IT'S ONLY BEEN a few days, really. Not that it feels like it. It already feels like forever ago. And maybe that's because we can all hear ourselves think again.
After last week's crescendo in the scandal over Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen's workplace affair—a stage-managed board meeting Thursday, July 25, where Cogen bathed in the kind words of invited friends and defiantly refused his colleagues' demand he quit—the media frenzy has finally quieted down into something resembling the word "normal."
(I say nearly normal, because things clearly aren't "normal" and might not ever be again. Commissioner Judy Shiprack called Cogen "Peter Pan," for one. I've heard Cogen's yet to resume his regular workload in the wake of the scandal−but summer's also a slower time for county government.)
As I'm writing this, it's been several days since any major new accusations have popped up—the biggest one still being a previously unrevealed Atlanta trip Cogen and his paramour, Sonia Manhas, took together on the county dime.
The editorials calling for Cogen to resign have faded away, unheeded. Legitimate outrage has come and gone over the fact that Cogen has stayed even though Manhas—despite hiring high-powered lawyer Liz McKenna—could manage only a weak severance agreement.
Two of the crack Oregonian reporters working the story hardest—county beat reporter Dana Tims, who broke news of the scandal, and longtime political writer Anna Griffin—both went on vacation. And the news stations, with the exception of a nice insider report by KATU editor Colin Miner—painting a picture of a shell-shocked Cogen who skipped work last Friday after the vote—seemed to have moved onto other things.
Frankly, it's a little bit of a relief. And let me just put this out there: All that business about calling for his head? It was always a little bit premature.
Cogen's alleged sins are serious—claims of "innuendo" and any handwringing over sex aside. He and Manhas clearly had a professional relationship outside the county's chain of command. But Cogen was right when he said calls for his resignation should have waited until after investigators finished probing his conduct.
County Attorney Jenny Madkour is looking into whether Cogen and Manhas, a well-respected health policy manager and advocate, broke county rules of conduct. Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum is checking whether Cogen violated Oregon law barring public officials from misusing their office (that whole Atlanta trip) for personal gain—a law, I'll remind, that draws no distinction between a $500 mistake or one that cost, as Cogen's might have, just $50 a night for a hotel upgrade.
Cogen, of course, hasn't done much to help himself. A softball interview on KGW, an unwillingness to take media questions, letting his friends slag the county commissioners he'll need to work with if he really does intend to stay—these were all bad things. But while investigators are still working, they also don't matter.
News might break tomorrow that changes this. I get that. But until then, let's keep taking a breath. And if you still think he shouldn't be chair—a lot of you do—the filing period for county elections starts September 12. Have at it.