PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Multnomah County’s board chairman refuses to go down without a fight. He would not answer KOIN 6 News’ questions Thursday, only saying he has said he’s sorry to the woman with whom he had a two-year affair.
“I have apologized to Sonia,” said embattled Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen.
While Cogen can walk away from Sonia Manhas, and the non-binding resolution asking for his immediate resignation, it is the Attorney General’s looming criminal investigation that could be Cogen’s real obstacle.
The A.G. will examine — among other expenses — a second trip to Atlanta back in April where he canceled his hotel room to upgrade to a more luxurious hotel awaiting Manhas’ arrival.
“If she had no legitimate business to be on the trip, but he authorized the trip,” said Lewis & Clark Law Professor Tung Yin, “then this could be misuse of public funds.”
The office also will look into emails between Cogen and Manhas such as this one from Manhas: “I would rather work directly for you.”
During Thursday’s board of commissioners meeting Cogen made it clear he is not stepping down. That’s even though his Multnomah County colleagues say they can no longer trust him as their leader — voting in favor of a resolution calling for his resignation.
Cogen refused to quit at Thursday’s commission meeting, and effectively vetoed the resolution calling for him to resign. A unanimous vote was needed, and Cogen voted no in the 4-1 vote.
At Thursday’s meeting, commissioners Deborah Kafoury and Loretta Smith began the meeting expressing their disappointment in Cogen and both said his admitted affair with former Health Department policy director Sonia Manhas was distracting from the business of the county.
Many citizens also spoke out at the meeting. More people wanted him to step down, but some citizens spoke up for Cogen and said the investigation should play itself out.
This comes as Portland Mayor Charlie Hales is saying he and Cogen worked well in the past and he hopes that continues.
Cogen was elected in 2010 to a four-year term.
Yin at Lewis & Clark said the AG’s office will be sifting through emails, expense reports and receipts filed by Cogen and Sonia Manhas, specifically looking at money spent during trips. One example is the $1,065.68 Cogen spent during a conference in Atlanta also attended by Manhas.
“I think that what will really attract serious attention to the A.G. is to be able to show it was illegitimate use of public funds,” Yin said. “So trips that she was brought on — authorized by Mr. Cogen that have completely nothing to do with her job field — that’s going to be a tempting target. But, if it’s arguably within her field, and all the A.G.’s office can say is ‘You didn’t have to bring her’ then I think Mr. Cogen can respond and say ‘But it is relevant to her field.’”
If Cogen is cleared of criminal wrongdoing, he could face a recall. If a recall petition is filed with the county, 90 days are alloted to get enough signatures to qualify. After the county verifies the signatures, Cogen would get five days to respond. If he refused to resign, the recall election would come 35 days later. In all, the recall process takes 140 days.
Cogen has roughly 18 months left in office. A recall is possible, but some question whether there is enough time for that.
“By the time you went through the process and gathered enough signatures, you’re only cutting off a short amount of time,” Yin said. “I think the real question is will he resign.”
On KPAM Thursday morning, Hales expressed his previous good relationship with Cogen.
“Jeff is a good partner and has worked very well with me in the time that we’ve been here,” Hales told KPAM. “We’ve been working on some ways to make the city and the county more efficient in terms of who does what and we’re making progress on those fronts, so I hope that will continue.”
In an afternoon statement, Hales said: “I’m saddened for everyone involved in this story. However it all works out – and I have no comment on that – the City and the County have work to do on a wide array of services for our community. That requires great partnerships among elected officials and staff. That was true in the past, it’s true now and it will be true in the future.”
Cogen continually declined to comment on his future as the commission’s chair and said he will await the outcome of the investigation by the Oregon Attorney General.
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