Multnomah County late last night began disgorging the first few hundreds of pages of internal records and communiques meant to help determine whether Chair Jeff Cogen was telling the truth when he said, during his confession of an affair with a county health policy advisor this week, that he broke no rules, never spent taxpayer money on the relationship, and never used his office to help advance Sonia Manhas career in the county.
The documents furnished to reporters well after dinner last night call some of those assertions into question and also shed an awkward light into how the two juggled a professional and intimate relationship. Here's some of what Mercury reporter Dirk Vanderhart and I noticed.
• In one of the most blatant revelations, Cogen was listed as a reference on Manhas' application to serve as the health department's policy and planning director.
County spokesman David Austin told the Mercury yesterday that four others applied for the job but that two were from outside the county and disqualified (the position was internal) and that the remaining applicants, county employees, dropped out of consideration. Asked why, he said they'd found other jobs in the department, which, he said, had several openings.
The documents (pdf) identify those employees as Jessica Guernsey and Margaret Robinson. Both had extensive backgrounds in public health, like Manhas, but didn't report as much supervisory experience. They also didn't list the county chair as a reference—undercutting Cogen's claim he was removed the hiring process. Manhas' direct boss, Lillian Shirley, sent a statement to the O yesterday defending Manhas' hire.
Her announcement to staff about the hire, in fact, practically copied and pasted Manhas' cover letter.
• Travel reports and expenses don't necessarily offer a smoking gun—though they still have a faint whiff of smoke. Cogen and Manhas traveled together to a public health conference in Atlanta in February 2012 that cost the county more than a combined $2,000—something you could arguably defend, and Cogen has, as work-related for both. She was working for months on a grant related to the Centers for Disease Control event they attended. (His docs and hers.)
But here I'll defer to WW's delightful take:
When they arrived at their hotel, Crown Plaza Hotel Atlanta Perimeter at Ravinia, Cogen checked into room 851 and Manhas—then the county Health Department's manager of community wellness and prevention—checked into room 842. A desk clerk at the hotel tells WW the rooms are across the hall from each other, about 20 steps apart.
This April, Cogen flew back to Atlanta for a different conference, but apparently without Manhas. His reports from that trip aren't incriminating but are contextually interesting. He caused some consternation among staffers by checking a second suitcase when flying there and back, something he said was because he packed so many suits. But it was only scheduled for a three-day trip—and Cogen flew back a day early, also costing the county more money. He also insisted on getting a Deluxe King room with a king-size bed.
• Cogen and Manhas maybe tried to keep their sexual relationship secret, but they didn't necessarily hide the fact that they shared more than a professional camaraderie. In 2011, according to more than 700 pages of Cogen's calendars, they traveled with his son to Washington state for a RUSH concert.
Cogen clearly likes music. His calendars show him going alone with his son, officially at least, to a Sublime show. And mentions are made of Medeski, Martin, and Wood, Counting Crows, and the Dandy Warhols.
• The two had several meetings during the workday, well before she was promoted to a position that still saw her one direct supervisor away from him. Since June 2011, we counted 14 meetings with Manhas, mostly as the sole listed participant. In three instances, those meetings were followed by lengthy "do not book" or "hold" notations.
A few meetings had policy matters listed. West Hayden Island updates. Tobacco efforts. Food issues. A BPA briefing. But many did not. Manhas also accompanied him to a nighttime City Club event in October 2011 at Lucky Lab.
Interestingly, since June 2012, the calendars show just two one-on-one check-ins with Manhas' boss, Shirley.
And Cogen's calendar in the summer and fall of 2012 was notably filled with "do not book" windows. Sometimes for hours, and day after day. I've got a call into Austin to see how routine those notations are or aren't.
So those are the facts on paper, at least. They could all be stretched circumstantially. But they don't seem to be enough on their own to point the finger over broken rules. Not yet. Emails and other communiques are still to come.
•And in a footnote: It's also not clear when the relationship started. WW has been reporting spring of 2011, citing Cogen. But Dana Tims at the Oregonian has Cogen pointing to the death of his father as a catalyst. That's a wide discrepancy—and Cogen hasn't returned a message seeking comment on it. Austin also declined to comment, directing me to Cogen. Cogen's father died in February 2012, not long after the Atlanta trip he took with Manhas. His State of the County remarks were delayed so he could mourn.
We'll update as we see, and digest, more.