July 18th, 2013 11:40 am | by NIGEL JAQUISS News | Posted In: Health, Media, Metro, Multnomah County, PDX News, Politics

County Official In Affair With Chair Jeff Cogen Faced No Competition for Job That Gave Her a 20-Percent Raise

Cogen says he played no role in getting Sonia Manhas her promotion.

cogenhealthJeff Cogen - Multnomah County

Sonia Manhas was the only person interviewed for the $103,299-a-year Multnomah County Health Department job she now holds—a promotion that gave her a 20 percent raise last year.

Manhas is the woman with whom County Chair Jeff Cogen on Tuesday admitted to having an affair.

Manhas is director of policy and planning for the county health department. She was promoted to that position in in September 2012, during the time she and Cogen were having the affair.

The details of her promotion—which have not previously been reported—raise further questions about Cogen’s judgment.

On July 1, 2012, Multnomah County posted a job for a new position. The job was open only to existing Multnomah County employees. Applications were only accepted for 13 days.

County spokesman David Austin says the job included the duties Manhas then held, plus the duties of the Health Department’s research director, who was retiring. (County officials say between 10 percent and 20 percent of job postings are available only to existing county employees.)

There were five applicants. Two were disqualified immediately because they did not work for the county.

The other two applicants, both health department employees, withdrew before the interview process began.

That left only Manhas, who by that time had been having an affair with Cogen for more than a year, according to the timeline Cogen provided to WW earlier this week.

(Other news media have reported that five people interviewed for the job. Austin says that is incorrect.)

As a result, Manhas was interviewing for a job half of which she already held; sleeping with the county’s highest ranking official; and facing no competition for the new post.

On Sept. 11, 2012, Health Department Director Lillian Shirley awarded Manhas the job. It came with a 20 percent pay increase, raising Manhas’ salary from $82,097.50.

Shirley reports to the county’s chief operating officer, Joanne Fuller, who reports to Cogen.

Cogen says he had nothing to do with Manhas’ promotion.

He insisted to WW his relationship with her did not violate county rules.

County personnel policies say an employee "may not be directly supervised by a person who is a relative, a member of the employee's household, or a person with whom the employee has an intimate relationship. This means the supervisor may not have any say or input into the subordinate individual's job benefits or detriments, either directly or indirectly."

She is not my subordinate; she does not report to me,” Cogen told WW on Tuesday night. “And my understanding is that while what I’ve done is really stupid, really stupid, it’s not a violation of any personnel rules.”

There is no evidence Cogen did influence Manhas’ promotion. Colleagues say she is a bright, dynamic rising star, who single-handedly landed a $7.5 million federal grant in 2011 that has benefited all county school districts.

Yet people who work with Manhas say she regularly visited Cogen’s office and had better access to Cogen, unlike other officials of her rank. Manhas often went outside the chain of command to communicate directly with Cogen. 

Cogen told WW that during the course of the two-year-long affair—which he says began “the spring, like May” of 2011 and ended two months ago—he communicated by phone, text and email regularly with Manhas. They also ate lunch and met regularly in the evenings, he says. 

As of July 1, all county managers, including Manhas, got a 4 percent raise.

That bumped her salary up to $103,299 a year.


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