City Hall

Phoenix Activist: I Faced Intimidation at Job From Councilman Michael Nowakowski

Sean Sweat, the founder of the Urban Phoenix Project, claims Phoenix City Councilman Michael Nowakowski tried to make waves with his employer.
Jim Louvau
Sean Sweat, the founder of the Urban Phoenix Project, claims Phoenix City Councilman Michael Nowakowski tried to make waves with his employer.
A Phoenix activist leading a recall campaign against City Councilman Michael Nowakowski claims that Nowakowski leaned on his employer to get him in trouble.

Sean Sweat is president of the Urban Phoenix Project and the chairman of an affiliated political action committee. He is an outspoken activist for policies he says will make Phoenix a more livable, walkable city. He also works as a supply-chain planner with Intel Corporation in Chandler.

According to Sweat, two worlds that he tries to keep separate collided last month when Nowakowski raised his activism in a conversation with his bosses.

Sweat believes that Nowakowski is using the "dirty tactic" of putting pressure on his employer as a way of intimidating him. Intel acknowledged speaking to Nowakowski's office recently but wouldn't divulge what was said. The councilman has not responded to requests for comment.

The timeline goes like this: First, a mysterious person whom Sweat could not identify reached out to Intel to ask if Sweat was representing the company in his activism at City Hall, Sweat said. That led Sweat to believe Nowakowski might have had something to do with it.

click to enlarge Phoenix City Councilman Michael Nowakowski at a January meeting on the South Central light rail extension. - JOSEPH FLAHERTY
Phoenix City Councilman Michael Nowakowski at a January meeting on the South Central light rail extension.
Joseph Flaherty
Then, on October 9, Sweat was called in for a meeting with two representatives from Intel's human resources and public affairs departments. They gently reminded him of the workplace code of conduct and the "pitfalls" that employees could encounter during civic activity.

Sweat reassured them that he never portrays himself as representing Intel during his civic activism. He emphasized that he was not reprimanded during the meeting, describing the talk as more of an "FYI."

Sweat couldn't say definitively whether Nowakowski was trying to get him fired. But he believes the councilman ultimately wanted to portray Sweat's activism negatively to Intel and therefore stymie the recall effort.

"I consider it just an intimidation tactic," Sweat said in an interview last week. "He doesn’t want to be recalled. He doesn’t want to actually face the people in a vote."

Sweat said that council members shouldn't be discussing constituents with their employers in negative ways, adding the tactic is "completely inappropriate."

Currently, Sweat's PAC is gathering signatures to remove Nowakowski from office, citing the councilman's history of anti-LGBTQ remarks and his openness to altering the South Central light rail design, which could have had potentially fatal consequences for the transit extension.

The Urban Phoenix Project PAC launched the campaign to recall Nowakowski in late August. Organizers must achieve 1,337 signatures from voters in Nowakowski's district by December 27 in order to make the ballot for a future election. Sweat said that they're in the middle of counting the signatures, but he feels like they are "very close" to the goal.

Nowakowski has represented District 7, which encompasses parts of southwest Phoenix and the downtown area, on the City Council since 2008. He ran unopposed during his 2015 re-election bid.

Intel acknowledged that it recently talked to Nowakowski's office, but beyond that, the company wouldn't say much about the conversation and how it might have related to the recall drive.

An Intel spokesperson, Linda Qian, wrote in an email, "We recently spoke to Councilman Nowakowski’s office regarding the light rail. It is not unusual for Intel to speak to state, city and county leaders on various issues.

"Our employees are free to participate in civic matters as private citizens. They’re not representing Intel in these situations," she continued.

Qian did not respond to further questions about whether Sweat's activism was a specific topic of discussion or whether a meeting took place with Nowakowski personally or with his staff.

Repeated requests for comment to Nowakowski through the city of Phoenix were not returned. A direct campaign representative for Nowakowski could not be reached for comment.

However, in a statement to the Arizona Republic, Nowakowski denied that he asked for the meeting with Sweat's company. "Intel requested the meeting with me. I commonly meet with employers who request meetings," Nowakowski told the Republic.

Sweat is confident that Nowakowski's effort of tattling to his employer won't amount to anything.

"My employer has integrity. It’s one of the things I like about Intel. I absolutely trust that Councilman Nowakowski’s intimidation tactics won’t have the effect he’s hoping for," Sweat said.