Compensation for both positions hasn't changed since 1989

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SHIPROCK — Legislation to place a referendum on the Navajo Nation general election ballot that will seek an increase for the salary of the tribal president and vice president, cleared its first tribal council committee on Monday.

The Law and Order Committee approved the measure by a 2-0 vote.

The positions of president and vice president were created in December 1989 by a council resolution, which also set the president's annual salary at $55,000 and a salary of $45,000 for the vice president.

In addition to the annual income, the president and vice president are provided housing in Window Rock, Arizona.

The bill proposes that voters first decide whether to approve salary adjustments, then determine whether the earnings for the president would change to $85,000 or $102,000. They also would decide if the income for the vice president is increased to $70,000 or $83,000.

Despite the president's responsibility to oversee 24 divisions, offices, boards and commissions, the salary has not been increased since 1989, according to a July 25 report by the Office of Navajo Government Development.

The Commission on Navajo Government Development on July 28 recommended that voters choose whether to adjust the salaries, and Delegate Leonard Tsosie is sponsoring the measure.

In remarks to the committee during a meeting at the Shiprock Chapter house, Tsosie said that by the council placing the question on the general election ballot, voters will have the opportunity to weigh in on the matter.

Research completed by the government development office showed that the tribal president is paid significantly less than state governors, despite the two offices holding similar responsibilities, Tsosie said.

E.J. John, policy analyst for the office, said that while the salary amount set in 1989 was higher than the national average at that time, it has not been adjusted as the cost of living has increased.

"It's really a question of how much do we value our Navajo Nation president. How much do we value the services that the president provides?" John said.

Edward Dee, the office's executive director, said there are division directors who earn more than the president or vice president each year.

"We also realize that they do have families, they do have children and they do have grandchildren, and they do have needs like any one of us," Dee said.

Delegates Otto Tso and Herman Daniels Jr., who both serve on the Law and Order Committee, voted to give the legislation a "do pass" recommendation.

"I do agree that it's time we compensate our president and vice president right," Tso said adding the increases could attract more individuals to run for the presidential office.

The committee was the first to consider the bill as its proceeds through the legislative process.

It is also assigned to the Resources and Development; Health, Education and Human Services; Budget and Finance; and Naa'bik'íyáti' committees, and to the tribal council, where final authority rests. The Resources and Development Committee will hear the measure next.

If the council passes the legislation and Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye concurs with the action, the proposal goes to the Navajo Board of Election Supervisors for implementation.

Tsosie is sponsoring a second bill that calls for a referendum to restructure chapter governments, which is also based on a recommendation from the government development office.

The motion to consider the bill failed due to its inability to draw a second. It remains in the committee for the next meeting.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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