Should Mult.Co. Chair Jeff Cogen resign after his affair with a county employee?
PORTLAND -- Multnomah County Chairman Jeff Cogen said in an exclusive interview with KGW Tuesday that he foolishly crossed boundaries in a "reckless" affair with a county employee that lasted about two years.
Cogen sat down with KGW news anchor Laural Porter Tuesday afternoon in his first one-on-one interview since admitting the affair with Sonia Manhas, the director of policy and planning for the county health department.
"The whole thing was reckless and we did it recklessly," he said. "I'm so sorry I did it and it was a huge mistake."
Despite some pressure to resign, Cogen said his work is too important to just walk away.
"I'm a fighter and tenacious. I'm not going to just throw in the towel," he said. "I hope I can regain their [the public's] trust."
Cogen talks: Watch exclusive interview with KGW
Cogen returned to work Monday after apologizing to county workers and then taking a week off to spend with his family.
"My family is devastated, my colleagues and coworkers are shaken," he told KGW. "The people in this community are incredibly disappointed and angry at me."
Questions over Manhas' promotion
Cogen said he has not had contact with Manhas since last week when the scandal surfaced. An anonymous email first tipped off county officials and then Cogen himself sent an email to all county employees apologizing.
Manhas has been working for the county since 2000 and recently received a promotion. Cogen was listed as a reference on Manhas' job application, but he repeatedly said her advancement had nothing to do with his influence.
"In the actual hiring process, no one said to me: 'Do you think we should hire her?'" said Cogen. "The truth is, I did not intervene to get her that job."
He also said, although Manhas is a county employee, he is not her direct supervisor and therefore did not violate county policies on workplace relationships.
The county attorney’s office already began an official inquiry into the actions of both Cogen and Manhas. In addition, the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday requested an outside investigation to determine whether Cogen may have misused county funds or resources.
Trying to repair his marriage
At this time, Cogen's future with the county is uncertain, and so is his family life.
"I spent the first five days at home with my wife, trying to salvage my marriage and be with my kids,” he said. "There’s a lot of damage there. We have to figure out if she [wife] can forgive me and why I would do this to a woman I love.”
Cogen said he and his wife plan to attend couples counseling and he hopes that will help repair the pain he has caused.
Their two teenaged children, Cogen said, are also struggling and he's trying to talk things out with them.
“I tell them, 'I’m sorry and that I made a mistake.' I always tell them that everyone makes mistakes but it’s all about how you respond to mistakes. I am going to try to do the right thing. I love their mother, I love my wife."
Affair grew over 2 years
Cogen said he was delusional and thought that since he loved his wife, he could also care about Sonia and their relationship was okay. He admitted that the affair started with one kiss during a friendly lunch "and suddenly there was more."
He also confessed that Sonia used vacation days to join him during an economic development conference he was attending in Atlanta last spring. He said he would work during the day and they carried off their affair at night.
When asked if they had sex on county time, Cogen said "I don't think so."
"I work on nights and weekends, too. I don't really have a 9-to-5 job, so I don’t know how you conclude the answer to that," he added.
Cogen said he agreed to talk with Porter Tuesday because he felt compelled to come clean, tell the truth, tell his story and follow his heart.
“Trust is something that is hard to build up and easy to destroy, he said. "I know I've done a lot of damage. My hope is that i can work and move forward and regain trust.”