Shiprock farm board member removed

Noel Lyn Smith
Joe Ben Jr., a former farm board member for the Shiprock Chapter,  speaks during a meeting July 5 at the Gadii'ahi-Tokoi Chapter house.

FARMINGTON – The farm board member for Shiprock Chapter has been removed from office after a complaint was filed earlier in the year.

The Navajo Election Administration removed Joe Ben Jr., who was serving as a farm board member, in an Aug. 11 letter.

The letter states Ben was removed due to not paying child support which was listed as a felony on Oct. 23, 2012.

Ben was elected on Nov. 6, 2012, according to the official results posted on the election administration website. He did not seek re-election this year and his term would have ended in January.

The letter states that the Navajo Election Code mandates a candidate must not have been convicted of a felony within the last five years.

In addition, elected officials must maintain qualifications while in office.

Virginia Nelson, a voter registration specialist at the election administration office in Shiprock, said the seat has been declared vacant. She said the office issued the decision after a complaint about Ben was filed in March.

Ben did not respond to a message seeking comment today.

He had not file a grievance regarding the removal, according to the Office of Hearings and Appeals in Window Rock, Ariz., and the deadline has passed.

Joe Ben Jr., a former farm board member for the Shiprock Chapter, speaks on Aug. 17, 2015, during an emergency meeting at the Shiprock Chapter house in the wake of the Gold King Mine spill

As of Sept. 1, Joe owed $364,105.72 in child support, according to the New Mexico Human Services Department website.

The department's Child Support Bench Warrant program publishes and posts online the names of non-custodial parents who do not pay court ordered child support.

Under the election code, a farm board member position declared vacant can be filled by a majority vote by farm board members based on a recommendations from the affected chapters.

If the farm board does not have a quorum because of the vacancy, the Navajo Board of Election Supervisors will make a selection based on a chapter resolution.

Farm Board President Gilbert Harrison Sr. said today the board was unaware of Ben’s removal until they were notified last week by a community member.

The board has not received a recommendation from Shiprock Chapter and Ben attended the Sept. 6 board meeting, Harrison said.

"We need an answer because we'll be one person short on the board," he said.

Shiprock Chapter President Duane "Chili" Yazzie said today he did receive a copy of the removal letter and listed a discussion for naming a replacement on the Sept. 4 chapter meeting agenda.

Yazzie said he removed the discussion item after talking to Ben because Ben stated he was unaware of the situation.

In response, Yazzie said he has requested the election administration to explain the process for removing a farm board member to the chapter membership during a meeting on Sunday.

"So we haven't taken any kind of action on it. …As far as his status, I will need to reserve comment until we get the explanation from the election office," Yazzie said.

He added that Ben did attend the Sept. 4 chapter meeting but his name was removed from the area where chapter officials sit.

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