Navajo Nation president vetoes bill to increase Navajo Nation Council by referendum
FARMINGTON — Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez has vetoed a bill that would have placed a referendum on the general election ballot this year, asking whether to raise the number of delegates on the tribal council from 24 to 48.
The Navajo Nation Council voted 18-5 in favor of the bill last month and Nez rejected the proposal on Feb. 13.
Membership on the tribal council has been at 24, after voters approved an initiative to reduce the council in December 2009.
The ballot measure was driven by an initiative aimed at government reform.
In a veto message to Speaker Seth Damon, Nez stated that he had several concerns about the council's action.
The measure was based on the Commission on Navajo Government Development's recommendation that the referendum go before voters.
The commission stated in a September 2019 resolution that they and their office were tasked with examining the effectiveness and responsiveness of the 24-member council.
They did this examination in a survey to tribal members that showed strong support in raising the number of delegates on the council, the commission stated.
"The report demonstrates that council delegates have limited time for constituency outreach and attending chapter meeting and thus an institutional change commands for an increase in the number of council delegates," according to the commission's resolution.
However, the action taken by council does not follow protocols for changing council membership that were in the initiative in 2009, Nez explained to The Daily Times on Feb. 14.
Because the council reduction was done by an initiative, any changes to the membership must be done through the same process, meaning collecting signatures from eligible voters for placement on the ballot, he explained.
"I think it needs to go through that similar process," he said.
He added that a Navajo Nation Supreme Court decision ruled that the power belongs to the people when it comes to the initiative process.
In his veto message, the president reminded Damon that reducing the council was partly viewed as a cost saving measure and the people deserve to know if the decrease has saved money since 2009.
"This information would be important should the people decide through an initiative to increase the number of council members and at what cost to the tribal treasury," Nez wrote.
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.
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