Candidate ruled ineligible for council seat

Noel Lyn Smith,

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — The tribe’s Office of Hearings and Appeals has ruled Steven Begay was not eligible to run in a June 28, 2016, special election to fill an open seat on the Navajo Nation Council.

Navajo Nation Council Delegate Mel R. Begay stands outside Window Rock District Court on March 14.  Begay was found guilty of misusing a financial assistance program designed to help tribal members with financial emergencies.

In the Jan. 12 decision, Chief Hearing Officer Richie Nez determined Begay’s employment with the Gallup Indian Medical Center at the time he filed his candidacy papers last April was in violation of the tribal election code, and the result of the special election has been declared void.

Nez also ordered the Navajo Election Administration to declare the seat vacant in accordance with tribal law.

The outcome of the special election was to determine who would represent five chapters on the council. The position opened when delegate Mel R. Begay was found guilty in March of misusing a financial assistance program designed to help tribal members with financial emergencies.

Steven Begay, a member of the Naschitti Chapter, won the election by drawing 731 of the 2,534 total ballots cast by voters in the Bahastl’ah, Coyote Canyon, Mexican Springs, Naschitti and Tohatchi chapters. Coyote Canyon Chapter member Theresa A. Becenti-Aguilar finished second with 564 votes.

But Becenti-Aguilar filed a grievance with the OHA in July that alleged Begay was ineligible to run, citing tribal law that mandates that candidates cannot be employed by the federal or state government.

In December, the Navajo Nation Supreme Court reversed an earlier decision by the OHA about the election dispute and sent the matter back to the OHA for a final determination.

Meanwhile, Mel Begay had been incarcerated in Window Rock after he was sentenced to three years in jail in May. He was released on a $4,500 bond posted on Dec. 14, pending an appeal to the tribe's Supreme Court of the decision and sentencing imposed by the Window Rock District Court.

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