Spokesman: Cogen's affair didn't happen on taxpayer dime

PORTLAND, Ore. - Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen's admitted extramarital affair with a female county employee isn't affecting county business and wasn't conducted on the taxpayer dime, his spokesman said Wednesday.

Cogen first admitted to the yearlong affair with Sonia Manhas in interviews Tuesday night with newspapers The Oregonian and KATU's news partners, Willamette Week.

Manhas was promoted to her $98,000 a year position in the health department in September 2011. Cogen claims their affair only began five months after that.

Dr. Gary Oxman, retired Multnomah County health officer, was on the panel that granted Manhas her promotion.

"I've had the opportunity to work with her over the years," he said. "She's very committed to achieving good outcomes in the community. She's very community oriented, really seeks to involve the community wherever possible."

Oxman went on to say he didn't see any influence either directly or indirectly Cogen had on her promotion. He said the promotion was a fair and open process.

A spokesman for Multnomah County said Cogen is taking vacation time to deal with this matter but takes full responsibility for this mistake. The spokesman said the county's work continues while Cogen is away.

The county's policies don't allow for someone to directly supervise an employee they have an intimate relationship with. Cogen has argued he was not Manhas' direct supervisor.

Their relationship might never have gone public if county employees hadn't spotted him kissing Manhas in front of the Kenton Library in North Portland and in a booth and a bar in Portland.

An anonymous email sent to county workers reads: "This behavior shows lack of values, principles and judgment. You have a choice, you can ignore this or you can address it. But, if you choose to ignore this information, things will only get worse and morale will continue to decline. What a shame if this information ever got leaked to the media."

It is signed: "A Multnomah County Employee."

The four other county commissioners who serve with Cogen sent a statement to the media Wednesday afternoon.

The four women said they're disappointed in Cogen's conduct and there are significant questions about county business that needs to be answered. They're expecting the county attorney to look into this.

County attorney, Jenny Madkour, said she's looking into this matter and so far has found nothing that indicates Cogen's affair was against county policy or state law.

So far Cogen has avoided KATU reporters. On Tuesday night, his staffers drove him from his office while he lay in the backseat of a SUV. And Wednesday, he left his home in Northeast Portland and ignored a KATU reporter as he got into his car and sped away.

Cogen's admitted affair stands in stark contrast to some videotaped comments he made in 2010, speaking in support of same-sex marriage at the time.

"I've been married to my wife, Lisa, for almost 20 years now, and it's been the most important relationship in my life, literally defining my life," he said. "We've had so many adventures together - even starting with the wedding itself, which was a way we drew together all of our friends and all of our family, and everyone together celebrated our love. That was an amazing day in my life."

Cogen went on to mention him and his wife sticking together through ups and downs. His comments came months before the affair started.