Navajo leaders focus on public safety

Delegates address concerns about public safety during first day of the summer session in Window Rock, Ariz.

Noel Lyn Smith
Navajo Nation Council delegates listen on Monday during the first day of the summer session at the Navajo Nation Council Chambers in Window Rock, Ariz.

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — Tribal leaders talked about ways to increase the number of law enforcement personnel and services available on the Navajo Nation today during the first day of the Council's summer session.

Navajo officials are continuing to address concerns raised by tribal members about public safety and about the Amber Alert, which was called into question after the kidnapping and murder of 11-year-old Ashlynne Mike in May.

The Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President responded by forming a task force on May 9.

From left, Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez and President Russell Begaye  address members of the Navajo Nation Council during the first day of the summer session on Monday at the Council Chambers in Window Rock, Ariz.

In the State of the Nation address, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye and Vice President Jonathan Nez provided a task force update. The group is developing a working relationship between the tribe and state Amber Alert coordinators in New Mexico, Arizona and Utah, Nez said.

The task force is providing training to communities across the Nation, the vice president said.

The task force also is developing an Amber Alert reporting form for tribal police districts to use in the event of a child abduction. The group is waiting on input from public safety personnel before implementing the form, Nez said.

Kee Allen Begay was among the delegates who called for the hiring of more police officers.

Begay said community members are calling for more police officers, including having officers present in the 110 chapters.

Navajo leaders also commended the hiring of Farmington Police Officer Phillip Francisco as chief of police for the tribe’s police department.

Nez explained Francisco is completing the formalities required of a new hire as well undergoing background checks.

"We look forward for him to officially start next month," Nez said.

Navajo Nation Council delegates give speeches on Monday in front of the Navajo Nation Council Chambers before the start of the summer session in Window Rock, Ariz.

Begaye also highlighted an initiative to protect the Bears Ears region in Utah.

The president said he stood alongside Speaker LoRenzo Bates and others in support of the initiative during U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell's visit to Bluff, Utah on July 16.

Both leaders have delivered letters to Jewell and President Barack Obama calling for protection of the area, Begaye said.

In comments from the council, Delegate Walter Phelps expressed concern about senior citizen centers closing due to no funding and reminded the president that the Navajo Area Agency on Aging faced a funding crisis last year.

In response, Begaye said no authorization has been given to close any senior citizen centers. He added a center can only close if it receives permission from his office and the Navajo Department of Health.

"We need to make sure those dollars are spent right and managed properly so our seniors can receive services for the rest of the year," Begaye said.

The president said the tribe received additional funding from New Mexico to operate senior citizen centers within the state.

LoRenzo Bates, speaker of the Navajo Nation Council, talks before the start of the summer session on Monday in Window Rock, Ariz.

Also at the summer session, tribal leaders started the process of developing a budget for fiscal year 2017.

Part of the process for the executive branch includes restructuring divisions, the president said.

Begaye said the branch is continuing its process of determining a division’s budget by evaluating its structure, performance, amount of funding reverted and number of employment vacancies.

There are countless stories of Navajo people visiting offices in Window Rock, only to receive "the run around" while trying to complete their business, he said.

This type of system does not provide adequate customer service, the president said.

He said his office will begin meeting with division personnel next week and then will craft a budget based on the those four factors.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-546-4636.