Controller appointed for Navajo Nation

Noel Lyn Smith
Jim R. Parris

FARMINGTON — Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye and Vice President Jonathan Nez have appointed a new controller to oversee the tribe’s finances.

Jim R. Parris was named controller in a press release Tuesday from the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President.

Parris is a certified public accountant and a member of the Osage Nation and the Cherokee Nation, according to the release.

He has more than 35 years of experience in accounting, auditing and management in the tribal, federal and private sectors.

His experience includes serving as the first Native American CPA to work at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, as the first controller for the Osage Nation in 1978 and as the chief financial officer and treasurer for the Cherokee Nation in 2001.

Parris, a Navy veteran who served from 1973 to 1976, started work on Tuesday in Window Rock, Ariz.

In a telephone interview Wednesday, Parris said he met with staff, was introduced to program managers and received information about the finance division.

Tribal law mandates the controller have a bachelor’s degree in accounting or finance and eight years of experience in governmental finance and accounting administration and be certified as a CPA.

The controller is appointed by the president at a negotiated salary with the approval of the Navajo Nation Council and serves at the pleasure of the council, according to tribal law.

Parris earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Oklahoma State University in 1977 and was certified as a CPA in 1981.

He said the president’s office is working with members of the council to sponsor legislation to confirm his appointment and that bill could be considered by the council during the winter session in January.

"We welcome Jim to the Navajo Nation. We know his experience and knowledge is vital in overseeing and protecting the Navajo Nation’s finances and assets and in helping build the portfolio of the nation," the president said in the release.

Begaye added it was challenging for his administration to find a controller because there are few Navajos who are CPA certified.

"Many are still sitting for their exams and most have just started in their career and wish to seek experience before returning home," Begaye said.

Parris said he was aware of the effort made by the administration and planned to work with staff within the Office of the Controller who are interested in pursuing a CPA.

"I’m going to do my best to mentor the people here," he said.

Among the duties, responsibilities and authority of the controller is reporting to the council and its standing committees about the financial condition of the tribe.

The controller also formulates financial policies and procedures for the council, serves as chairperson for the tribe’s Investment Committee and is an adviser for the Budget and Finance Committee.

Budget and Finance Committee chairman Seth Damon and vice chairman Dwight Witherspoon could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Speaker LoRenzo Bates issued a statement about Parris' appointment to The Daily Times on Wednesday.

“The council is focused on diversifying and expanding the nation’s financial portfolio, to provide finance options for vital projects and to provide Navajo communities with much needed infrastructure. If Mr. Parris’ appointment is confirmed by the council, we will then look to him to utilize his knowledge to meet the expectations of the nation,” Bates said.

The tribe's finances have been overseen by an acting controller after former Controller Mark Grant resigned in February.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.