93 DPS vehicles operating on expired insurance

By Marley Shebala
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, Jan. 5, 2012

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The Navajo Nation's Division of Public Safety allowed the insurance to lapse on 93 vehicles, including 88 police units, and at least some money budgeted for insurance premiums went to a Christmas bonus instead, according to documents obtained by the Navajo Times this week.

According to a report from the Division of General Services and Department of Fleet Management to the Council's Law and Order Committee on Wednesday, the vehicles have been uninsured since Oct. 1.

They include 42 police units in the Chinle Police District, 41 police units in the Shiprock district, four units in Kayenta and one in Crownpoint.

Three of the uninsured vehicles are assigned to Public Safety Director John Billison's office. The DPS Information Management Program has two uninsured vehicles.

General Services Director Virgil Brown, whose agency includes Fleet Management, reported that numerous letters, phone calls and emails have been sent to Billison and the police district commanders calling attention to the seriousness of the situation.

The annual cost to insure a police unit is about $252 and the cost for a regular tribal vehicle is about $173.84, said Charlene B. Chapman, a supervisor in the Tribal Risk Management Program who was present at Wednesday's committee meeting. All tribal agencies budget money to pay the premiums, she told the committee.

On Dec. 8, 2011, Fleet Management sent a memo to all divisions, departments, programs and branches that uninsured vehicles would have their fuel cards "deactivated," according to program manager Ben Manuelito.

Billison did not respond to telephone messages from the Times as of press time Wednesday. Acting Police Chief Dwayne Billsie blamed the fiasco on the confusion caused when the tribe's financial offices had to vacate Administration Building 1 on Sept. 9 due to a health hazard.

Billsie said Wednesday that all his commanders had submitted the proper paperwork and payment to renew the vehicle insurance before the Aug. 19, 2011, deadline set by Chapman's office. However, he said, the paperwork evidently got lost when the agencies, including Risk Management, had to be relocated.

At least some of the DPS money for the insurance premiums was rerouted into a Christmas bonus for one lucky employee, according to a Dec. 6, 2011, budget revision request from acting Criminal Investigations chief Harry Sombrero to the tribal Office of Management and Budget. The request was signed by Billison and Sombrero.

In it, Sombrero asked to transfer $3,152 from vehicle insurance premiums to help pay for a $57,000 bonus for "a criminal investigations employee."
The remainder of the $57,000 was to come from $30,000 in overtime pay, $20,000 in holiday pay, $2,768 from program 3120, and $1,080 from training and professional dues.

At press time on Wednesday, Sombrero had not responded to questions from the Navajo Times.

The number of DPS vehicles without insurance has dropped since Dec. 27, when there were 143, Chapman reported to the Law and Order Committee.

Billsie, meanwhile, said he has not received calls from any of his commanders about fuel cards not working.

Police commanders at the Crownpoint, Shiprock and Chinle police districts referred all questions regarding vehicle insurance to Billsie.

Billsie declined to say why he did not attend the Law and Order Committee meeting, but Committee Chair Edmund Yazzie (Church Rock/Iyanbito/Mariano Lake/Pinedale/Smith Lake/Thoreau) informed the committee that Billsie had said he could not appear before the committee because Billison has directed all law enforcement personnel not to talk with the committee.

The committee members voted Wednesday to invite President Ben Shelly to meet with them about the insurance problem. The committee also approved the issuance of subpoenas to key DPS officials if police personnel continue to refuse its request for an accounting of the situation.

Late Wednesday Shelly spokesman Erny Zah issued a statement saying the president is aware of the situation, but shed no light on how it occurred.

"We are aware of the situation regarding the vehicles within the Division of Public Safety's fleet that had insurance coverage lapses," Zah said. "All of the vehicles under the Navajo Division of Public Safety are either close to completing the process of becoming insured or are already insured.

"In the coming year, we have plans to initiate a more efficient process to ensure such lapses are not replicated."

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