FARMINGTON — The Navajo Nation Council will decide whether or not to prohibit delegates from simultaneously serving on the council and in county offices.
A bill before the tribal council states that if delegates continue their service as county officials, they must forfeit their service as delegates.
The proposed amendment would require delegates to submit a copy of their resignation from county service within 10 days of their election to the Navajo Election Administration. If the resignation is not submitted, the position would be declared vacant and an appointment would be made by the speaker.
If the legislation was enacted, it would apply to current delegates and to candidates running in this year's tribal council election.
Delegate Leonard Tsosie is sponsoring the bill, which became eligible for committee action on Thursday and was assigned to the Law and Order and Naa'bik'íyáti' committees and the council, where final authority rests.
"You can't speak strongly for the Navajo Nation if you are on both sides, because you are always trying to appease both," Tsosie said.
The council has been patient with delegates who serve both offices, Tsosie said, but it creates problems like missing or delaying committee meetings and placing county needs and concerns over tribal ones.
"I like to think that we are helping them," Tsosie said. "That way they are not in a dilemma — 'Do I support the county? Do I support the Navajo Nation? What do I do here?'"
Currently, there are two delegates who serve as county commissioners.
Delegate Jonathan Nez is serving his second term on the tribal council, where he represents the chapters of Navajo Mountain, Shonto and Ts'ah bii Kin in Arizona and Utah's Oljato. He is also in his second term as commissioner for Navajo County in Arizona.
Nez recalled that when the 24-member council took office in January 2011, its members talked about restricting delegates to only serving on the council, but that idea did not move beyond discussion.
Nez said he is trying not to think of the bill as a personal attack. If the council thinks change needs to happen, they have that authority, he said.
"I'm doing my very best for the constituents who put me in these two positions," Nez said, adding if the people were unsatisfied with his service, he would not be running unopposed in the council election.
Delegate Kenneth Maryboy was first elected county commissioner for San Juan County, Utah, in November 2006. Maryboy could not be reached for comment.
Kim Carpenter, executive officer for San Juan County, N.M., said there are advantages in having one person serve in both offices because it allows an individual to learn about county issues and then explain those concerns to the council.
Another advantage, he said, is that the county often doesn't know about the issues on the reservation, so this is one way to open up a dialogue.
He added it is rare for the county to have a commissioner who is also a tribal council delegate, and there is no county law against commissioners serving in more than one office. Voters elected Scott Eckstein, for example, to serve as both a county commissioner and as mayor of Bloomfield, Carpenter said.
Instead of focusing on whether or not individuals are placing one group's needs over another, "it should be about general service to the people," Carpenter said.