August 21st, 2013 | by Nigel Jaquiss and Aaron Mesh News | Posted In: Multnomah County, Politics

County's Largest Union Warned Cogen About Affair 11 Months Ago

     
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cogenprizeFormer Multnomah County Chairman Jeff Cogen

At least nine months prior to Multnomah County Chairman Jeff Cogen's July admission of his affair with a county employee, the president of the county's largest union warned Cogen employees were talking about that extra-marital relationship.

Last September, Michael Hanna, the president of the American Federation of State County & Municipal Employees Local 88, called Cogen to pass along some news: County employees were reporting that Cogen and Sonia Manhas were seen together in a Portland bar.

Hanna reluctantly agreed to an interview with WW this afternoon, emphasizing he was speaking as the president of Local 88, rather than as a county employee. County employees have been instructed not to speak to the press about Cogen's affair during a pending Oregon Department of Justice criminal investigation into Cogen's affair with Manhas.

"A county employee approached me with the information and I passed it along," Hanna says. Hanna says he told nobody else within AFSCME or county government of the rumor. He says his recollection is that Cogen did not say much during their brief conversation. Nor did Hanna offer Cogen any advice.

"I'm not in a position to advise the chair," Hanna says. "I just gave him a heads up."

It was a powerful piece of information for AFSCME to have.

Its 2,800 members comprise the largest portion of the county's $469 million general fund budget. County sources say Cogen, elected with strong AFSCME support in 2010, was heavily involved in negotiating the three-year contract that the county signed with the union in 2012. Cogen also writes the county's budget.

And when Hanna called Cogen about Manhas, Cogen was working closely with the union to pass a pair of ballot measures that in 2012 provided permanent funding to the Multnomah County Library, a top priority for the union.

Jim Moore, a professor of political science at Pacific University, says AFSCME's knowledge of Cogen's affair raises potentially troubling questions.

"It strikes me as yet another strike against Cogen in terms of his being forthcoming about what was going on," Moore says. "It’s part and parcel of Cogen willfully ignoring or being oblivious to the potential impacts his behavior might have had." 

Hanna says he never attempted to leverage information about the affair for AFSCME's benefit and that he and Cogen never spoke about the issue again until it became public last month.

Although there is no evidence AFSCME tried to use information about the affair against Cogen, Moore says the mere opportunity is concerning.

"This also potentially moves beyond favoritism to one employee to the possibility that the entire union membership benefits," Moore says. "That could be with contracts or grievances or almost anything."

Cogen has denied using county resources to carry on his affair with Manhas and tried to put the affair behind him since admitting it.

"I'm here because I care deeply about the work of the county," Cogen said at a July 25 board meeting where his four board colleagues called on him to resign. "It's time to put the distraction aside and get back to work."

Cogen declined to comment on his communication with Hanna.

 
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