)
Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith speaks on the resolution asking Chairman Jeff Cogen to resign, July 25, 2013 (KOIN 6 News)

The board voted 4-1 to remove him, with Cogen being the sole dissenter. It failed due to a lack of unanimity, and he will remain in office. It followed more than an hour of public comment and commissioners’ statements, including one from Cogen, who refused their request for his resignation and vehemently denied that his affair constituted an abuse of his power.

“The media has been filled with accusations, innuendo and judgments about my behavior,” Cogen said. “But we have a system based on fact finding before condemnation… I deserve a chance for the facts to come out.”

“Can we, will we, be able to conduct the people’s business while under the cloud of suspicion, doubt and anger that faces us daily?” Commissioner Loretta Smith asked. “It is towards that end that I must respectfully ask our chair to resign.”

Last week, Cogen, a married father of two, admitted to an affair with 41-year-old Sonia Manhas, the director of policy and planning for the Multnomah County Health Department. The confession came after an anonymous email was circulated that alleged that Manhas had possibly been promoted to the position due to her relationship with him.

Manhas resigned her position Wednesday.

Here are some excerpts from Cogen’s address Thursday:

“I made mistakes, big ones. My affair has caused, I have caused, tremendous pain, and I’ve let a lot of people down; especially my wife Lisa, my family and my loved ones, but also, Sonia Manhas and her family, my staff and colleagues, and all of the employees at Multnomah County and the county residents that entrusted me with this important work. I am deeply sorry…”

“Two days ago, this board called for an independent investigation to determine whether my affair represented an abuse of power. I supported that call for an investigation, and I still do. I’ve promised to cooperate entirely with the investigation. I believe the investigation will find no abuse of power. But in any event, why call for an investigation without even being willing to let it begin…”

“I understand why people are upset. I understand why my colleagues are upset. I don’t understand the rush to judgment.”

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum also announced this week that the state is beginning a criminal investigation into whether Cogen misused funds and violated personnel rules with the relationship.

Faris Tanyos

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