Navajo Nation Council Speaker LoRenzo Bates expresses frustration over the president's veto action

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FARMINGTON — Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye today vetoed legislation that would have allowed Navajo voters to determine whether to consolidate the tribe's chapters under commissioner rule.

Begaye said he wanted the process by which the 110 chapters might be brought under the authority of 24 regional governments to include more public input.

The tribal council approved a measure on Aug. 8 that would have placed a referendum question on the issue on the general election ballot in November, if Begaye had supported it.

In a press release issued this afternoon, Begaye said more feedback from tribal members on restructuring is needed to make a final decision.

"We feel the voice of the Navajo people is critical in voting on this referendum, and we are by no means taking this decision-making opportunity from them," Begaye said in the release. "However, in reviewing this legislation, we feel it’s imperative that the Navajo people are represented justly in the process ... if that’s how the people vote. This process shouldn’t be based solely on the decisions of Council."

In a press release issued this evening, Navajo Nation Council Speaker LoRenzo Bates felt otherwise.

Bates said a task force established by the council in May to recommend amendments to the section of the Navajo Constitution that deals with governmental structure held "numerous" public hearings across the Nation.

“Whether you agree with the regionalization concept or not, the underlying intent of the resolution and referendum was to give the Navajo people a voice to decide how their government should be structured through the casting of their ballots,” Bates said in the release.

Begaye's call for more input over the plan echoed some of the feedback tribal members voiced at a handful of meetings over the measure this week. A majority of Northern Agency residents at a meeting Wednesday at the Shiprock Chapter house criticized the lack of notice and public input over the measure.

Vice President Jonathan Nez said in a press release that he wants to expand the chapter-level regional measure to include "overall governmental reform."

"An overall government reform can bring about a more efficient and responsive government for our people," he said in the release. "I believe that by working with Council, pursuant to the public hearings, we can come up with more options for the people to vote on. We should work together to develop a restructured government. This legislation has potential to affect the overall Navajo Nation government beyond the regionalization of chapters."

Begaye said the proposed consolidation would create "super chapters" on the reservation. If approved in current form, the bill would eliminate the positions of chapter president, vice president and secretary-treasurer and replace them with elected commissioners.

"This is an important decision. In essence it creates super chapters across the Nation. If this is the direction the people chose to move toward, I’d like to ensure the participation and input of the Navajo people in the process," Begaye said in the release.

James Fenton is the business editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621.

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