Window Rock — The Naa'bik'íyáti' Committee tabled legislation calling for the removal of Navajo Nation Council Speaker Johnny Naize.
The bill was proposed after Naize was charged with 10 counts of bribery and one count of conspiracy by the tribe's special prosecutor on Dec. 3.
Delegate Dwight Witherspoon motioned to table the measure, which was seconded by Delegate Jonathan Hale, and the committee voted 10 in favor and seven opposed during Thursday's committee meeting in the council chamber in Window Rock.
Naize recused himself as the chairperson and then left.
Acting chief legislative counsel Mariana Kahn read the provision in tribal law which provides that when the chairperson is absent then members shall nominate and elect a pro tem chairperson.
After taking nominations, the committee elected Delegate Mel Begay.
While addressing the committee, Delegate Alton Joe Shepherd, who is sponsoring the bill, reiterated that Navajo law mandates the speaker be a member of the council, serves at the pleasure of the council, and shall be in good standing.
Naize was elected to serve his first term as speaker in January 2011, he was reelected last January.
"We selected him because he was in good standing, as I mentioned, as a member of this council and we choose him to be our first of equals to lead us forward in confidence," Shepherd said.
He said that he spoke to several delegates who took the position that Naize should step down. Naize has issued a statement saying he will not step down and that he did nothing wrong.
Shepherd added that some delegates have told him that Naize should be afforded due process before calling for his removal and the situation should be handled by the tribe's Ethics and Rules Office.
Before submitting the legislation, Shepherd said he reviewed the tribe's election code, which did not outline the process to remove the speaker, but Title 2 of the Navajo Nation Code explained that two-thirds vote by the council is needed for removal.
When delegates took the oath of office in January 2011, they promised to uphold and abide by the tribal laws and advance the Navajo people, Shepherd said.
"This legislation is basically preserving the image, the integrity that the chair brings to this council," Shepherd said.
Begay called for Naize to make a presentation or rebuttal to the committee but the speaker was not present in the council chamber.
Shepherd is also sponsoring the bill to nominate a replacement for Naize if the council removes him.
While discussing that bill, Delegate Lorenzo Curley said the tribe is putting its legitimacy at stake and the Office of the Speaker manages a large sum of money so it calls into question the integrity on how that office should be operated.
"If I were speaker, I would say, 'Deal with this, all of this,' and step aside," Curley said. "I will give him that opportunity from now until Navajo Nation Council to do that, because I don't what to vote today to remove him."
But if Naize does not voluntarily vacant the office, Curley said he would vote to remove him.
Delegate Katherine Benally supported Naize.
"Speaker Naize from here to January of 2015," Benally said.
Delegate Kenneth Maryboy said the council should not cave to "social or media pressure" in removing Naize.
"Who are we to judge somebody?" Maryboy said and then directed a comment to Shepherd, "I remember you standing there, you took the oath the same way that I did. What makes you a better person?"
Once again Witherspoon motioned to table the legislation, which was seconded by Delegate Charles Damon II, and passed by a vote of 14 in favor and two opposed.
Despite the tabling, both bills continue to the council, where final authority rests.
The council convenes for the winter session on Monday in the council chamber in Window Rock.Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @nsmithdt on Twitter.