Johnny Naize resigns as speaker, ends his service on Navajo Nation Council

Noel Lyn Smith
The Daily Times

WINDOW ROCK, ARIZ. — Johnny Naize has resigned from the Navajo Nation Council.

Naize, who was the speaker and a delegate, announced his resignation in a single page letter on Monday.

"I leave you today as a result of circumstances beyond my control," Naize wrote. "My departure is because I feel it best to resign as respect for the dignity of the office and position."

Naize was on paid administrative leave as speaker, an action the council approved in April after he was charged last year with 11 counts of bribery and one count of conspiracy for allegedly misusing the discretionary fund. He continued to serve as a council delegate, however.

The discretionary fund was established to allow council delegates to provide financial help to tribal members in need of emergency assistance or facing financial hardship.

In Naize's letter, which was made public by the Legislative Branch, he wrote that it has been a privilege to represent the Arizona chapters of Blue Gap-Tachee, Cottonwood-Tselani, Low Mountain, Many Farms and Nazlini.

Naize started his service on the council in 1999 and was first elected speaker in 2011 then reelected in January 2013.

"The progress made in my sixteen years of service as an elected official fills me with the utmost thanks for the projects and improvements made for my communities," he wrote.

He said he appreciated Legislative Branch staff members and Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly.

Naize wrote that he would be returning to "private life."

"I wish him and his family the best as they move forward," Pro Tem Speaker LoRenzo Bates said in a Legislative Branch press release.

Elected officials who voluntarily resign are mandated to submit a written notice to the Navajo Election Administration, according to tribal law.

Once the resignation is effective, the election administration is authorized to declare a vacancy. Appointment of an individual to fill the vacancy is at the discretion of the speaker or pro tem speaker.

Blue Gap-Tachee Chapter president Aaron Yazzie said chapter officials learned about Naize's resignation Monday afternoon.

Yazzie said he appreciated Naize's service on the council, which resulted in community roads being graveled and a new chapter house.

"Mr. Naize was very effective," he said.

Yazzie added that he was disappointed that Naize was singled out by the legal system when other members of the previous council faced similar allegations of discretionary fund misuse.

"I don't think it is right. I don't think it is equal justice," he said. "They pick and choose who they prosecute."

Naize's resignation was made on the eve of a plea hearing scheduled for 9 a.m. today in Window Rock District Court.

In March, Naize pleaded not guilty to each count. The court later granted a request by the tribe's special prosecutor to hold a group trial for Naize and current delegate David L. Tom and former delegates George Arthur, Leonard Teller and Ernest D. Yazzie Jr.

The group trial was requested because the five defendants "share" conspiracy or substantive charges or common witnesses, according to court documents.

It is set to commence on Oct. 14 and continue until Dec. 19 in Window Rock.

On Sept. 17, Yazzie pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery in a plea agreement.

Yazzie also agreed to provide assistance to the Navajo Nation, through the special prosecutor, in its efforts to resolve the remaining corruption cases against current and former delegates.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636. Follow her @nsmithdt on Twitter.