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The November 8 ballot will feature a race for mayor and two city council seats up for election.

PMG PHOTO: SCOTT KEITH - A race for St. Helens Mayor will highlight the November ballot in Columbia County After this November's election, the St. Helens City Council will be welcoming new members and, perhaps, a new mayor.

The filing deadline passed on Monday, Aug. 15. Prior to the deadline, City Councilor Stephen Topaz filed his candidacy for mayor.

Rick Scholl is running for re-election as mayor.

The current four-year city councilor positions held by Doug Morten and Topaz will also be on the Nov. 8 ballot. Neither incumbent is seeking reelection, with Morten opting not to run again and Topaz instead challenging Scholl in the mayoral race.

Topaz, whose term expires the end of this year, has worked as a research and development engineer at a number of medical startup companies, as well as several Fortune 500 companies, according to his city profile. He has lived in St. Helens since 2000.

Topaz is a big library supporter, serving as city council liaison to the St. Helens Public Library.

Controversy, however, has surrounded Topaz during his tenure at City Hall.

Last May, the City Council voted 4-1 in favor of a resolution reprimanding and censuring Topaz and imposing strict restrictions on his contact with city staff. Topaz was the only dissenting vote.

An investigative report turned up multiple alleged incidents of improper conduct by Topaz. The investigation focused on allegations, including that Topaz "bullied staff, spread false statements about them and … behaved in a discriminatory manner."

Discussing with the Spotlight what he thought was wrong about the way the city is being run, Topaz said, "The thing that's become obvious is the senior staff of the city is running most of the council. There is a whole lot of stuff we don't know. We're supposed to be making great decisions, and basically, we make no decisions. I find that upsetting."

Commenting on his opponent on the November ballot, Scholl, Topaz said, "He's a good cheerleader. He definitely has the city in his heart, but he doesn't have the experience to double-check some of the things he's been told."

Topaz continued, "If you talk to him privately, we pretty much agree. But somebody's been feeding him information, and he hasn't been able to sift through it and see where they've been feeding him bad information. That's where he's terrible."

The Spotlight also reached out to Scholl for comment but did not receive an immediate response Tuesday, Aug. 16.

As mayor, the famously outspoken Topaz would not be shy in expressing his opinion, he said.

"I have tried to say things, and I've been cut off a number of times at the City Council meeting," Topaz said. "So, I figure if I were mayor, at least I wouldn't cut myself off."

With Morton deciding against another term and Topaz challenging Scholl, five residents have filed for the two councilor slots: Mark Gundersen, Michael Zienty, Steve Toschi, Jesse Lagers and Brandon Sundeen.

City Recorder Kathy Payne noted: "Council position numbers were done away with since the last election. It is now a popular vote for councilor. The two candidates with the most votes will win."

Payne noted, however, that the candidates have not been fully verified yet. The city will need to confirm that they are qualified electors with the county and meet the requirements to serve as St. Helens city councilors.

Payne said candidates also have until Sept. 2 to withdraw their candidacy.


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