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Hooters party generates more excitement than Cogen report

Revelations about former Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen are big news locally. But the Hooters party for the Corbett Middle School football team is generating a lot more attention nationally.

Internet searches reveal the Oregon Department of Justice report into Cogen that was released Friday has been heavily covered by local newspapers, television stations and radio stations. The lengthy investigation concluded that Cogen did not break any laws during his affair with a former county employee. But the report also includes allegations that Cogen uses marijuana, cocaine and ecstasy, which are mentioned in almost every story.

But no stories about the report by anyone outside the Portland area can be easily found on the Internet. That's a sharp contrast to the stories on the Corbett football team celebrating their season at the Hooters restaurant at Jantzen Beach, which are posted on websites operated by the national news networks, newspapers in major cities across the country, and numerous stand-alone news and entertainment websites.

Many of the web stories include pictures from the Saturday party featuring scantily-clad waitresses and the young players. Volunteer coach Randy Burbach lost his job for scheduling the party at Hooters and refusing to move it when some parents and school officials complained.

Even repeated references to Cogen as a Dead Head — a follower of the Grateful Dead rock band — didn't generate much attention outside the area.

The lack of national coverage of the Cogen report is also in sharp contrast to the almost daily publicity about Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. He has been in the spotlight for weeks after being accused of smoking crack cocaine, denying the allegation and then finally admitted them but refusing to resign. That story is even being followed by European and Australian news outlets.

There are probably several reasons for the lack of interest in the Cogen report outside of the Portland area.

For starters, Cogen had already resigned. He stepped down on Sept. 16, approximately two months after publicly admitting to the affair. He was replaced by his former chief of staff, Marissa Madrigal, that same day, as required by the County Charter. The race to replace him next year is already underway, with former Multnomah County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury squaring off against former Portland City Commission Jim Francesconi in the early going.

And Cogen was not charged with any crimes. The investigation into his affair with former county health department manager Sonia Manhas concluded that neither of them misused public funds or their official positions during it.

Among other things, investigators looked into a county-paid trip to Atlanta by Cogen where he was joined by Manhas. Cogen was originally booked into a $199-a-night room at the Renaissance Atlanta Midtown. He switched to a larger $288-a-night room at the Lowes Hotel, located half a mile away, however. Investigators concluded that billing taxpayers the additional $178 for the two-night stay was not a crime.

Investigators also concluded there was not enough evidence about the drug allegation to even justify a search warrant for Cogen's home.

Nor did investigators find that Cogen neglected his officials duties because he was involved with Manhas. In fact, all four of the other county commissioners admitted they had no idea about the affair until receiving an email from a whistleblower on July 15. Before that, they all praised his administration of the county's $1.5 billion budget and 4,500 employees.

Commissioners Kafoury and Judy Shiprack said they had concerns about how Cogen funded Manhas' department after learning of the affair. Neither said they would have voted against proposed budget for the department, however.

Even the reported drug use, which Cogen has not denied, did not seem to affect his job performance. Aside from Manhas, who first reported it to investigators, no one else in any official capacity said they had witnessed it. Only Madrigal said she thought Cogen might have smoked marijuana at some time in the past.

And then there's the question of what Multnomah County does. The roles of state and city governments are well understood, which is why governors and mayors frequently receive national and even international attention. But county governments are more obscure.

Curry County is getting some worldwide publicity because voters are refusing to increase their property taxes to pay for law enforcement services. That is likely to trigger state intervention, which is unprecedented in Oregon. But no such easily understood services were disrupted because of the fallout from Cogen's affair.

Of course, the Cogen story unfolded in Portland, which has a national reputation for being weird. Maybe reporters outside the area just thought it was another episode of Portlandia.