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Navajo Nation president vetoes amending language in tribal law for line-item veto

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez vetoed a tribal council resolution that sought to amend the wording in tribal law for the line-item veto.

In December 2009, voters approved a ballot initiative to authorize the line-item veto to the president, who would use the power to reject amounts in the annual comprehensive budget and supplemental appropriations passed by the Navajo Nation Council.

Both Nez and the council resolution explained that the initiative was developed in response to years of excessive spending by previous councils that drained the Unreserved Undesignated Fund Balance.

In addition, the resolution explains that the language used on the ballot was not ratified by the 22nd Navajo Nation Council when that section of tribal law was amended in April 2011.

"The Navajo people gave the line-item veto authority to the Navajo Nation president, any change to this authority must go back to the people," Nez wrote in his veto message to Speaker Seth Damon.

Nez added that the council was overreaching its power with this resolution when it is the people's decision to change the line-item veto.

Delegates voted 18-4 on July 22 to pass the bill during the summer session. Nez made his veto on Aug. 6.

The bill was proposed after Nez used the line-item veto in May on language to establish the Navajo Nation CARES Fund Act to address the money the tribe received from the federal coronavirus relief bill.

The president's action raised concern among some delegates, who stated the line-item veto was used on language not tied to the yearly budget or to supplemental appropriations.

Jonathan Nez

There were other resolutions from the summer session that Nez reviewed and used the line-item veto.

He rejected a $1 million allocation from the Síhasin Fund to the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority to help families pay for costs associated with surveys, easements, permits and clearances to bring electricity to homes under the Light Up Navajo project.

Nez did not oppose the project, but he expressed concern about the lack of details from NTUA about participants, spending plans and requests for need from communities.

"We cannot continue to write a blank check to our enterprises and expect accountability or transparency on where those funds are spent," he wrote in the veto message.

He denied using $3,000 from the Unreserved Undesignated Fund Balance to pay stipends to officials from Forest Lake Chapter in Arizona.

According to that resolution, the chapter had a budget shortfall in fiscal year 2017 and was unable to pay the chapter officials' stipends.

Paying the "outstanding expenses" from three years ago with money from fiscal year 2020 is "not good financial management or sound fiscal practice," Nez wrote.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez rejected a $1 million allocation from the Síhasin Fund to the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority to help families pay for costs associated with bringing electricity to homes under the Light Up Navajo project. In this file photo, David Yazzie of the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority plugs in a meter May 15, 2019, after power was hooked up to a hogan in Nazlini, Arizona on the Navajo Reservation.

He added that the resolution did not explain why the chapter's shortfall occurred.

Nez did approve the chapter governments to continue holding meetings by telephone or video conference and with a three-person quorum.

Chapter houses remain closed to the public because of the coronavirus but chapter officials were authorized by the council to meet by telephone or video conference.

That authorization ended on July 15 and, under the resolution signed by Nez, chapter meetings can be conducted in this manner until restrictions on large gatherings are lifted.

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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