Commissioners will vote on call for Cogen to resign; state AG investigating

Commissioners will vote on call for Cogen to resign; state AG investigating
Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen.

PORTLAND, Ore. -- A week after Multnomah County Chairman Jeff Cogen admitted to an affair with a county employee, the county's district attorney and sheriff have requested that the Oregon attorney general investigate his actions.

On the heels of the announcement of the criminal investigation, the Multnomah County Commissioners also said they will introduce a resolution on Thursday calling for Cogen's immediate resignation.

“The four county commissioners are concerned about the 4,500 employees who work here,” said Multnomah County spokesman Dave Austin. They don't want this issue “hanging over their heads.”

The emergency order calls for Cogen to resign because of "inappropriate professional conduct," "inappropriate influence," and "real or perceived misuse of county assets."

All four of the commissioners want Cogen to resign. It was unknown whether Loretta Smith would vote for the resolution, but sources told KATU News early Thursday morning she would. The emergency order seeking his resignation said Cogen has damaged Multnomah County's credibility.

"The conduct of Chair Jeffrey S. Cogen has caused significant concern in his ability to continue to serve as the senior elected official in Multnomah County," the order said. "The board has lost trust and confidence in Chair Jeffrey S. Cogen's judgment and ability to continue to provide leadership."

Commissioners will vote on the resolution at their regular board meeting on Thursday morning.

Attorney General investigation

The attorney general investigation will look into whether Cogen violated any criminal laws in his long-term affair with Sonia Manhas, policy and planning director of the Multnomah County Health Department. The affair spilled into private lunches and county-paid work trips to Atlanta and Salem, public records show.

"As presented to the public, the facts could lead some to question whether any criminal laws have been violated," the letter to Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum from District Attorney Rod Underhill and Sheriff Daniel Station said. "Without expressing any opinion as to whether any criminal laws have been violated or not we have concluded that an investigation to answer that question is warranted."

It wasn't immediately clear what specific evidence led to the investigation. However, Jeff Manning, the attorney general's office spokesman, said he suspects it related to how county expenses were used.

"I'm assuming they will be honing in on the money," Manning said, adding: "Just because they've asked for this doesn't mean we'll find anything."

Austin said a second investigation looking at whether Cogen violated any personnel rules is still ongoing and separate from the attorney general probe.

He said the sheriff and district attorney requested the attorney general investigation on their own -- it was not requested by the commissioners.

"It is important that any investigation be, and is perceived to be, completely fair and impartial," the letter said.

After Cogen confessed to the affair, hundreds of pages of emails released to the media between him and Manhas shed light on how far-reaching the affair was. They discussed private lunches frequently as well as the promotion Manhas ultimately received.

The two took two trips to Atlanta, including one in April of this year for a "best practices" tour, where Cogen stayed three nights at Loews Atlanta Hotel for $249 a night -- and Manhas later told The Oregonian she stayed with him.

Cogen expensed the hotel stay with the county.

While Manhas announced her resignation Wednesday, Cogen remained on the job and had made no indication he planned to resign.