Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly to remain in office

Noel Lyn Smith The Daily Times
The Daily Times

TSÉ BONITO — Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly will continue his service as tribal president through a last-minute agreement with the Navajo Nation Council.

The agreement allows Shelly to join the elected members of the tribal council and other offices in taking the oath of office on Tuesday. Shelly will be sworn in during a separate ceremony.

Details of the agreement were made public by the Navajo Nation Supreme Court during a court hearing on a petition five assistant attorneys general filed on Wednesday that asked the high court to clarify who will legally hold the presidency after Tuesday.

Under normal circumstances, Navajo registered voters would have selected a president during the Nov. 4 general election, and that individual would be taking the oath of office Tuesday. But a new president was not determined after one of the presidential candidates was disqualified and his name was not removed from the ballot, leading to an election delay.

A notice to withdraw the petition was submitted and accepted by Supreme Court Chief Justice Herb Yazzie's office before the court convened on Saturday at the Navajo Division of Transportation here.

The withdrawal notice states that Shelly and Pro Tem Speaker LoRenzo Bates "talked things out in the spirit of k'é and hózhó" and entered into the agreement that "will resolve the impasse of who will be president on Tuesday."

The agreement ends the "disharmony between the executive and legislative branches," and the tribal government will be "stable" during the transition to the new council, the notice states.

The agreement was signed on Friday by Shelly, Bates, Council Delegate Leonard Tsosie and incoming delegates Otto Tso and Amber Crotty.

Bates and Tsosie are incumbents, and will join Tso and Crotty in taking the oath of office this week.

Under the terms of the agreement, Shelly will maintain all power and duties under the provisions of the tribal law, and the council agrees not to introduce legislation to replace him before the winter session convenes on Monday, Jan. 26.

Shelly and the new council will meet to discuss the "best interest" of the tribe before the winter session.

Because of the agreement, Yazzie, Associate Justice Eleanor Shirley and Associate Justice by Designation William Platero ordered the court hearing vacated after deliberating for an hour behind closed doors.

In the high court's written order to vacate the hearing, they wrote that they were not taking a position in saying the agreement between Shelly and the council complies with tribal law.

They added that the proceeding may not be interpreted to mean that the high court approves of the factual assertions and legal conclusions of the agreement or to the agreement itself.

"Further, the agreement has no legal effect on the orders previously issued by this court," the order states.

The justices reiterated that they maintain jurisdiction over the presidential special election until Jan. 31, which is the deadline the high court set for the special election.

On Saturday afternoon, Shelly signed into law two bills that were passed by the council on Dec. 30.

The first one authorizes a special run-off election for the presidency on June 2 and a special general election on Aug. 4.

It also allows for each of the 17 presidential candidates who ran in the Aug. 26 primary election to be contacted and given the choice to participate in the special run-off election.

If they choose to run, they must file their candidacy paperwork by April 3.

Those candidates would have their applications certified by the Navajo Election Administration no later than April 4.

It also outlines the various deadlines associated with the election and provides $317,891 in funding to the election office to conduct both elections.

Shelly also signed off on the bill to pardon and reinstate the nine former members of the Navajo Board of Election Supervisors.

Wallace Charley served as the election board chairman and was one of two representatives from the Northern Agency on the board.

Charley said on Saturday that he gives credit to the council for supporting the pardon and reinstatement of the board.

"I strongly believe the truth freed the Navajo board of election," he said, adding that the Supreme Court was legislating from the bench when it stripped the election board of its authority on Oct. 31.

The high court's ruling also disqualified the members from holding elected office and running for elected office for eight years.

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