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Friday, September 6, 2013

BREAKING: Jeff Cogen Will Resign as County Chair, Effective September 16

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Fri, Sep 6, 2013 at 12:07 PM

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Despite defiantly resisting his colleagues' call to step down this summer, saying he would wait for the outcome of a formal investigation into his admitted affair with a county employee, Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen today has nonetheless announced his resignation.

It comes after his chief of staff, Marissa Madrigal, decided to quit Cogen's office for another job in the county. Madrigal, however, is Cogen's designated, county-approved successor, and she'll take over until his replacement is elected as soon as next May.

His statement acknowledges the political reality that he couldn't lead any longer—and that he needed to make amends with his family. He also insists that allegations he misused county money to further his relationship with Sonia Manhas, and that they went around established protocols in mixing their personal and professional relationships are "baseless" and "unfounded" and that he will be cleared.

More as this develops.

Update 1:19 PM: Madrigal, asked if she'd remain designee despite starting a new job next month in human resources, has confirmed she will take over for Cogen.

"When I signed up to be designee, I knew this was a possibility," she says. "I take the responsibility very seriously and I will serve as long as needed. Things are happening quickly. This obviously delays my start. But I am confident we will continue all the work of the county in the interim."

Marissa Madrigal
  • Marissa Madrigal
Update 1:40 PM: Mayor Charlie Hales' office has sent us a copy of his statement reacting to Cogen's announcement. Hales and Cogen's relationship was, at times, somewhat tense this spring as the two worked out their respective government's budget plans.

Hales made handing non-city projects and programs back to the county—or stopping them—one of his major agenda items. Cogen, with the county finally out of the red (after years of cuts), thanks to restructuring moves and the new library taxing district (which cost the city millions), worked to fend off some of those grabs at the county's general fund.

"I wish him well. I wish his family well. He did the right thing," Hales' statement says. "The city and the county have a lot of work ahead of us. Jeff’s decision today clears the way for our common constituents."

Update 3:20 PM: County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury—a former state lawmaker with strong political capital thanks to her work on the Sellwood Bridge rebuild and as a regional leader on housing and homelessness issues—sits atop a short list of potential Cogen successors. Kafoury says she's not going to make any announcements yet about her plans.

She's mostly just glad to be able to leave behind the past several weeks of uncertainty—even though, with an interim chair and election for open seat coming this May, several more months of uncertainty still loom.

"We're in a good place," she says. "We're going to get back on track. We'll be able to focus on the issues people care about. It's been hard to do that in the past couple of months."

She said Cogen "hasn't been" around all that much despite returning to work after several days of exile immediately following the admission of his affair. Asked if Madrigal, the interim chair, had already been running the chair's office, she replied:"It's been a difficult situation for everybody, especially his staff.... It's my hope and I know that the staff is working hard to make sure the people whose lives depend on us don't feel these potholes in the road."

If Kafoury runs, she'd have to vacate her seat. She was just re-elected to a second term last spring. The Oregonian has some analysis of how next year's elections might play out. Essentially there will be two elections for the county chair's job on the next ballot. By waiting to quit, instead of just gutting it out until the end of his term, Cogen made a huge mess for whoever decides to throw in as his would-be replacement.

Cogen’s resignation announcement comes too late to trigger a special election for the position in November, said Tim Scott, the county’s elections director. Although a special election could theoretically still have been scheduled if Cogen had resigned effective Sept. 5, any decision to move that quickly would have been subject to a legal challenge, he said.

“We are required to provide a sufficient filing period,” Scott said. “One single day is not nearly enough time to do that.”

Things remain complicated, however, when it comes to filling the soon-to-be vacated position of county board chair.

The May primary, for instance, will have two questions relating to that. The first will ask voters who should fill the remaining part of Cogen’s current term, which runs through Dec. 31, 2014. The filing period for that begins Sept. 17, the day after Cogen’s resignation becomes effective, and runs through March 11.

The second question will ask voters to decide who will win election to the next full four-year term as board chair. That filing period opens Sept. 12 and runs through March. 11, Scott said.

Original post resumes after the jump:

Today, I am announcing my resignation as Multnomah County Chair effective September 16, 2013. In accordance with the county charter, my appointed designee, Marissa Madrigal, will serve as Chair until the election of my replacement next May. I am confident that the county is and will remain in good hands, and that its successes will continue.

Earlier this summer, I acknowledged having an affair with a county employee. My actions were heartbreaking for my wife, Lisa, and my children. And I know my behavior was disappointing for my staff, county employees and the people of Multnomah County who entrusted me with this important leadership position.

I am deeply sorry that I failed to live up to that trust, and for the pain my actions have caused.

After the affair was revealed, media reports were filled with unfounded allegations suggesting that I had abused my position to advance Sonia Manhas’s career and that I had misused county resources to carry out our affair. These baseless charges are being investigated by the Attorney General’s office. I welcomed the investigation and remain confident that it will clear me of these charges.

I am truly proud of our achievements at Multnomah County during my tenure: from forging important new partnerships like the Gateway Center for Domestic Violence and the Mental Health Crisis Center, to finally tackling long-overdue projects like the Sellwood Bridge and the Gresham and downtown courthouses. Together, we secured stable funding for our libraries, saved the Oregon Historical Society and built and grew innovative, cost-effective services like the CROPS farm, SUN Schools, and our anti-obesity and community healing initiatives. These, and a host of other, actions have elevated community trust in county government.

But leadership is about more than a set of accomplishments. It is also about accountability.

I’ve always told my children that we must face the consequences of our actions. It is time for me to follow my own advice. Over the past several weeks, I have been reflecting both on the mistakes I have made, and on the best interests of Multnomah County government and the people that it serves. People want to move on from this distraction. They deserve to.

Continuing in my job as county chair runs counter to the higher standards I have espoused for my almost seven years of elected service. I can’t demand more of others than I expect of myself. The most important work I can do now is healing and repairing my bond with my wife and my family. It’s time for me to give that job my full attention.

This is a community with a long, inspiring history of community engagement and I intend to continue serving this community that I love. But now, I need to do so as a private citizen rather than county chair.

It’s been an honor to serve my fellow Multnomah County residents. Thank you for the privilege.

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