Tuba City officials accused of taking $80,000

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

WINDOW ROCK, Sept. 5, 2011

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D ates have been set for To Nanees Dizi Chapter officials to answer charges that they misappropriated more than $80,000 in chapter funds for their own use.

The charges stem from allegations that the officials provided themselves with huge bonuses for performing normal chapter functions.

Helen Herbert, who serves on the chapter's Council of Naataanii, will have a hearing before the Office of Hearings and Appeals on Oct. 11.

Jimmy Holgate, also on the council, will have his hearing on Oct.18. Robert Yazzie, vice president of the council, will have his hearing on October 20.

Two hearings are set for November - Council President Max Goldtooth on Nov. 9 and Secretary-Treasurer Charlene Nez on Nov. 30.

Tuba City operates under a leadership council and executive manager form of government and is believed to be the first chapter certified under the Local Governance Act to run into the kind of corruption charges that are routine at non-certified chapters.

These will be the first charges brought by the tribe's Ethics and Rules Office since the Ethics and Rules Committee was disbanded in 2010 with the downsizing of the Navajo Nation Council.

Ethics officials said the office is also investigating chapter administrators to make sure that, if they received bonus payments, it was done following proper procedures.

The charges against the five chapter officials claim that their bonuses were done improperly because as a certified chapter, any expenditures of this nature had to be approved by chapter members.

The other allegation is that the bonus payments were excessive, far larger than called for based on the nature of the work that was done.

For example, the five all received $3,000 Christmas bonuses in addition to their regular stipends of $250 for every regular and special meeting of the chapter or council.

In addition, they assigned themselves bonuses ranging from $1,000 to $3,000 for signing resolutions, checks or business-site leases. There were also random bonus payments of anywhere from $375 to $750 for which no actions were specified.

The charges filed by the Ethics and Rules Office show the three top officials reaped the most extra pay. Nez receiving 21 bonus payments totaling $26,668 from Oct. 1, 2009, to March 10, 2011, in addition to her regular stipends.

Yazzie received 15 bonus checks from Nov. 8, 2009, to March 10, 2011, totaling $20,180. During the same period, Goldtooth received 13 bonuses totaling $17,200; Herbert received 10 bonus checks totaling $13,000; and Holgate received seven bonus payments totaling $7,644.

In each case, the ethics office is asking for restitution plus removal of the officials from office and a ban on running for any elective office for five years.

Meanwhile, all of the five continue to serve as chapter officials since they have not been convicted of any wrongdoing, said Lewnell B. Harrison, an investigator for the ethics office. The bonus payments have stopped, however.

Ethics officials say they are looking at bringing charges against officials in other chapters but are waiting to see how this process goes.

One change from the former process is that those who are convicted can file an appeal before the Navajo Nation Supreme Court. They will have to step down as chapter officials during the appeal but no election will be held to replace them until the appeal process is over.

During that time, the chapter will make temporary appointments to serve in their place.

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