Multnomah County head again refuses to resign over affair

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PORTLAND — The leader of Oregon's most populous county again refused to resign over a sex scandal Thursday, despite pressure from his fellow commissioners.

"I deserve a chance for the facts to come out," board Chairman Jeff Cogen said, just before a no-confidence vote by his colleagues on the five-member commission. The other four commissioners voted for Cogen to quit, but the resolution failed because it required a unanimous vote.

Cogen, 51, emphatically said "No."

The morning spectacle before a roomful of media, county employees and curious members of the public occurred nine days after Cogen admitted having a long-term affair with Sonia Manhas, the county health department's director of policy and planning.

The state Attorney General's office is investigating whether Cogen's affair represented an abuse of power, and whether any public money was misused during the affair, such as for travel.

Cogen is married with two children, as is Manhas. Their relationship began in 2011 and ended this spring.

Manhas, 40, resigned Wednesday from the job she was promoted to last year after listing Cogen as one of her two references. Manhas had already been a manager within the health department, and Cogen said he did not pull strings to get her the new, higher-paying job.

The resolution calling for Cogen's resignation said the affair has diminished his ability to lead and that his real or perceived misuse of county assets to further the relationship has lessened the community's trust.

"This has obviously been a huge distraction in the public's eye and it needs to end," Commissioner Deborah Kafoury said after the resolution was introduced.

But Cogen was not ready to go, saying it's only been a few days since his colleagues called for an independent investigation.

"I believe the investigation will find no abuse of power," he said. "But, in any event, why call for an investigation without being willing to even let it begin."

Though Cogen received no support from the board, he got plenty of backing from the roughly two dozen people who testified on the matter. All but two said he should remain on the job until the investigation concludes.

In general, they said everyone makes mistakes, and it should be up to the voters to decide whether he keeps his job. Cogen is up for re-election next year.

"I am very glad to not be Mrs. Jeff Cogen today, but I'm also very glad to be a Multnomah County resident and taxpayer under the leadership of Jeff Cogen," said T.J. Browning. "I tell you this to remind you the difference between a private trust and a public trust. To err is human."