Smith ruled eligible for chapter president race
FARMINGTON — A change in a ruling by the Navajo Nation Office of Hearing and Appeals will allow former Shiprock Associated Schools Inc. Board of Education member Frank Smith to run as a candidate for the Tsé Alnaozt'i'í (Sanostee) Chapter president position.
Hearing Officer Joe Aguirre reversed his decision made during a Sept. 27 hearing that removed Smith from a candidate for Tsé Alnaozt'i'í Chapter president. The decision was announced in Aguirre’s written ruling filed on Oct. 7.
The Sept. 27 hearing was held after Smith challenged his removal from his SASI board seat and from the Aug. 30 Navajo Nation primary election ballot.
A letter from the Navajo Election Administration was sent to Smith on Aug. 24 that said he violated the election code by failing to list a 1988 driving while intoxicated conviction on his candidacy paperwork. Smith filed a challenge to his removal on Sept. 2.
The change in Aguirre’s decision was welcomed by Smith.
“It feels good,” Smith said in a telephone interview. “I was surprised.”
In a copy of the written ruling, Aguirre wrote the DWI conviction does not bar Smith from running as a candidate for a chapter president position.
Citing the election code, Aguirre said that the disqualifications for chapter president do not include violations involving alcohol or a DWI conviction, and Smith did not lie on his candidacy paperwork for chapter presidents.
Aguirre’s ruling removing Smith from the SASI board and giving him a lifetime ban from running for a Navajo Nation school board position remains intact. Smith said he did not file an appeal to the Navajo Nation Supreme Court regarding the ruling.
A special election will be held for the Tsé Alnaozt'i'í Chapter position, according to Virginia Nelson, a voter registration specialist for the election office.
Smith is not listed on the ballots for the Nov. 8 general election, and all votes for Tsé Alnaozt'i'í chapter presidential candidates will not be counted, Nelson said. A date has not been set for the special election.
Ruthda Thomas, Tsé Alnaozt'i'í Chapter vice president and candidate for the chapter president position, said the election delay does not bother her.
The SASI Board of Education will be able to operate again soon. The election office has found three people to fill the seats left vacant by Smith and two other board members.
SASI board member Kerlena Tso was removed by the election office on Aug. 10 for a 2000 DWI conviction. Former board President Leonard Anthony resigned from the board on Sept. 7.
His resignation occurred after a memo from the Department of Diné Education was sent to the election office on Aug. 26 that said Anthony failed to disclose a DWI conviction that occurred in 1990.
Nikki Begay was sworn in to fill Anthony’s seat today at the tribe’s district court in Shiprock, Nelson said.
Begay’s appointment as interim board member will let the SASI board meet quorum to operate. According to Nelson, the SASI board will vote at a future meeting to appoint Nate Ellison to Tso’s seat and select either Lolita Spencer or Sarah White for Smith’s old seat.
Local chapters representing the seats submitted the interim board member nominations to the election office.
Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.