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Navajo Nation Council spring session to start, after Nez vetoes cancellation vote

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — An attempt by the Navajo Nation Council to cancel the spring session was vetoed on April 19 by Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer.

Delegates voted to cancel the session due to the coronavirus outbreak to maintain the health and safety of employees, officials and the public. Nez and Lizer called for the session to go on, but with proper safety precautions and using available technology.

Details released early April 20 by the Office of the Speaker states Speaker Seth Damon will preside over the session at the council chamber with delegates attending by teleconference.

The chamber, located in Window Rock, Arizona, will be closed to the public and no more than four staff members from the legislative branch will be allowed on the chamber floor, according to the speaker's office.

Navajo Nation Council Delegate Eugene Tso, left, speaks with Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, center, and Vice President Myron Lizer after the State of the Nation address on July 15, 2019 during the summer session in Window Rock, Arizona.

Nez, Lizer explain decision to veto

The Navajo Nation Code mandates four regular sessions for the council each year. By law, the spring session starts at 10 a.m. on the third Monday in April.

"It is in these sessions that the people are afforded the opportunity to hear from all of their leaders regarding the actions of the government that affect their daily lives," the leaders wrote in an April 19 memorandum to Damon.

They added that the council is capable of conducting the session by using audio and online media, which the legislative body has been using in recent weeks to hold special sessions and Naa'bik'íyáti' Committee meetings.

Delegates passed the emergency legislation in a vote of 21 in favor and zero opposed as a consent calendar during a special session conducted by teleconference on April 17.

Nez and Lizer wrote that the council circumvented tribal law by classifying the bill as an emergency, which did not allow any opportunity for input by the Navajo people.

"The Office of the President and Vice President will not be complicit in circumventing the law by agreeing to this temporary suspension when, in fact, it is a true waiver of the law," they wrote.

On the first day of a regular session, the council listens to reports from various agencies and representatives, including the president's State of the Nation address.

Nez and Lizer will deliver the address at 12:15 p.m. today on their Facebook page and on radio station KTNN AM 660, a press release from their office states.

The Navajo Nation Council chamber is pictured in 2016 in Window Rock, Arizona.

Damon reiterates need for safety

Speaker Damon sponsored the bill to nix the session, which was posted on the council's website at 5:33 p.m. April 16. It is labeled as "an action relating to an emergency" for the tribe.

"The decision to cancel the 2020 spring session came, first and foremost, out of the pressing need to protect the health and well-being of our Navajo Nation employees," Damon said in a press release.

He explained that a regular session cannot proceed as normal when a state of emergency for the tribe is declared.

He added that the council was within its right to have the bill on a consent calendar, which has been "a recurring theme in recent discussions" by the council because they want to keep staff safe.

In response to Nez and Lizer's statement about the bill not going to the Navajo people for comment, Damon said the council has never asked any program director or agency representative to hold information from the public and his office has been "met with stonewalling and exclusion" when reaching out to the executive branch.

"The Navajo Nation Council is a deliberative body that fully supports a proper, fully qualified discussion that – despite all our advances – teleconference cameras and cellphones cannot deliver," he said.

He reminded Nez that the president is elected by popular vote by the Navajo people.

"But for a single president to state, in his own words, that the 24 delegates of the Navajo Nation Council 'cower behind ill-conceived legislation' ultimately intended to protect the more than 30 legislative branch employees required to put on a regular session is genuinely surprising," Damon said.

The session will be streamed live starting at 9:45 a.m. April 20 on Vimeo at www.vimeo.com/navajonationcouncil and on YouTube at www.youtube.com/navajonationcouncil. In addition to streaming on the Navajo Nation Council Facebook page.

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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