PORTLAND, Ore. -- The last time Multnomah County Chairman Jeff Cogen was in the office he was tearfully confessing to having carried on an affair with one of his top policy advisers for 18 months.
On Monday will return to the office, planning to be at his desk around lunchtime.
The minute news that he was coming back hit County offices on Friday, the phone calls started. And they have not subsided.
From ground-level workers to department directors to County Commissioners, there is one message coming across – they are not ready for him to come back, according to county employees who spoke with KATU on the condition on anonymity.
An enormous amount of good will – if not all that was remaining – went out of the picture on Friday as people at the County digested the hundreds of pages of emails between Cogen and the woman he was having an affair with, Sonia Manhas, that were released to the public.
While the emails are “sprinkled with flirtation, talks of private lunches and persistent smiley faces,” as my colleague Laura McVicker pointed out, that is not what has people upset and losing faith.
As the four commissioners said in their only public statement on the Cogen Affair, “We consider much of the situation to be a personal matter for him to deal with on his own.”
The county staffers that I talked to, some of whom consider themselves long-time Cogen allies, described the problem as fury over what they believe is a contempt for his colleagues and for the way things are supposed to work.
“It’s not a question of the affair,” said one. “As was said, that is a personal matter. What is wrong – and what the emails make clear – is that he allowed her to time and again bypass her boss, bypass the process.”
There are emails where she suggests talking points, where she comes up with plans to work directly out of his office a couple of days a week, where she suggests that the closer she works with his staff, the stronger the results will be.
There is never a hint that he discouraged her from that approach.
“He completely undermined the health department director,” said a second. “Every single department director will read those emails and say has he done that to me or will he do that to me.”
The county officials I’ve spoken say that while they are not going to judge Cogen for having an affair, they are concerned that the relationship taints their accomplishments.
They add that they are also having a hard time with Cogen’s admission that much of the affair was conducted over lunches and hotel rendezvous, presumably during the day.
They know that being a County Commissioner is not a straightforward 9-5 job; that it’s really not all that hard to rack up well over 40 hours a week without much effort.
Still, they told me, there is a belief that during the day, when most people are work conducting the County’s business, their boss should not be off at a hotel conducting an affair with a colleague who should also be at her desk.
In their statement earlier this week, the four County Commissioners said: “There are significant questions to be answered with respect to the county’s business and to ensure that the standards of Multnomah County are upheld.”
I’ve learned that some on the commission believe the email answered at least some of those questions and that while they have not made any public statements since then, that silence may not last much longer.