PORTLAND, Ore. – Hundreds of emails between Multnomah County Chairman Jeff Cogen and Sonia Manhas paint a broader picture of their relationship – one sprinkled with flirtation, talks of private lunches and persistent smiley faces.
The two grabbed lunch often, went to a Rush concert together and Cogen’s kids babysat her children.
“It’s weird,” Manhas wrote in October 2011 about the babysitting. “Yup,” he wrote back.
Cogen on Tuesday night admitted that he had an 18-month extramarital affair with Manhas, the policy and planning director at the Multnomah County Health Department. He told Willamette Week he regrets the harm he's caused his wife and children and he doesn't plan to resign.
He declined to speak with us Friday when we went to his house.
After reviewing 687 pages of emails sent between the two over their county email accounts, KATU found flirtatious emails and undertones of a deeper relationship -- and a whole lot of smiley faces in the emails. The two also discussed the job promotion that Manhas ultimately received.
Among the signs of something deeper: In June 2011, Manhas alluded to a conversation the two had in the car.
She wrote: “Fun last night. I’m intrigued with what you shared on the drive back about marriage. Let me know if you are interested in picking up that conversation sometime. You can also tell me if this is totally an unwelcome inquiry.”
Cogen wrote back: “Hope you’ve crossed the border into vacation. Let’s get lunch again and we can continue our conversation.”
In several of the emails, they compliment each other and in one email he praises her physical appearance in a photo.
Many of the emails are about work-related matters, but several times, they talk about grabbing some time before a meeting to meet up.
After Manhas received a promotion, other county workers speculated that Manhas got the promotion because of her relationship with Cogen – something he has denied. (Public records show Manhas listed Cogen as one of her two references.)
But the emails show the two did talk about the promotion: Manhas forwarded the job opening to Cogen with the message: “FYI (with a smiley face emoticon).” He emailed back a smiley face.
In September when Manhas got the job, Cogen emailed her: “Damn, that Sonia woman sounds great!”
Cogen has said he doesn’t believe he violated any county rules because Manhas isn’t his subordinate.
Coincidentally, in one email sent Aug. 30, 2011, Manhas wrote in reference to a county project: “…I would rather work directly for you.”
“Sounds good to me!,” Cogen wrote back.
KATU News reporter Dan Tilkin contributed to this report.