02-22-2019  10:29 am      •     
The Skanner News
Published: 30 July 2013

In his role as Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen has done good work. Despite shrinking government revenues, Cogen championed the social welfare safety net and kept the books balanced.  Under his leadership, the county has made a significant commitment to equity in contracting, hiring, and justice. It has built one of the best health departments in the country.

Much more remains to be done in all those areas. And on disaster preparedness where we've been disappointed in the county's lack of outreach.

It's true that in most circumstances, having an affair is not a firing offense. If it were, we'd see a lot more people losing jobs. But Cogen's mistakes were far more than a private stumble that's best sorted out in family therapy or with pastoral support. The affair between county boss Cogen and his subordinate Sonia Manhas hurt the county and its employees.

Cogen has denied pulling strings to promote Manhas to a top job in the health department. And we'd like to make it clear that we believe Manhas deserved her position.

Nevertheless their affair has created the perception that power was abused.

But that's just part of the harm done. For almost two years, Cogen and Manhas maintained a secret affair, manipulating their work environment to carve out time together, blurring the lines between work and romance, traveling together on more than one occasion. Their colleagues have a right to feel betrayed.

It's clear they had passion for their work. But it's unclear where that passion left off and their passion for one another started. It's also unclear if the affair would have stopped had their reckless behavior not been called out by an anonymous letter.

Nobody likes being lied to or taken for a fool. County employees don't like it. County commissioners don't like it. And neither do voters.

So even though law does not require it, it's hard to see how Cogen can justify holding tight to his job when Ms. Manhas was forced to quit hers. After all, both are adults and Cogen was in the more powerful position.

Cogen denies any misuse of county funds and resources. But even if the criminal investigation agrees, his ability to lead has been irreparably damaged.

Unfortunately, Cogen is no longer the man for the job. Last week all four of his colleagues asked him to resign. He refused.  As an elected official that is his right. He answers to the citizens of Multnomah County and no-one else.

But the crux of the matter is that Cogen has lost the confidence and trust of his colleagues and the public. He simply can't continue supervising 4,500 employees under that cloud. That leaves him no other alternative. Chair Cogen, you should resign.

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