Cogen scandal's impact on county, city projects unclear

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen leaves his desk after refusing to resign in response to a Board of Commissioners resolution asking him to do just that. The threat by Multnomah County commissioners to stop working with Chair Jeff Cogan raises an awkward question for county government: So what?

After Cogen blocked their resolution calling for his resignation last week, the four commissioners said they had lost faith in him because of his affair with former county employee Sonia Manhas. The standoff could last for weeks or even months as the Oregon Department of Justice and county attorney’s office investigate whether Cogen broke any state laws or county policies.

But at least in the short term, it does not appear their constituents will be affected by the lack of cooperation one way or another. The budget that continues all approved county programs took effect July 1. Law enforcement, including the operation of the jail system, will continue to be overseen by separately elected Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Staton.

In addition, the commission already has approved a number of major projects. They include the construction of a new health building and a deal with a private developer to build a mixed-use tower and public market on county-owned land at the west end of the Morrison Bridge in downtown Portland.

But the situation may complicate matters for other governments working on joint projects and initiatives with the county. It is unclear whether negotiating primarily with Cogen is now a waste of time since the rest of the commission may reject anything he eventually presents to them.

One example is the ongoing and complicated discussion between Portland and the county over which governments should provide what services. A 1984 intergovernmental agreement essentially specified the city would provide urban services, such as police, fire, parks, water, sewers and streets. The county focused on human services and state mandated-responsibilities, including health, social services, elections, tax collection, prosecution and jails.

But the lines have blurred over the years and the Portland city auditor has repeatedly called for the city to renegotiate the IGA to increase efficiency and eliminate duplication. Two audits released this year called the IGA “obsolete.” One, released in March, called on the mayor’s office to provide a status report on detailed steps being taken to address the situation in a year.

Mayor Charlie Hales began the process of clarifying the roles of the city and county in his first budget, which took effect July 1. Hales discussed clarifying the roles with Cogen as the two prepared their proposed budgets, which were adopted with few changes.

As the relationship between Cogen and county commissioners deteriorated, Hales tried to make sure the process would continue. He released a statement that said, “I want to reiterate my resolve for our governments’ joint efforts moving forward. The county and city have worked to strengthen and clarify the wide array of services provided for the community. And I am committed to continuing this important work with the county.”

On the other hand, Hales’ spokesman Dana Haynes says city and county agencies cooperate on many matters every day, something that is unlikely to be affected by what’s

happening at the commission level.

“I’m thinking about police-to-district attorney issues, or Portland Bureau of Transportation projects on or near our city borders, or services to the homeless, or even last week’s targeted enforcement of driving laws on Thursday along the high-crash corridors. The sheriff’s office participated in that,” Haynes says.

Another example is the headquarters hotel being pursued by Metro. The $198 million project is intended to increase business at the Oregon Convention Center, which Metro owns and operates. Metro staff are in the final stages of working out a financing package with a development team to build a 600-room hotel just north of the center. The 2013 Legislature approved $10 million in state lottery funds for the project.

The tentative financing plan does not ask the county for any money. But it does require the Multnomah County Commission to amend an existing intergovernmental agreement about the county’s hotel and motel taxes. The IGA needs to be changed to allow the taxes collected at the new hotel to be dedicated to paying off a $60 million Metro bond to finance it.

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - A man who identified himself as Lightning holds a sign demanding Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen resign during public testimony on a no-confidence resolution last week.  The Metro Council will take up the plan in August. Metro staff has been briefing Cogen and the rest of the board. The council hopes the board will consider it in September, but now the schedule is unclear. The Portland City Council also must amend the IGA for the plan to proceed.

Cogen is not the only board member working on joint projects. Commissioner Loretta Smith is Multnomah County’s representative on the Metro Policy Advisory Committee, which advises the regional government on policy issues. Commissioner Judy Shiprack is her alternative. And Commissioner Diane McKeel is Multnomah County’s representative on Metro’s Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation, which helps decide which transportation projects within the region receive funding. Commissioner Deborah Kafoury is her alternate.

Smith also is the county’s representative on the Southwest Corridor Plan Steering Committee, which is helping to decide whether and what kind of alternative transportation connections to build between Portland and Sherwood through the Highway 99W corridor.

It is unlikely the four commissioners would automatically oppose every proposal Cogen brings to them. His office is in the process of revising the intergovernmental agreement for the operation of the county library district approved by the voters at the November 2012 election. It was unanimously supported by the commission.

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