Navajo Nation Council concludes the winter session

Noel Lyn Smith The Daily Times
The Daily Times

WINDOW ROCK, ARIZ. — On the last day of the winter session, Navajo lawmakers passed a bill to accept an agreement that authorizes Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly to continue his presidency.

The agreement was signed by Shelly and 12 Navajo Nation Council delegates on Saturday. It allows Shelly to remain in office until a new president is elected and sworn in.

Delegate Seth Damon, who sponsored the bill, said the passage of the measure creates some stability for the presidential office while work continues to elect a new president.

The bill was added to the agenda as an emergency legislation on Thursday during the winter session here.

Although Damon's bill was added as emergency legislation, the delegates voted against adding two bills also labeled as emergencies.

The first bill would have amended the Navajo Election Code to allow write-in candidates as an alternative to the candidates listed on the ballot.

The second bill would have created one presidential special election on March 24 with former president Joe Shirley Jr. and former delegate Russell Begaye listed on the ballot.

The bill would provide for a write-in candidate, and the candidate with the highest number of votes would be declared the winner.

Both bills were sponsored by Delegate Leonard Tsosie and focused on the presidential special election.

The inclusion of those bills generated discussion among the council about what constitutes emergency legislation.

In Tsosie's defense, he said although tribal law explains how a bill is determined an emergency, the interpretation can vary from person to person.

The bills, he said, would put the "election puzzle" together and create relief for the Navajo people.

Delegate David Filfred was among those who did not think the bills qualified as emergencies.

"We are trying to change the rules in the middle of the game," Filfred said.

Delegate Walter Phelps voiced concern about how the bills would impact the council's Dec. 30 action to set special election dates in June and August.

That resolution was signed into law by Shelly on Jan. 10.

"As long as that resolution is there, it is still valid," Phelps said, adding that if the Navajo Nation Supreme Court determines a different course of action for the special election, then the council could consider emergency legislation at that time.

On Jan. 12, two former presidential candidates filed a motion in the Supreme Court to have the resolution that set the June and August special elections declared null and void, as well as hold in contempt of court those delegates who voted for the resolution.

In comments to the council, Delegate Leonard Pete alluded to that motion as a concern because if the council amended the law, it would create more problems.

After the council voted against adding Tsosie's second bill to the agenda, Delegate Edmund Yazzie asked for a report about the election from Edison Wauneka, director of the Navajo Election Administration.

Yazzie was interested in knowing if Wauneka was following the council's resolution or the orders of the Supreme Court.

"We need a definite answer from this individual that is just hiding from the situation here," Yazzie said.

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.