Begaye vetoes change to tribe's employment law
FARMINGTON — Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye has vetoed a Navajo Nation Council resolution to rescind a change to the tribe's employment law.
In October 2017, the tribal council amended the Navajo Preference in Employment Act to categorize program managers as "at-will employees" and serve at the pleasure of division directors under the executive branch.
Supporters viewed the change as a way to improve a program's efficiency and effectiveness and to hold program managers accountable for a program's performance.
Opponents questioned its purpose, including concerns about supervisors facing dismissals that were politically motivated or due to a manager's refusal to violate tribal law.
The bill, sponsored by former Delegate Dwight Witherspoon in 2017, cleared the council by one vote then became law after President Begaye did not act within the 10-day review period.
Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty, who sponsored the repeal, said Monday that she was disappointed by the president's decision.
She said several program managers were fired since becoming at-will employees in early November and she questions whether the terminations were justifiable or in retaliation.
Crotty, who serves on the Health, Human Services and Education Committee, said some of the dismissed supervisors previously expressed concerns to committee members about how funding was being utilized and how programs were operated.
"What happens if you, as an employee, if you don't support this administration, if you just want to do your job or if you want to raise an issue that you think is happening … are you in jeopardy of losing your job because you spoke out?" she said in a telephone interview.
"I don't think that's the type of work environment we want to provide," she added.
The council voted in favor of repeal during a special session on Dec. 20 and Begaye vetoed the measure on Saturday.
In Begaye's memorandum to Speaker LoRenzo Bates and the council, the president wrote the at-will status was enacted to improve the delivery of services to tribal members.
"Any time status quo is challenged, it always faces opposition. I ask for the leadership to consider a new outlook on our government for the betterment, including a better government for our people," Begaye wrote.
He added a task force was developed to address employee performance and the solution and recommendation was to make program managers at-will employees.
"While this may not be the ultimate solution, it's a start," Begaye wrote adding he recommends the at-will status remain in effect for at least two years before revisiting the law.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.