Emergency funding to Navajo Nation chapters vetoed

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez used his line-item veto authority on a $3 million supplemental appropriation to the 110 chapters.

FARMINGTON — A $3 million supplemental appropriation to assist emergency response efforts by chapters to last month's winter storm was line-item vetoed by Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez on Monday.

The Navajo Nation Council had approved the funding as an emergency measure on Feb. 26.

Nez opposed the idea of drawing the finds from the minimum fund balance for the Unreserved Undesignated Fund Balance, and said he believes adequate emergency funds are already in place.

The council's action came after listening to reports from the president's office, the Department of Emergency Management and the Division of Transportation about reaction to the storm.

The storm brought up to three feet of snow to some areas on the Navajo Nation. Snow melt has caused trouble for travel because dirt roads have become impassable due to mud.

Nez explained his reasons for the line-item veto in a letter Monday to Speaker Seth Damon.

The tribe's Commission on Emergency Management declared a state of emergency on Feb. 19. Nez, along with Vice President Myron Lizer, concurred with the action the same day.

"The primary purpose of the declaration was to be proactive in mobilizing efforts at the local level, that included the use of emergency funds by all chapters," Nez wrote, adding several chapters reacted to the weather by providing resources to residents.

He described the legislation as "well meaning" but not necessary since the Office of the Auditor General, the Division of Community Development and the Office of Management and Budget reported chapters have emergency funds available.

Navajo Nation Council Delegate Mark Freeland sponsored the emergency legislation to allocate $3 million in supplemental funding to help chapters response to the recent winter weather.

Nez also expressed concern about dipping into the minimum fund balance to supply the $3 million.

According to the Office of the Controller, the balance of the UUFB is at $47,555.

The president also had issue with the council's waiver of tribal law to use the minimum fund balance, describing the action as "not good stewardship of the people's money."

The council responded to the president's action in a press release this afternoon.

Among the issues the council had was Nez's statement that using the minimum fund balance puts the tribe's financial integrity at risk.

According to the release, Controller Pearline Kirk said at the special session she believed the appropriation would not adversely impact the tribe's financial integrity, including its credit rating.

The release also stated that the auditor general's office and the Division of Community Development were unable to provide current emergency funding amounts for each of the 110 chapters on Feb. 26.

"After direct communication with their chapters, numerous delegates attested to the depletion of chapter emergency funds and the need for further funding to protect chapters' most vulnerable citizens," the release states.

Delegate Mark Freeland, who sponsored the emergency legislation, called the veto action unfortunate.

"Our community response teams, community health representatives and local officials were the first responders in our communities and we, as council, relied on their firsthand accounts to make our decision," Freeland said in the release.

The council does not have the authority to override a line-item veto, according to tribal law.

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.