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Tribe's top financial officer steps down

Noel Lyn Smith
nsmith@daily-times.com
Acting Controller Jim R. Parris, lower right, talks to the Navajo Nation Council in January during the discussion on the bill to confirm his appointment in Window Rock, Ariz.

FARMINGTON — Jim R. Parris, the man responsible for managing the Navajo Nation's financial matters, submitted his resignation this week amidst accusations that he was pressured to act unethically.

The resignation comes about a week after the introduction of a bill that would have removed him from the job.

Parris had been serving as the tribe’s controller since being named to the position last December by tribal President Russell Begaye.

Members of the Navajo Nation Council confirmed his appointment on Jan. 27.

Speaker LoRenzo Bates said today Parris submitted his resignation Monday and it listed Saturday as his last day.

The letter was addressed to Bates, Begaye and Delegate Seth Damon, who serves as chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee.

Damon is one of four delegates who sponsored the bill to remove Parris.

When asked if Parris provided any reason for his decision to leave, Bates said: "It's a personnel matter."

Jim Parris

Begaye said in a written statement to The Daily Times today that Parris was asked to resign or be terminated by legislation.

The president added that Parris' resignation letter noted that on several occasions Bates made ultimatums that Parris should support the council or face removal.

"This type of political pressure hadn't skewed his ethics but was not conducive to performing financial diligence on behalf of the nation," Begaye stated.

When contacted late today, Bates denied Begaye's allegation, which he characterized as "completely false."

"I find it interesting that within the last hour the president would make such an allegation," Bates said adding he spoke to the president earlier this evening and they had a disagreement over a law that designates authority to allocate money in a tribal fund created from a settlement over federal mismanagement of the tribe's natural resources.

Bates said he told Begaye that he will not break the law then reiterated Parris' resignation is a personnel matter and can't be discussed publicly.

The speaker also expressed disappointment in what he said was the president's decision to violate the confidentiality surrounding Parris' letter of resignation by including information from it in today's statement.

The president's statement also expressed concern that Parris's removal could create a financial crisis.

He wrote the controller has the authority to issue checks to tribal employees, contractors and other entities on a daily basis and without a controller, the tribe could be brought to a financial halt.

Tribal law allows the president, with consent from the Budget and Finance Committee, to appoint an acting controller to serve when the office is vacant.

Begaye wrote that because the resignation came quickly, it limited the time to find another controller who meets the qualification of being licensed as a certified public accountant.

Tribal law mandates the controller have a bachelor's degree in accounting or finance, eight years of experience in governmental finance and accounting administration and be a certified as a CPA.

"At this time, we don't have an employee on the Navajo Nation that meets this criteria and that could step into this position," Begaye stated.

"We have potential individuals that have expressed interest in the position, however they are very aware of the turmoil of abiding by the CPA's code of ethics which could mean standing against actions taken by the three branches," the president added.

Parris could not be reached for comment today.

In a previous interview, Parris, who was certified as a CPA in 1981, said he had not spoken to the delegates who were sponsoring the bill but he understood the reasons why it was being proposed.

The legislation was posted on the council's website on Dec. 20 and it became eligible for council action after Monday.

Bates said to his knowledge, the bill has not been withdrawn and it can be considered regardless of Parris' resignation.

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