Lillian Shirley
  • Lillian Shirley

It's been a tumultuous week and a half at the upper levels of Multnomah County.

Jeff Cogen's tenure as county chair ended prematurely last Monday amid scandal, speculation, and a criminal investigation. And today, Health Department Director Lillian Shirley announced she'll depart for a larger stage.

Shirley, a 14-year health department veteran, will take over as director of the Oregon Health Authority's Public Health Division in December, assuming the seat abandoned last month by former director Mel Kohn.

It's a move from one kind of tumult to another. Shirley's name was thrown around a lot during Cogen's scandal, when it became apparent her former subordinate, Sonia Manhas, routinely went over Shirley's head in discussions with the county chair.

But the department she'll assume control over in December has plenty of its own issues. As we first reported, a recent internal investigation found employees described working conditions at the agency as "difficult and untenable, citing low morale and high work volume."

The same investigation—formally an inquiry into allegations of discrimination and sexism against Cohn—unearthed concerns men were disproportionately in charge at the agency. Shirley's hiring will temper that outcry. She's not responded to my request for an interview.

Here's a snapshot [pdf] of the responsibilities Shirley will be tasked with in her new role.

And here's an e-mail Shirley sent to county employees earlier today.

Dear Colleagues,

Announcing a major life change after 14 years is not easy, nor is it possible to capture in just a few sentences how much working with each of you has meant to me. But I would at least like to try to summarize my thoughts and emotions as I announce that I am resigning as the Multnomah County Health Department director, effective Mid November

I am resigning because I accepted an offer today to become director of the Public Health Division at the Oregon Health Authority.

Serving as the Health Department director has been one of the most rewarding endeavors of my career. I've been fortunate to be director as you've opened clinics and school-based clinics, battled novel viruses, regulated a new food cart industry, planned for emergencies and climate change, placed health and equity considerations in the forefront of public policy, and prepared the county for health reform. An ambitious and ground-breaking agenda? Absolutely. And it’s been an agenda that has made a huge difference for our community, and one that has been accomplished thanks to your foresight and work ethic. I could not be prouder.

I will be working with the County and Health Department leaders to ensure a smooth transition and will be communicating further as our plans take shape. Until then, please know it has been my privilege to serve the residents of Multnomah County with you.