August 2nd, 2013 | by AARON MESH News | Posted In: Multnomah County, PDX News, Cops and Courts, Politics

The 10 Questions Jeff Cogen Refuses to Answer

The county chair cuts a deal with The Oregonian for softball questions only. We declined the same offer.

cogenfoodMultnomah County Chairman Jeff Cogen
This morning's edition of The Oregonian features an exclusive interview with embattled Multnomah County Chairman Jeff Cogen. In the interview Cogen expresses confidence he will be cleared of all wrongdoing in the current criminal investigation into his actions regarding Sonia Manhas, a county employee with whom he had a nearly two-year affair.

What you won’t see in the interview are any serious questions about Cogen’s actions. 

That’s because Cogen said he would sit for an interview only if The O agreed not to ask any questions about his alleged abuse of his public office in the Manhas affair. The newspaper agreed.

Cogen offered WW the same deal. We declined. 

Instead, we offered Cogen a chance to come in and make any statement he wanted to us, but only if he answered any question we put to him. We expect no less from an elected official. Plus, we figured since he’s so confident he is innocent of any criminal wrongdoing (as The O reports he said) Cogen should have nothing to hide.

Editor's Note: On Monday, August 5, we were contacted by Oregonian Editor Peter Bhatia, who asked for a correction, stating that "there was no deal made" between The Oregonian and Cogen about the ground rules for the interview.  Our reporting shows otherwise. We stand by our story.


Cogen declined our offer.

So here are 10 questions we would have asked Cogen if he had agreed to an unconditional interview. (By the way, WW has already asked Cogen most of these questions; he’s not gotten back to us.) 

1. The county budget you submitted May 2 doubled the funding for Manhas’ office of policy and planning in the health department, even though the funding was set to be cut entirely. (This was while your affair was going on.) You didn’t disclose you reasons for this $225,000 budget item to other commissioners. Why did you think it appropriate to double Manhas' office funding while involved romantically with her? 

2. Manhas resigned under pressure July 24. She has said you keeping your job is a double standard. Several public officials, including County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury and City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, agree with her. She was not given due process by the county. Why did you allow this to happen? 

3. Why did you mislead the public when you said you played no role in Manhas’ 2012 promotion? Records show you were a reference for her — meaning the county officials under you would have had to ignore the county chair’s endorsement of her if they decided to hire someone else. Why did you not give a complete account of your role? 

4. The county health department’s office of policy and planning didn’t exist before you and Manhas entered into your affair. Manhas pushed for creation of the office—and then got the job running it. What discussions did you have with Manhas or her supervisor, Lillian Shirley, about creating this office and the position that Manhas eventually got?

5. Why did you mislead the public about the number of taxpayer-funded out-of-state trips you took with Manhas? You said you could recall only one, to Atlanta, in 2012. But as WW reported, you took a second trip with her, just last April. (That's right around the time you were preparing to double her budget.) Why did you not tell the full story about the trips when you had the chance? 

6. County emails show on multiple occasions you and Manhas discussed cutting her supervisor and your staff out of policy discussions. What public good did you see in working outside the chain of command? And why did you allow Manhas to work directly with you (and not her boss) while you were having an affair with her?

7. You claim you were not Manhas’ direct supervisor. (County rules prohibit intimate relationships between employees and the managers whom they oversee.) Yet emails show Manhas was answering directly to you on key policy issues. How can you explain this inconsistency?

8. Many of the marquee policy initiatives from your office—from childhood nutrition campaigns to tobacco and chemical bans—came directly from conversations you had with Manhas outside the county chain of command. How can you reassure citizens that county business remains uncompromised by your personal relationship? 

9. Manhas lost her job. How can you guarantee other county employees will not face retaliation or consequences for speaking out about their knowledge or involvement about other potential wrongdoing by you in this matter?

10. The county commission's other four members have called for your resignation. Can you explain, in detail, how you hope to be effective when no one you serve with has confidence in your integrity?

 
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