There are certain words, argues St. Helens' Stephen Topaz, that when spoken in St. Helens grants the speaker great power.

There are certain words, when spoken at St. Helens City Council meetings, to a jury, to citizen groups, at committee meetings, and to public interest groups, that give great status to a speaker in St. Helens. Those who cannot use these words are considered not as truthful, have not gained the proper experience, are not as smart and, basically, are not to be believed when conferring with those who can speak these powerful words.

This practice has its origins in the history of St. Helens. At one time, St. Helens had very high per-capita income. Then why are not the streets lined with fine homes and bustling shops?

Most of the millworkers and loggers were here for the high-paying jobs to make money to send to their families in other places. They did not plan to spend their entire lives here. The nature of the timber industry kept the mills at one location for as long as the trees lasted, therefore no corporate offices, no permanent facilities.

Two other conditions were added to the fabric of St. Helens. With the pay being so high, there were more than enough workers to fill the jobs, so you did as the boss said or you were replaced.

The second condition has a number of dark sides. The millworkers seldom were able to work their way up into management. Supervisors were brought in by the companies. Basically the millworkers were second-rate people, or so the company and the town's population labeled them. Their skill level was not part of the rating system. This fear of losing one's job was always present. The boarding house and the small houses were more than sufficient as a place to stay with these conditions.

Today, 40 percent of the single-family homes in St. Helens are rentals. Add the multi-family homes to the population and it is easy to see why about 65 percent of the families live under someone else's roof. The poor renters' protection that Oregon law provides allows a certain level of fear living with this condition. When the waterfront building height discussion was going on, a number of people mentioned that they had a number of rentals and the height issues would affect the value of their properties. The point being that a few people have a number of rentals and therefore control over a number of people.Many understand the problem, but they will not speak up for fear of opposing those who can speak "the words."

The portion of those who can speak the works goes smaller at time passes but unless the people who cannot speak "these words" stand-up and speak, the downward spiral of St. Helens will continue.

What are these words that give all truth, power and wisdom? They are: "I was born and raised here in St. Helens and I went to school here."

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