Councilman's signs spark dirty politics accusations

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The signs are plastering Phoenix City Councilman Michael Nowakowski's name throughout the city, even outside the boundaries of District 7, the area he represents. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) The signs are plastering Phoenix City Councilman Michael Nowakowski's name throughout the city, even outside the boundaries of District 7, the area he represents. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

Political signs are popping up all over the city of Phoenix for a candidate who is not running for office.

The signs are plastering Phoenix City Councilman Michael Nowakowski's name throughout the city, even outside the boundaries of District 7, the area he represents.

The signs have some people raising eyebrows, questioning Nowakowski’s intentions and asking the City if they violate campaign sign ordinances.

Ray Bradford, a politically active Phoenix resident, said he filed a formal complaint with the City Clerk's Office.

[SPECIAL SECTION: Arizona politics]

“I’m a little confused because, as I understand it, he’s termed out in his position on the Phoenix City Council and is not eligible for reelection. Why suddenly, are we seeing campaign signs with his name on them?” asked Bradford.

Nowakowski was re-elected to the council in 2015 and he will term out in 2020 when his third term ends. 

The signs have been placed all over the city, in many cases, locations far outside the boundaries of District 7.

“Is this a way for him to perhaps be seeking a higher office, such as mayor of Phoenix or some other office that may be opening soon? And he’s using this time and those old campaign signs to get his name out there without having to file for election, without having to file his campaign? I think it’s dirty,” said Bradford.

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton is ready to step down as mayor to jump into the race for the U.S. House of Representatives, should Rep. Kyrsten Sinema step down to run for U.S. Senate. That would force a special mayoral election as early as the spring.

A spokesman for the City Clerk’s Office confirmed they have received several inquiries and complaints about the signs. Bradford said his complaint asked the City to investigate whether the signs violate city ordinance.

“The city, so far, has not responded to me. They said it would take 48 hours, up to 48 hours. It’s been more than that now,” said Bradford. 

According to the clerk’s office, there are city ordinances that regulate campaign signs. As a general rule, they can go up 60 days before an election and they have to be taken down 10 days after. There is a state law that says political signs have to support or oppose a candidate or ballot measure. Based on those guidelines, the city would be able to remove the signs because they do not support a candidate or ballot measure.

But the clerk’s office said a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Reed v. Town of Gilbert prohibits a sign from being judged on “content.” And to deem the signs that Nowakowski has recently put up as political signs, which would fall under city code and state law, the clerk would have to judge them by their content.

[READ MORE: Supreme Court rules for Gilbert church in sign law dispute (June 18, 2015)]

“I think Nowakowski has some questions he needs to answer to the public. Why is he doing this? If it’s not illegal it’s surely unethical,” said Bradford.

In a phone interview, Nowakowski admitted to being the one who put up the signs. He said it is strictly to get people out to vote.

"Since I was 13 years of age, my family and I have always encouraged people to get out and vote. Your vote is your voice. So, so if you don’t go out and vote, you have no voice in this whole debate,” said the councilman.

Nowakowski denied putting the signs up in hopes of seeking wider spread name recognition. 

 “I think my name is out there already. If I can use Nowakowski to catch the people’s attention to get out the vote, that’s great. That’s the whole purpose,” said Nowakowski.

The councilman added that right now, he represents District 7 in the City of Phoenix and he would not make any decision on his future until Mayor Stanton leaves office. 

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Donna RossiEmmy Award-winning reporter Donna Rossi joined CBS 5 News in September 1994.

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Donna Rossi

In that time, Donna has covered some of the most high-profile stories in the Valley and across the state. Donna's experience as a four-year veteran of the Phoenix Police Department gives her a keen sense of crime and court stories. She offered gavel to gavel coverage of the 1999 sleepwalking murder trial of Scott Falater, and the trial and conviction of retired Catholic Bishop Thomas O'Brien for a fatal hit and run accident. She also spent 2 straight weeks in northeastern Arizona in the summer of 2011 covering the Wallow Fire, the largest wildfire in Arizona history.

Donna's reputation as a fair and accurate journalist has earned her the respect of her colleagues and community. Her talent as a reporter has earned her more than a dozen Arizona Associated Press Awards and five Emmy statue.

Donna previously worked as an anchor and reporter in Tucson and got her start in broadcast journalism in Flagstaff. Donna is a past president of the Rocky Mountain Southwest Chapter of the National Academy of Arts and Sciences and currently serves on the NATAS board. She is a member of IFP/Phoenix, a non-profit organization of local film and documentary makers.

Donna was born in New York and moved to the Valley with her family when she was 9 years old. She is a graduate of Maryvale High School and attended Arizona State University. She graduated cum laude from Northern Arizona University.

In her free time, Donna enjoys boating on Bartlett Lake, all forms of music and theatre. Donna frequently donates her time to speak to community organizations and emcee their events. She is a past board member of DUET, a non-profit which helps promote health and well-being for older adults. Donna also loves donating her time to youth organizations and groups who work to secure and safeguard human rights.

On Oct. 17, 2015, Donna was honored for her amazing work over the years. The Rocky Mountain Chapter of the National Academy of Televisions Arts and Sciences inducted her into its Silver Circle. It's one of the organization's most prestigious honors for which only a few candidates are selected each year.

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