New Navajo Council legislation for Removal of Speaker Naize

Navajo Nation Council Walter Phelps and Speaker Johnny Naize touring the former Bennett Freeze Area on Feb. 27, 2014. Photo courtesy of Office of the Speaker

Navajo Nation Council Walter Phelps and Speaker Johnny Naize touring the former Bennett Freeze Area on Feb. 27, 2014. Photo courtesy of Office of the Speaker

On Tuesday, March 4, 2014, Navajo Nation Council Delegate Alton Shepherd said in a telephone interview that he is still waiting for his latest legislation for the Council to remove Speaker Johnny Naize to be posted on the Council website so it can begin its five-day electronic public comment period.

Shepherd said that as soon as the five-day public comment period is over then his legislation, which is NUMBER 0069-14, will go to the Naabik’iyati Committee and then to the Council.

But he said he’s been checking daily with Naize’s office since Feb. 28, 2014, which is when his bill received a number, to find out why 0069-14 has been delayed.

Shepherd said that Naize’s chief of staff, Jarvis Williams, informed him that it had to be Naize to approve the electronic posting of 0069-14 and Naize was touring the former Bennett Freeze area on horseback with Delegate Walter Phelps.

“I believe this is a delay tactic,” he noted.

And Shepherd said that William placing Naize in a “conflict of interest” position by saying that Naize must be the one to review and approve the electronic posting of 0069-14, which is legislation that calls for the Council to remove Naize.

On Tuesday, Naize’s Communications Director Jared Touchin replied in an email to my question about the delay in electronically posting 0069-14: “The legislation will be posted when speaker reviews and signs the legislation. Due to his demanding schedule, he has not reviewed the legislation. Usually, when a legislation of this significance is brought forth, Speaker Naize prefers to review the documents in person.”

On Monday, March 3, 2014, Shepherd announced in a PRESS RELEASE that he was sponsoring new Council legislation for the removal of Naize.

Shepherd stated in his press release that his renewal of his efforts for the Council to remove Naize was once again driven by Naize’s loss of the legal requirement for a speaker to be in “good standing,” which resulted when the Navajo Nation Special Prosecutors filed 11 criminal charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and bribery against Naize in December 2013, and reinforced by former Council Delegate Raymond Joe’s Feb. 18 guilty plea and settlement of related criminal charges filed against him by the special prosecutors.

“My initiation of this second legislation exemplifies my commitment to our Navajo people, to my colleagues and to my constituents within my five chapters to restore confidence in our government,” Shepherd stated. “It is my belief that achieving the required 16 votes will show to our people that the Council can move forward in a positive direction during challenging times, thus eliminating the division of the Council.”

On Jan. 8, 2014, LEGISLATION 0003-14, which Shepherd sponsored, was posted on the Council’s WEBSITE to begin its five-day electronic public comment period before it went before the Council’s Naabik’iyati Committee and finally to the Council, where the Council voted 12 in favor, 11 opposed on it on Feb. 28, 2014. But the legal requirement for 0003-14 to be approval by the Council was by super majority or a 2/3 vote, which would be a minimum of 16 “Yes” votes.

Shepherd noted on Monday that he is also asking for a public statement from Naize’s office regarding misinformation distributed by the Legislative Communications Office that the Feb. 28, 2014, vote on 0003-14 was 11 in favor, 12 opposed.

“There needs to be a public correction,” he said.

On Jan. 31, 2014, Touchine issued an email to the media and others that included an electronic copy of Naat’aji Nahat’a Hane Winter 2014 or Legislative Branch news Winter 2014, which included a message from Naize, committee highlights, and the voting tally record of the Council on legislation that went before them during their Fall session.

The voting tally reported in Naat’aji Nahat’a Hane on 0003-14 was 11 in favor, 12 opposed. A comparison of the Feb. 28, 2014, Council vote, and the vote reported in Haat’aji Nahat’a Hane showed that Delegate Duane Tsinigine’s vote of “Yes” was now a “No” vote.

Shepherd said that then acting Chief Legislative Counsel Marian Kahn advised the Council – verbally and in writing – that the only time that a delegate could change his or her vote after a Council vote was electronically locked into place and announced by the speaker or speaker pro temp was if there was an electronic malfunction.

