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Stephen Topaz, under fire for alleged verbal abuse and unethical behavior, says his lawyer will respond.

PMG PHOTO: SCOTT KEITH - St. Helens city councilor Stephen Topaz faces allegations at a recent open hearing.St. Helens Mayor Rick Scholl called for embattled City Councilor Stephen Topaz to resign Wednesday, May 5, in the face of allegations of racist and sexist remarks, disparaging city employees, and trying to divert city resources for personal use.

The council held an open hearing last month, at Topaz's request, to lay out accusations against him. The unusual proceedings saw city representatives, including assistant city administrator Matt Brown, address Topaz and council members directly, pointing to findings from an investigation commissioned by City Hall.

Topaz has rejected the allegations, saying they're a form of "retaliation" for his criticism of the city government. Scholl, in turn, accused Topaz of lying about the city's actions.

"I work for the same citizens that voted for you, Councilor Topaz," Scholl said, addressing him at a council work session. "We are constantly trying to move this city forward, and you continue to interject half-truth and deception into everything that we are doing."  

Scholl continued, "You have obviously a bias against employees, and it's been very noticeable — it's been very frustrating to try to get anything done with you." 

Longtime City Council President Doug Morten echoed Scholl's call for Topaz to resign. He said the situation of having a city councilor investigated for alleged misconduct and verbal abuse of city staff is "unprecedented," and he predicted more information will continue to come out about Topaz's behavior.

"As it becomes public, more things will surface," Morten said. "It's, to me, going to be a dark shadow that is going to also be very costly and financially, and it already has been very costly financially to the taxpayers of our city and to the council, who has a due diligence to resolve this issue." 

Morten added, "I would like to be done with this right now." 

There is no mechanism, under the city charter, for the council to remove one of its members from office.

The city's newest council members, Jessica Chilton and Patrick Birkle, were less certain about the need for Topaz to resign. 

Having seen the investigative report, Birkle told fellow councilors, "I became very concerned and alarmed by what I found out. That profoundly disturbed me." 

Birkle said there while he believes the City Council must "take some very strong steps," he is not prepared to say Topaz should step aside.

"I would ask Councilor Topaz to follow his conscience and his heart to think about whether or not his actions serve the city and its residents," he added. 

Chilton suggested Topaz should be given a second chance.

"As many of you guys know, I am an addiction therapist," Chilton said. "My job is to help people with second chances. That's literally what I do every day. I watch people come from the bottom of nothing back to the top. That change that can happen is so monumental and it spreads like a wildfire to other people. I just really hope that I can see that change in Councilor Topaz." 

Given a chance to respond to the mayor and his fellow councilors, Topaz would only say, "My attorney will give you my response." 

Scholl stressed that this not a political issue. 

"I do not vote red or blue," Scholl said. "I serve the citizens. This is not political posturing. This was actually a very thorough investigation, and these findings are factual." 

The independent investigation commissioned by the city substantiated several complaints against Topaz.

"There is significant, credible evidence that Topaz has bullied staff, attempted to engage in adverse behavior against a staff member based on her gender and his own personal prejudices and made derogatory statements about staff publicly and privately based on his gender bias and personal prejudices," wrote attorney Jill Goldsmith in an executive summary of the investigation.

The full investigative report has not been made public.

Toward the end of the regular city council meeting, which followed the work session, the idea of Topaz taking a leave of absence was brought up. 

Scholl asked Topaz if he would be willing to take administrative leave until a resolution is adopted to protect employees. 

Topaz replied, "You've heard my answer before. My answer will come from my attorney." 

At the conclusion of the May 5 work session, no specific disciplinary action was taken, but the council will meet at 5 p.m. Monday, May 10, to go over possible disciplinary next steps.


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