Window Rock, ARIZ. — The Navajo Nation Council spent most of Wednesday debating whether a bill to appoint a new speaker would remain on the winter session agenda.
The legislation was drafted in the event that Speaker Johnny Naize was removed as leader of the council.
Delegate Alton Joe Shepherd, who sponsored bills to remove and replace the speaker, was prepared to deliver his remarks to the council when Delegate Katherine Benally raised a point of order. She explained that when delegates met last week in the Naa'bik'íyáti' Committee, they learned the legislation would not be needed if the removal bill did not pass by a supermajority. The council on Tuesday voted 12 in favor, 11 opposed on the removal bill.
"With that, this legislation is out of order," Benally said.
Immediately following Benally's comments, Delegate Leonard Tsosie reminded the council there was no opportunity to talk about the legislation during the Naa'bik'íyáti' Committee because it was tabled to move it to the council.
"I think this is correctly in front of the council, and we should continue to discuss it," Tsosie said.
Benally said she was prepared "to sit here all day" to debate the legislation and its place on the agenda.
And that is what happened. The council spent more than four hours raising questions, calling for legal opinions and challenging a ruling made by speaker pro tem Edmund Yazzie.
Yazzie ruled the bill be removed from the agenda after Navajo Nation Assistant Attorney General Dana Bobroff explained "two avenues" the council could take to remove the bill. The first authorizes Yazzie to rule the legislation "out of order" and the second would have council follow the appropriate steps to remove it.
Bobroff then asked acting chief legislative counsel Mariana Kahn to weigh in on the matter. Before Kahn could speak, Tsosie raised a point of order and said he "would be very hesitant" to accept legal advice from Kahn because Naize is her boss.
"How are you going to get straight advice when you give an opinion against your boss?" Tsosie said.
Despite Tsosie's disagreement, Kahn was allowed to speak and concurred with Bobroff's opinion because, she said, the legislation was drafted in the event Naize was removed.
"This particular resolution is drafted to fill a vacancy of the speaker," Kahn said.
Once again, Benally raised a point of order and called the legislation "out of order." He then motioned to delete it off the agenda, which was seconded by Delegate George Apachito.
Benally later double-checked that her motion would need to pass by supermajority, and, after learning it did, she withdrew her motion, which left Yazzie to decide whether or not to remove the bill from the agenda. He ruled the legislation out of order because its consideration would have depended on Naize first being removed from office.
"I warn you as a council, we need to treat this with caution," Delegate Leonard Pete said.
He said the removal legislation created a "canyon" between delegates, who now have 11 months to accomplish their work before a new council takes office.
Discussion turned when Delegate Lorenzo Curley asked Bobroff for an update on the Shiprock Chapter request to have Attorney General Harrison Tsosie issue an opinion about whether delegates who face criminally charges should remain in office.
Members of Shiprock Chapter approved a resolution requesting the opinion on Jan. 6. Similar resolutions were approved by Tiis Tsoh Sikaad and Becenti chapters in New Mexico.
Bobroff issued the opinion Wednesday afternoon. The attorney general has recused himself from matters pertaining to the investigation being completed by the tribe's special prosecutor.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.