Interim delegate will represent five chapters

Noel Lyn Smith
Peterson B. Yazzie, left, takes the oath of office to serve as an interim delegate on the Navajo Nation Council on Wednesday in the council chamber in Window Rock, Ariz. Yazzie will replace Mel R. Begay, who represented  Bahastl'ah, Coyote Canyon, Mexican Springs, Naschitti and Tohatchi chapters.

FARMINGTON — An experienced tribal lawmaker has returned to the Navajo Nation Council to temporarily represent five chapter communities.

Window Rock District Court Judge Geraldine Benally administered the oath of office to Peterson B. Yazzie today at the council chamber in Window Rock, Ariz.

In an Aug. 26 letter to the Navajo Election Administration, Speaker LoRenzo Bates appointed Yazzie to represent Bahastl'ah, Coyote Canyon, Mexican Springs, Naschitti and Tohatchi chapters, according to a press release from the speaker's office.

The five chapters have been without representation on the council since the April 15th removal of former delegate Mel R. Begay.

The election administration removed Begay after he was convicted in tribal court of 10 counts of misusing a former financial assistance program to benefit family members.

The Navajo Election Code allows the speaker to appoint an interim delegate at the request of the affected chapters when a vacancy occurs during the first two years in office.

Attached to Bates' letter are resolutions from Coyote Canyon, Naschitti and Tohatchi chapters that list one nominee to fill the interim position.

Also attached is Bahastl'ah Chapter's resolution supporting a selection but no nomination and a letter by Mexican Springs Chapter president stating the chapter will not issue a nomination.

Yazzie previously served on the council from January 1999 to January 2011.

The veteran lawmaker expressed appreciation to the council and legislative staff for welcoming him and stated he looks forward to serving, the speaker's office release states.

Yazzie will serve in the role until the resolution of a series of legal challenges filed after a June 28 special election to fill the council seat.

Candidate Steven S. Begay received the most votes during the special election, followed by candidate Theresa Becenti-Aguilar.

Becenti-Aguilar filed a grievance on July 5 with the Office of Hearings and Appeals, claiming Begay was ineligible to run for the council because he was an employee at Gallup Indian Medical Center.

The election code mandates candidates for the council "must not be in the permanent employment of the United States or any state or subdivision."

The election administration initially declared Begay ineligible and after he filed a grievance, the two parties entered into an agreement that if Begay was elected, he would resign from his employer before taking the oath of office, according to court documents.

After a number of legal filings, the Office of Hearings and Appeals held a hearing Aug. 4 and determined on Aug. 22 that Begay was eligible to run for the position.

Becenti-Aguilar has until 5 p.m. Thursday to file an appeal with the Navajo Nation Supreme Court.

David Jordan, Becenti-Aguilar's attorney, said in a telephone interview that this client plans to file an appeal before the deadline.

Edison Wauneka, executive director of the election administration, said today if there is no appeal, the oath of office can be administered to Begay as early as Sept. 2.

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