The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners issued a terse and direct statement late last night summing up its members' feelings on the denouement of the Jeff Cogen affair and scandal—in the wake of a state investigation that failed to assemble a case strong enough to lead to criminal charges.
I've taken the liberty of boiling down to this: Shut up about it, already. And let us get back to work.
But here's the whole thing.
The Oregon Department of Justice investigation of Jeff Cogen is over. It is clear from the report that Multnomah County employees cooperated fully with investigators, as was requested of them. Any remaining questions should be directed to either investigators or the two people responsible for this situation: Jeff Cogen and Sonia Manhas, neither of whom are county employees anymore. We’re happy to talk about the great work our employees do helping seniors, people struggling with mental health issues, veterans, children, the homeless and other vulnerable populations. But we won’t be commenting any further on the subject of Jeff Cogen's behavior.
Chair Marissa Madrigal
Commissioner Liesl Wendt, District 1
Commissioner Loretta Smith, District 2
Commissioner Judy Shiprack, District 3
Commissioner Diane McKeel, District 4
I get what they're saying, and why they feel that way. But life isn't always so pat and clean. Because even though the state Department of Justice probe didn't lead to charges for Cogen, it did offer a discomfiting glimpse into office politics while highlighting a central flaw in the county's governance: Elected officials, unlike staffers, have wide latitude when it comes to personnel policies meant to enforce ethics. They can approve their own travel expenses, for instance.
The county's own attorney said as much to investigators.
"In general," says the report, "the rules were not written for elected officials and Multnomah County cannot discipline elected officials."
It might not be terrible to keep talking about that.