Multnomah Co. Chair Jeff Cogen resigns in wake of affair

Multnomah Co. Chair Jeff Cogen resigns in wake of affair »Play Video
Jeff Cogen during a hearing in July about a resolution calling for his resignation. Cogen announced Friday that he would step down on Sept. 16.

PORTLAND, Ore. – Multnomah County’s top official, Jeff Cogen, announced his resignation Friday, less than two months after news of his affair with a county employee caused a media firestorm and led to a state investigation.

Multnomah County Chairman Cogen issued a statement just before noon Friday, announcing he was resigning, effective Sept. 16.

“I acknowledged having an affair with a county employee. My actions were heartbreaking for my wife, Lisa, and my children. And I know my behavior was disappointing for my staff, county employees and the people of Multnomah County who entrusted me with this important leadership position,” Cogen wrote.

Cogen’s chief of staff, Marissa Madrigal, will replace him, in accordance with county charter, until the next election in May.

At 35, she becomes the youngest chair in the history of the county and the first Latino.

Madrigal said she has no plans to run in the May primary election to keep the seat.

"There's a lot of different ways I can serve the county. There's a job in HR I look forward to taking," she said. "I will serve as chair as long as needed, but I have no interest in running."

Earlier this week, Madrigal accepted a position in the county's human resources department, but will delay beginning that job to be chair.

Looming investigation

Cogen said in the letter that he was confident a pending Oregon Attorney General’s Office investigation would clear him of any wrongdoing. He said media reports of the two-year affair “were filled with unfounded allegations suggesting that I had abused my position to advance Sonia Manhas’ career and that I had misused county resources to carry out our affair.”

The state investigation is looking into whether Cogen used county resources in his affair with Manhas. The two had taken county-paid trips together, including a trip to Atlanta, when Cogen said Manhas stayed in his hotel room.

She also received a job promotion during the affair and had listed Cogen as one of two job references.

A spokesman for the attorney general's office said Cogen's resignation does not affect the investigation "one iota." It remains an active probe.

On Friday afternoon, Cogen did not wish to speak to a KATU News photographer who came to his house.

Manhas, the former policy and planning director of the Multnomah County Health Department, resigned in July and told reporters she felt Cogen should step down, as well.

But Cogen at the time did not.

His resignation comes well after Multnomah County commissioners gave him a no-confidence vote July 25, encouraging him to resign. At the time, Cogen said he didn’t understand a “rush to judgment” and hoped to continue at the helm of the county.

“I’ve always told my children that we must face the consequences of our actions,” Cogen wrote Friday. “It is time for me to follow my own advice.”

Cogen said he’s been reflecting over the past several weeks “on the best interests of Multnomah County government and the people that it serves.”

“People want to move on from this distraction,” Cogen wrote. “They deserve to.”

Cogen said he now plans on working to repair his marriage and relationship with family members.

“This is a community with a long, inspiring history of community engagement and I intend to continue serving this community that I love,” he wrote. “But now, I need to do so as a private citizen rather than county chair.”

KATU News reporter Dan Tilkin contributed to this report.


Full letter that Jeff Cogen sent to county employees: 

Today, I am announcing my resignation as Multnomah County Chair effective September 16, 2013. In accordance with the county charter, my appointed designee, Marissa Madrigal, will serve as Chair until the election of my replacement next May. I am confident that the county is and will remain in good hands, and that its successes will continue.

Earlier this summer, I acknowledged having an affair with a county employee. My actions were heartbreaking for my wife, Lisa, and my children. And I know my behavior was disappointing for my staff, county employees and the people of Multnomah County who entrusted me with this important leadership position.

I am deeply sorry that I failed to live up to that trust, and for the pain my actions have caused.

After the affair was revealed, media reports were filled with unfounded allegations suggesting that I had abused my position to advance Sonia Manhas’s career and that I had misused county resources to carry out our affair. These baseless charges are being investigated by the Attorney General’s office. I welcomed the investigation and remain confident that it will clear me of these charges. 

I am truly proud of our achievements at Multnomah County during my tenure: from forging important new partnerships like the Gateway Center for Domestic Violence and the Mental Health Crisis Center, to finally tackling long-overdue projects like the Sellwood Bridge and the Gresham and downtown courthouses. Together, we secured stable funding for our libraries, saved the Oregon Historical Society and built and grew innovative, cost-effective services like the CROPS farm, SUN Schools, and our anti-obesity and community healing initiatives. These, and a host of other, actions have elevated community trust in county government.

But leadership is about more than a set of accomplishments. It is also about accountability.

I’ve always told my children that we must face the consequences of our actions. It is time for me to follow my own advice. Over the past several weeks, I have been reflecting both on the mistakes I have made, and on the best interests of Multnomah County government and the people that it serves. People want to move on from this distraction. They deserve to.

Continuing in my job as county chair runs counter to the higher standards I have espoused for my almost seven years of elected service. I can’t demand more of others than I expect of myself. The most important work I can do now is healing and repairing my bond with my wife and my family. It’s time for me to give that job my full attention.

This is a community with a long, inspiring history of community engagement and I intend to continue serving this community that I love. But now, I need to do so as a private citizen rather than county chair.

It’s been an honor to serve my fellow Multnomah County residents. Thank you for the privilege.