Committee advises passage of deal with county

Noel Lyn Smith
Arbin Mitchell, left, chief of staff for the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President, and Lorenzo J. Begay listen to the deliberations of the Resources and Development Committee on Friday in Window Rock, Ariz. The committee confirmed Begay’s service on the Navajo Agricultural Products Industry board of directors.

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. – A bill that proposes that the Navajo Nation provide money to pay San Juan County for solid waste services passed its first committee on Friday.

The tribe and the county have been in a joint powers agreement since 1994 for services provided at transfer stations in Shiprock, Upper Fruitland and Sand Springs.

Under the amended agreement, the county would continue to manage the stations, and the tribe would pay approximately $267,000 annually for operating expenses.

The bill containing the amended agreement was presented to the Resources and Development Committee by Delegate Tom Chee, who is cosponsoring the measure.

After listening to Chee's presentation, Delegate Davis Filfred spoke in support of the modified agreement since it will continue to reduce illegal dumping.

“If we don’t approve it, I think we’re going to see more mattresses along the roads,” Filfred said, adding the potential for trash being left in arroyos and ditches could increase.

After reviewing the bill, Delegate Walter Phelps said the amended agreement appears to satisfy the Navajo Preference in Employment Act for the transfer stations on the reservation.

But he expressed concern about a section of the agreement that states any unresolved disputes arising under the agreement will be addressed by the county executive officer and the executive director of the Division of Community Development.

“That’s the part that bothers me. We are using Navajo money, but yet, when it comes to dispute resolution, we’re totally subjecting ourselves to the county executive director,” Phelps said.

The agreement states there is no further means for resolving a dispute, including those that affect Navajo employees, he said.

Delegate Leonard Tsosie voiced opposition to the agreement and said he will not support its passage. Tsosie's also said he wanted more information about the relationship between the county and Waste Management Inc., including a list of any outstanding payments the county could owe the company.

Members of the Resources and Development Committee confirmed Peter Deswood III, right, to serve on the Navajo Agricultural Products Industry board of directors on Friday in Window Rock, Ariz.

He called the agreement a “bad deal” because the tribe would be responsible for all expenses at the transfer stations but would not own the facilities.

“We’re not taking possession of it. We’re just paying the bills,” Tsosie said.

The committee voted 3-1 to give the legislation a “do pass” recommendation. It continues to the Budget and Finance Committee and to the Naa'bik'íyáti' Committee, where final authority rests.

In other action, the committee approved two appointments to the board of directors for the Navajo Agricultural Products Industry. Lorenzo J. Begay will represent the Chinle Agency, and Peter Deswood III will represent District 13, which is comprised of the Nenahnezad, San Juan, Tiis Tsoh Sikaad and Upper Fruitland chapters.

Delegate Leonard Pete sponsored the bill seeking Begay’s confirmation.

“We have a person before us who is highly educated, and I believe he’ll be a great help to NAPI,” Pete said.

Begay shared information about his education and work experience, including working with nonprofit groups and chapter governments, and as chief executive officer for Navajo Nation Shopping Centers Inc.

Phelps said he reviewed Begay’s résumé and noticed he has held a number of positions throughout the years, but what stood out is the time he spent at each job.

“If you are going to make a difference with anything in your life, you stick with it in the long haul,” Phelps said.

In Deswood's remarks to the committee, he said he learned about NAPI while growing up in Farmington and how it was developed as a farm to help the Navajo people.

Delegate Tsosie said he remains disappointed with the current board members, and he would like Begay and Deswood to work with the committee rather than "in collusion" with the current board.

“I hope you stand up,” Tsosie said.

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