He recalled that there was no announcement by then Speaker Pro Temp Delegate Edmund Yazzie and Tsinigine of an electronic malfunction after the Council vote on 0003-14.

Touchine, Tsinigine and Naize had not replied to my question regarding the 11 in favor, 12 opposed vote on 0003-14 by 4 p.m. on Tuesday.

Shepherd stated in his Monday press release that after a Feb. 18 guilty plea by former Council Delegate Raymond Joe that several delegates who voted “no” on 0003-14 told him that they would support 0069-14 because they no longer believe Naize’s STATEMENT that he would be fully exonerated of the criminal charges filed against him by the special prosecutors.

Naize also STATED after the Council’s vote on Feb. 28, 2014, that the Council must move forward and live by the words of Delegate Roscoe Smith, who urged the Council “to remain our brother’s keep.”

Joe stated in his guilty PLEA to committing conspiracy to commit bribery that from 2007 to 2009, he made an agreement with “Johnny Naize, Tom LaPahe, Leonard Teller, Kee Yazzie Mann, and Lena Manheimer” to exchange benefits to each other in order to influence and control the disbursements of the discretionary fund to each other and their families.

“I knew that a council delegate could not lawfully authorize financial assistance directly to his or her children or family members and so I agree with other delegate to provide each other’s children and family members with financial assistance money,” Joe stated. “Under this agreement I would authorize a certain sum of money to a family member of a council delegate with the understanding that the delegate would, in return, authorize a similar sum of money to one of my family members.

“At the time I did this, I knew this agreement to try to circumvent tribal lw was wrong,” Joe added. “From October 2007 to January 2009, I exercised my discretion and authorized payments of $10,000 in financial assistance to Council Delegate Johnny Naize’s family…I knew, based on prior conversations with him, that Council Delegate Johnny Naize would use his discretion as an elected Navajo Nation official to provide financial assistance money directly to me and my family.”

Shepherd also stated in his Monday press release that Naize may be considering a settlement of his 11 criminal charges.

“I have personally met with Mr. Naize to make him aware of my intention to submit a new removal legislation and that it is based on my meetings with several delegates’ who supported him in January but now have reversed their position and now want to remove Mr. Naize as speaker,” Shepherd stated. “I also conveyed to him that the opportunity to do the right thing is in his hands once again and he should step down. Since our meeting, he has not done so.”

During a VIDEO CAMERA interview with Shepherd on Feb. 3, 2014, which was after he finished presiding over the Council’s Law and Order, Shepherd spoke briefly about a verbal report from Navajo Nation Ethics and Rules Office Director Vernon Roanhorse to the L&O Committee and answered questions regarding an ethics complaint filed against Naize a couple of years ago.

Shepherd said the L&O Committee wanted an update from the ethics office as part of the amending of Title 2 by the Council, which delegated the hearing of ethics complaints to the Navajo Nation Hearings and Appeals Office.

Shepherd said on Feb. 3, 2014 that Roanhorse reported that there are 133 ethics complaints sitting in his office, which includes an additional 50 cases that involves ethics complaints filed against legislative staff regarding the alleged misuse of discretionary funds.

He said that about 19 of the 50 cases involves discretionary funds that involve the alleged misuse of between $10,000 and $15,000.

Shepherd noted that he specifically asked about the cases involving Naize and the alleged misuse of discretionary funds and Roanhorse advised him that since the cases are under investigation and to not “taint” the cases that Roanhorse is very limited in providing information.

He did confirm that four people had filed an ethics complaint against Naize. “It’s there,” he added. “I’m hoping not to lose any of these cases because of the statute of limitations.”

Shepherd said that he re-emphasized to Roanhorse that the ethics office was created to uphold the accountability of the tribal government and to be independent of politics.

He recalled that since he sponsored the legislation 0003-14, which was the first bill for the Council to remove Naize, that people have approached him about their concerns regarding ethics complaints and alleged ethics violations.

Shepherd said that he would be hand-delivering a letter to Naize that urged Naize to maintain the “integrity and accountability” over the tribal credit cards of Council delegates and legislative staff.

Naize said he would be exonerated of the special prosecutors’ criminal charges filed againt him and that is entirely different from settling those charges, Shepherd said.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *