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Lawndale City Manager to Face Inquiry

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Lawndale City Council has ordered an investigation of City Manager John E. Nowak’s handling of a four-unit condominium project last year.

After a lengthy, often contentious debate among council members at Thursday’s meeting, the council voted 5 to 0 to direct City Atty. David J. Aleshire to determine whether Nowak acted improperly in issuing permits for Jonathan Stein’s project.

Gary McDonald, a local activist and former planning commissioner, alleged at the council’s Dec. 5 session that Nowak ordered planning officials to issue a building permit while simultaneously issuing a stop-work order on Stein’s project, allowing the developer to begin collecting a $700,000 bank loan even though his plans did not meet building codes at that time. The project has since been completed.

Nowak, who sat silently as the charges were leveled at the Dec. 5 meeting, responded angrily to the accusations Thursday.

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“For the last six weeks I have been the victim of a . . . kangaroo court,” Nowak said of the allegations that had been bandied about City Hall for weeks before the Dec. 5 meeting. “I will stand on my reputation of 18 years in the management profession. If the council wishes an investigation (by the city attorney), I welcome it.”

To support his allegation, McDonald submitted a letter from former Planning Director Jack Chapman criticizing Nowak for ordering him to simultaneously issue both the building permit and the stop-work order.

However, Councilman William Johnson on Thursday produced another letter by Chapman written after the Dec. 5 meeting in which he said Nowak’s actions “appear appropriate.” The stop-work order was a minor detail that concerned grading of the property, not the construction of the building, Chapman said in the letter.

Chapman also said that at the time he wrote the first letter, he was “bitter” and unemployed after Nowak decided not to hire him as Lawndale’s permanent planning director. He apologized for having written the first letter, saying his judgment was clouded at the time.

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Chapman’s letter, addressed to Stein and Frontier State Bank President Robert Weiss, whose bank issued the loan, also criticized McDonald for using the earlier letter in an attempt to damage Nowak’s reputation.

Councilman Norm Lagerquist dismissed McDonald’s allegations as part of an “orchestrated stunt” to discredit the city manager and his supporters on the council. “I don’t think your charges are worth two cents,” he told McDonald.


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