Field Notes

Tension awaits Cogen when he returns to work

If Multnomah County Chairman Jeff Cogen returns to work Monday and finds himself in a hostile work environment, he will have no one but himself to blame.

If he shows – he didn’t on Friday – it will be his first day of work since his four fellow commissioners made it clear that they do not want him around.

It’s been two weeks since employees of Multnomah County were informed via anonymous email that Cogen had been carrying on an affair with one of his top health advisers, Sonia Manhas.

In the time since then, Cogen has avoided opportunities to mend fences and find a way forward.

That came to a head on Thursday when he decided to strike a defiant tone portraying himself as the victim of a witch hunt and allow friends of his to attack his fellow commissioners, sometime in a tone that stepped beyond sexist.

Several times over the past couple of weeks, people who have been friendly with Cogen, who have been some of his strongest allies, have made it clear that they are not going to judge him for having an affair, deeming it a personal issue.

What has them feeling hurt, furious and betrayed is the disrespect they believe Cogen has shown for them and the way the system works, the way things are supposed to work.

Emails between Cogen and Manhas showed him allowing her to bypass her boss, undermining her authority.

Instead of hearing what they were saying and addressing the problem, he spent the better part of the week avoiding his colleagues.

Their take on it was one of sympathy.

They saw him in the hallways, his head bowed. Several described him as a shell of his former self, as someone almost invisible. They figured he had so betrayed his family and those close to him, that he couldn't face what he had done.

Part of the decision to ask for his resignation came after seeing him like that. There was a consensus that if he couldn't face his colleagues and co-workers there was no way he would be able to lead.

He couldn't even have a conversation.

Things got worse when he decided to defend himself with a media outlet he figured would be friendly. He went there before approaching any of the other commissioners. They heard him telling viewers he was sorry before he had ever spoken those words to the people who had been his friends, people be bad been close to.

One of those people was Sonia.

The first she heard about it, I'm told, was when the friendly station started promoting it.

And when she saw the interview her reaction was to tell others that Cogen had thrown her under the bus.

And when she resigned and told others that Jeff should do the same, he ignored the opinion of someone whose emails seemed to give him direction.

He claims that he has apologized to her but it's not clear if he did or how substantive it was. Manhas did not respond to attempts to reach her on that topic.

So, Cogen has chosen to play the victim, trying to portray himself as the victim of personal attacks, ignoring the fact his fellow commissioners have made it clear their issues have been professional.

And while decrying personal attacks be has allowed them to be made against those who had been close to him.

Monday should be interesting.