An affair between Multnomah County's top elected official and its health policy director has forced one employee from her job and has triggered a criminal investigation.

Sonia Manhas submitted her resignation earlier Wednesday afternoon -- a move she says was forced by the county.

County chairman Jeff Cogen is still in his job, but he'll be at the heart of an investigation by the state Attorney General.

County communications director David Austin says the decision to bring in Oregon's Department of Justice will help determine whether the affair between Cogen and Manhas broke any laws. Austin says attorneys from the state can help in certain instances.

"In cases where officials want to make sure the public receives full transparency," Austin said.

Earlier Wednesday, Sonia Manhas submitted her resignation. She says it was forced on her in a message to county colleagues. She says she asked for a meeting about her employment status and was told "that a meeting could not happen until I signed a letter of separation."

David Austin with the county says the resignation was the result of discussions between lawyers.

"Multnomah County attorney and Sonia Manhas attorney have been in discussions over the last few days, and what happened today - those discussions culminated in Sonia Manhas signing a resignation letter, where she will be on sick leave through the end of August, then she will no longer be working at the county," Austin said.

Emails between Manhas and Cogen reveal the two often discussed policy, but also emailed about personal matters.

Manhas doesn't work for Cogen directly -- she works for the head of the health department, Lillian Shirley. Some of the Cogen-Manhas emails suggest Cogen followed Manhas' lead when it came to dealing with Lillian Shirley, and the other elected county commissioners.

Manhas' message denies she was trying to undermine her boss. It says the many emails between the two represent the "incredible amount of work" county officials were doing.

Multnomah County spokesman, David Austin, says Manhas is an at-will employee - like other managers - and that Shirley has the authority to fire her, without cause.

Neither Cogen nor Manhas responded to OPB's interview requests.

Cogen appeared on KGW television yesterday. He sounded apologetic when it came to the effect the affair has had on his family. But he was defiant when asked if he'd resign.

"In the last week, I've heard from hundreds of people who's said to me various versions of 'you screwed up, but don't resign' or 'you disappointed me, but you have got to stick it out' or 'keep doing the good work, don't listen to them'. And right now, I think that's the right answer," Cogen said.

That interview aired before Sonia Manhas tendered her resignation.

This story originally appeared on Oregon Public Broadcasting.

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