Northern Navajo Agency Council President Donald Benally last Thursday appointed Shiprock community member Donovan Begay as the new director. The appointment is Benally's responsibility according to the board's current plan of operation.
The board, however, is currently making changes to that same plan. The new plan, which is expected to be approved by the Navajo Nation legislature by the end of the week, would allow the board to instead appoint the director.
"This is a really critical issue," said Shiprock Chapter President William Lee, who feels that the board is taking power away from both the Northern Navajo Agency and the Shiprock Chapter.
The changes, however, are hoped to ensure that scandal no longer surrounds the fair, said Navajo Nation Fair Board President Russell Begay.
"If we amend our plan of operation, and we take out those items that lend themselves to abuse É that will take out the issues in the system," Begay said.
The fair's history, after all, is stained. Ê
The last-minute, yet-to-be-seen appointment follows swift removal of former Fair Director Lloyd Smith just three weeks ago.
The board accused Smith of accepting money on behalf of the board during private dealings with a carnival operation out of Utah in June. Brown's Amusements paid Smith about $3,500 in cash. The company later regretted the payment when it could not reach Smith, so instead called the fair board and later learned that Smith was not supposed to accept payments on behalf of the board.
The board confronted Smith, and filed a lawsuit with the Navajo Nation Department of Justice later that month. Brown's Amusements also intended to bring Smith to a small claims court, Begay said, because it had to the payment again, this time to the board.
Smith, who was sent to jail for misconduct during a September meeting last year, has not repaid the $3,500, Begay said. As of August, Smith will no longer be part of the fair board, a directive of the Navajo Nation Department of Justice.
Smith is not the only member who has tainted the fair's recent history. Ê
Smith last year accused former board member Wallace Ben of financial mismanagement, claiming that it was unethical for him to hire himself for repairs at the fairgrounds. Ben also was accused of privately collecting nearly $14,000 from fair vendors and donors. The board voted him out of his position last September.
It was not until last year, during the 100th anniversary of the fair, that the 19-member Northern Navajo Nation Fair Board even had some semblance of control over the fair. During the year prior the board wrestled for power with the fair's original board, the Shiprock Fair Board, Inc., which was unseated the same year because of nearly identical issues.
As a precaution, the Northern Navajo Nation Fair Board last year signed a memorandum of agreement with the executive branch of the Navajo Nation, requesting that it oversee the fair board and watch for dishonest behavior.
Shiprock Chapter President Lee claims that it is exactly what already is ensuing again, dishonesty.
Board members disagreed, stating the amendments to the plan of operation would ensure embezzlement, fraud, and mismanagement overall would be things of the past for the fair.
The fair board is expected to conduct a special meeting at the Cudeii Chapter House on Saturday, Aug. 25, to finalize the board's plan of operation.