July 30th, 2013 | by AARON MESH News | Posted In: PDX News, Multnomah County

Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen Rescued Funding For Sonia Manhas' Office

His 2013-14 budget doubled her funding to $225,000 while the two were having an affair.

cogensunglassesMultnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen (center)

Multnomah County Chairman Jeff Cogen placed a last-minute addition in this year's county budget: $225,000 to help save the county office run by Sonia Manhas, who was having an affair with Cogen at the time.

County documents obtained by WW show Cogen reversed an earlier budget draft that provided no money to the health department's office of policy and planning—an office that Manhas designed and was subsequently promoted to run.

Instead, Cogen's May 2 county budget increased funding for Manhas' office to $225,525—more than doubling the office's 2012 allotment of $112,585. 

Cogen admitted July 16 to an extramarital affair with Manhas, but said he didn't use county funds on the relationship or wield his power to advance Manhas' career.

Since that confession, Manhas been forced to quit the health department, while Cogen has resisted calls for his resignation.

As WW previously reported, county records show Manhas wrote Cogen in April 2012 and asked to report to him. She wanted to stop by his office twice a week to "strengthen ties between the work of your office and the health department's policy work."

Less than a month later, on May 17, she wrote health department director Lillian Shirley, suggesting "we could create one Office of Public Health Policy & Planning."

"I want to go big," Manhas wrote, in an email first reported by The Oregonian. "I want to move the dial when it comes to public health."

Shirley created the office. In July 2012, Manhas applied to run the office she had suggested, listing Cogen as one of two references.

She was the only candidate actively applying for the job when she was named director of policy and planning in September.

The office of policy and planning mainly runs a nutrition and exercise PR campaign Manhas created, called "It Starts Here." That program was funded by federal Center for Disease Control dollars that expire this year.

The end of federal money put Manhas' newly formed office in a difficult spot. A Feb. 22 draft of the county health department budget didn't target any money for her office's staff.

But Cogen decided—toward the very end of the budget process—to fund the office.

The budget Cogen submitted May 2 found county money for the office, using cost-of-living savings—and increased department staffing from 1.2 to 2.2 full-time employees.

 
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