Bill to remove Speaker Naize fails
Window Rock — Speaker Johnny Naize will continue his service as leader of the Navajo Nation Council.
The legislation calling for Naize's removal failed by a vote of 12 in favor and 11 opposed, it needed 16 or more votes to pass on Tuesday during the winter session in the council chamber in Window Rock.
In a statement from his office, Naize said the council's decision brings a "conclusive end" to the issue and he asked that the decision be respected.
"As a council, we must continue to practice K'é as a means of remaining united and working toward a better future for Diné People," Naize said.
Delegate Alton Joe Shepherd sponsored the bill, which was filed after Naize was criminally charged with 10 counts of bribery and one count of conspiracy by the tribe's special prosecutor for allegedly misusing money in the council's discretionary fund program.
The program was designed to provide emergency funds for tribal members in need but the special prosecutor alleged Naize used the money to benefit his family members.
In an interview after the vote, Shepherd said he appreciated the council considering the legislation and he knew it would face challenges but he submitted it to restore the "integrity" of the office.
"Now the people will know where their delegates stand and each one of them will have to answer to their communities they represent," Shepherd said.
The council spent almost two hours discussing the bill after approving Delegate Edmund Yazzie to serve as speaker pro tem.
Naize sat next to his chief of staff, Jarvis Williams, in the area reserved for legislative branch staff near the north conference room.
Delegate Joshua Lavar Butler explained that he took time during the weekend to think about the measure and said he hoped there would not be any retaliation for the way delegates voted.
"I have to vote my conscience today," Butler said, then added that he would support the legislation.
Other delegates said the position of speaker is important to the tribal government and is one that represents the Navajo people both on and off the reservation.
Delegate Leonard Tsosie said the question of removal was not easy to decide.
"We are not all stellar either," Tsosie said. "It is important that we present an image of trust and respect."
He also said it is important that the council show they can "police" themselves by approving the legislation.
Delegate Kenneth Maryboy supported the speaker from the council floor by reminding his colleagues that they had no trouble asking Naize to sign funding requests in order to help the people.
Maryboy added that Navajo culture teaches that people should not speak badly about one of their own but that was the route the council was taking.
Once again Delegate Katherine Benally spoke in support of keeping Naize as speaker.
"It is a personal vendetta that is presented against my brother," Benally said in Navajo.
Before the council voted, Yazzie allowed Naize time to address the council.
In Naize's remarks, he said he faithfully served as speaker and never abused the office.
"I believe that I am in good standing," he said.
Minutes before the council voted, Delegate Jonathan Nez invoked a provision in the council's floor rules to delay displaying the delegates' vote until all the votes were locked in.
"I believe your vote is your decision to make, my colleagues, with your constituents in mind and the future of the Navajo Nation," Nez said.
Acting chief legislative counsel Mariana Kahn said a member of the council may, without a second motion, enact the provision.
"It says the speaker 'shall' amend the display until after all the votes are locked in," Kahn said.
But as the voting proceeded, the votes were displayed on the electronic screen, clearly showing how delegates were voting.
After learning about the display, Yazzie asked delegates if they want to continue to vote, which they voiced "vote" and continued voting. In an interview after the session, Shiprock Chapter registered voter Alfred Bennett, Piñon Chapter resident Marshall Johnson, and Hard Rock Chapter resident Aaron Simonson said they were "disappointed" by the outcome.
"The voting as it stands shows that the votes that were needed still stand for corruption," Bennett said.
Johnson said that leaving Naize, who faces criminal charges, in his position shows leaders from the local to the highest level that it is all right to abuse their office.
"The bottom line is that our people are at stake," Johnson said. "Their trust in their leadership that they put in office have manipulated the law, manipulated themselves."
During the session, Johnson stood near the council chamber's front door with a sign stating, "Stop polluting the speaker's office." He said people told him they shared his opinion that Naize should step down.
"If you are charged with something they put you on administrative leave that's what should have happened," Simonson said. "They're sending the wrong message to the younger generation that you can get away with stuff."