Navajo Council Delegate Katherine Benally’s sister facing ethics charges

Greetings Relatives/Frens/Humans,
It’s Aug. 25, 2014, and earlier today I was at the Navajo Nation Office and Hearings Appeals Office in Window Rock, Ariz., for a pre-hearing on an ethics complaint filed against Dennehotso Chapter Vice President Martha Littleman for hiring her sister, Sylvia Laughter, as the temporary community services coordinator and then changing the hiring of Laughter to a contract after questions were raised involving possible nepotism, conflict of interest and preferential treatment in the interviewing and hiring of Laughter as the temporary services coordinator by Littleman.

Under the Dennehotso contract, Laughter was paid $12,957.76.

Littleman and Laughter are also the sisters of Navajo Council Delegate Katherine Benally, who represents Dennehotso, Kayenta, and Chilchinbeto Chapters. Laughter is a political candidate for the Council delegate position currently held by her sister, Benally, who announced that she would not be running for re-election.

Dennehotso Chapter Secretary/Treasurer Nancy A. Tsosie filed the ethics complaint against Littleman.

During the pre-hearing, NAVAJO NATION OFFICE OF HEARINGS AND APPEALS HEARING OFFICER JOE B. AGUIRRE ASKED DELEGATE KATHERINE BENALLY to leave after she tried to speak for her sister, Martha Littleman, during Aguirre’s questioning of Littleman. Benally did leave the pre-hearing. Prior to Aguirre asking Benally to leave, Aguirre briefly stopped the pre-hearing because Laughter was speaking with Littleman.

LEWNELL HARRISON, INVESTIGATOR FOR THE NAVAJO NATION ETHICS & RULES OFFICE informed Aguirre that he investigated Tsosie’s complaint and that he served the complaint to Littleman and pre-hearing date of Aug. 25, 2014, to Littleman.

HEARING OFFICER AGUIRRE AND ETHICS AND RULES OFFICER DIRECTOR VERNON ROANHORSE also went over the witness list and Aguirre asked Littleman is she objected to any of the witnesses. Aguirre also asked Littlemen if she would be retaining legal counsel.

DENNEHOTSO CHAPTER SECRETARY/TREASURER MARTHA LITTLEMAN said she would be hiring an attorney. Aguirre gave her 30 days to hire an attorney, which was not objected to by Ethics Office Director Roanhorse. Littleman said she objected to Dennehotso Chapter Secretary/Treasurer Tsosie being a witness against her because Tsosie was not in the chapter office all the time.

OHA HEARING OFFICER AQUIRRE denied Littleman’s objection and informed Littleman that her attorney could raise the objection during the actual hearing.

VERNON ROANHORSE, ETHICS OFFICE DIRECTOR, then asked Aguirre if it be alright to have the ethics hearing in Tuba City, which would be much closer to Dennehotso then Window Rock, Ariz.

DENNEHOTSO CHAPTER VICE PRESIDENT LITTLEMAN she preferred to have her ethics hearing in Window Rock.

OHA HEARING OFFICER AQUIRRE then set TUESDAY, SEPT. 30, as the HEARING date. Hearing will start at 9 a.m. in the tribal Office of Hearings and Appeals Office in Window Rock, Ariz., on ethics complaint against DENNEHOTSO CHAPTER VICE PRESIDENT LITTLEMAN. Aguirre informed Littleman that her attorney could file for a change in the hearing date if the Sept. 30 date conflicted with her attorney’s schedule.

Aguirre noted to Littleman that he gave her ample time to hire an attorney and so if she doesn’t have an attorney by Sept. 30, the hearing will proceed.

According to the COMPLAINT, the Dennehotso Chapter advertised for temporary community service coordinator and set March 18, 2013, as the opening date and April 5, 2013, as the closing date. The chapter needed a temp CSC because CSC Carmelita Blackwater would be taking maternity leave.

During a Dennehotso Chapter staff meeting on May 6, 2013, Littleman recommended her sister, Laughter, for the CSC position, and Laughter submitted her application on April 23, 2013 – 18 days after the closing date.

Interviews for the temporary CSC positions were scheduled for May 13, 20914, and when Tsosie informed Blackwater that she couldn’t be at the May 13 interviews, Blackwater asked the Western Agency Local Government Support Center to send a representative to replace Tsosie on the interview panel.

But when the Western Agency LGSC informed Blackwater that they couldn’t send a representative, Blackwater recommended that the interviews be postponed. Littleman’s response was to insist that the interviews be done on May 13 and that she be part of the interview panel.

Littleman participated in the interviews, including the interviewing of her sister, Laughter, and recommended her sister, Laughter, for the temporary community services coordinator position, which prompted Blackwater to raised concerns about possible nepotism by Littleman.

But during a May 20 Dennehotso Chapter staff meeting, Littleman told Blackwater to contact Laughter and hire her as the temporary CSC. Blackwater informed Littleman that no one had been officially selected as the temporary CSC. During the staff meeting, Laughter arrived and Blackwater informed Laughter that no selection had been made.

On May 31, Blackwater had to take emergency leave because of complications with her pregnancy.

And on June 4, Dennehotso Chapter President Frank C. Yazzie directed Chapter Administrative Assistant Renae Hoshnic to complete a personnel action form for Laughter. Hoshnic contacted the Western Agency Local Government Support Center for advisement and assistance because Blackwater had not informed her that Laughter had been hired.

Western Agency LGSC Senior Program and Project Specialist Regina Allison issued a memorandum on June 5 to the Dennehotso Chapter officials about concerns related to the hiring process involving Laughter.

On June 10, Dennehotso Chapter Secretary/Treasurer Nancy A. Tsosie then issued a similar letter to Yazzie and added that she objected to the hiring of Laughter by Littleman.

Littleman and Yazzie responded by hiring Laughter as a contractor and signing a professional services agreement on June 10, even though the contract was never advertized and put out to bid, as mandated by Navajo law.

On June 13, a Dennehotso Chapter resolution confirmed the Laughter’s contract and Laughter was paid $12,957.76.

According to the ethics complaint against Littleman, Littleman “unlawfully used her position as the vice president of Dennehotso Chapter to illegally hire her sister (Laughter). Apparently when the respondent (Littleman) couldn’t get her sister (Laughter) hired as the temporary CSC, the respondent (Littleman) unlawfully used her position to influence the Dennehotso Chapter officials and personnel to get her sister (Laughter) hired as a contractor which was contrary to Navajo law.”

If Littleman is found guilty of violating ethics laws regarding conflict of interest; restrictions against incompatible interests or employment; restrictions and bid requirements for Navajo Nation government contracts; unauthorized personal use of Navajo Nation property or funds, and anti-nepotism, she’ll be removed from any and all Navajo Nation elective public offices; declared ineligible for elective public office for five years, and ordered to pay $12,957.76 in restitution, which must be paid in full before she files for any tribal elective office, and to publicly apologize to the Dennehotso Chapter and general public.

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