Cogen returns to work; internal county investigation launched

PORTLAND, Ore. - Multnomah County Chairman Jeff Cogen returned to work Monday, sidestepping reporters outside a county building clamoring for comment on his long-term affair with Sonia Manhas.

"No comment. I'm just going back to work," Cogen said.

But it was far from business as usual. While Cogen emerged from isolation following his admission last Tuesday about his 18-month affair, Multnomah County's attorney has launched an internal investigation.

The investigation is to determine whether he violated any county rules or ethics in his extramarital affair with Manhas, the policy and planning director for the Multnomah County Health Department.

Cogen has said he did nothing wrong because he is not Manhas' direct supervisor. But emails released Friday following a public records request show that Manhas often went directly to Cogen about county matters and that the two had discussed her promotion.

The emails also show extensive correspondence between the two, talk of private lunches, flirting and mutual flattery.

The county attorney wouldn't comment on the internal investigation or discuss the process. She said she's reviewing all public records requested by the media, carefully looking at the timeline and particulars of their affair and if he played a role in her promotion.

Then, the county attorney will decide whether to ask for an outside agency to conduct an investigation.

Still, it's doubtful Cogen could lose his job even after an outside investigation. That would only happen if he resigned, voters recalled him or he lost the general election.

County ethics

According to Multnomah County's code of ethics, employees are prohibited from using county equipment, such as computers and cell phones, for personal use that's more than "brief and infrequent."

Employees also are barred from "discussing or debating the appointment, evaluation, employment, compensation, promotion discharge, firing or demotion" of someone they have an intimate relationship with.

Manhas listed Cogen as one of her two references for the job promotion she ultimately received.

Asked what work Cogen was doing Monday, a county spokesman said he was taking caring of county business, although there was nothing scheduled on his work calendar.

Manhas also was not at work Monday; officials said she was taking a vacation day. She was off all last week and officials said they don't know when she will return.

Cogen has no plans to talk with the media in the immediate future.