Prez, delegate face-off in Nageezi

By Marley Shebala and Bill Donovan
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, Jan 19, 20112

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The conflict between the Navajo Nation Council's Law and Order Committee and Public Safety Director John Billison spilled over into a face-to-face confrontation Sunday between the committee head and Billison's boss, President Ben Shelly.

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The two were at a meeting in Nageezi Chapter, where residents say their pleas for more tribal police have been ignored, and that neither the county nor the state is stepping in to fill the gap.

Shelly announced in a Jan. 12 press release that he had called for a town hall meeting there to address a Jan. 8 chapter resolution seeking his attention to residents' concerns over the lack of law enforcement in the area and related public safety issues.

Billison and other officials would be there too, Shelly said.

Three days earlier, on Jan. 9, the Law and Order Committee had asked Shelly to remove Billison from office, citing several reasons including a current investigation of him for allegedly using his service weapon to threaten another player at an off-hours poker game.

The committee, which has been receiving complaints from officers under his command for months, holds Billison responsible for mismanagement in the division, as well.

(Erny Zah, Shelly's spokesman, has said the president would not agree to the committee's request to remove Billison.)

Also in attendance at Sunday's meeting was Edmund Yazzie (Church Rock/Iyanbito/Mariano Lake/Pinedale/Smith Lake/Thoreau), chair of the Law and Order Committee.

Yazzie told the Navajo Times on Tuesday that he was talking at Nageezi about the serious problems at the Division of Public Safety and how they contribute to the critical shortage of police officers, when Shelly suddenly jumped to his feet, rushed towards him and then stopped a few feet in front of him, putting him in fear for his physical safety.

Shelly supporters had a different take on the incident.




Zah called it "a little squabble" and said people are making too much of it. Resources & Development Committee Chair Katherine Benally (Chilchinbeto/Dennehotso/Kayenta) this week called for a full report on the incident, which she termed "a reported attack."

Zah said he was sitting behind Shelly when it happened, next to a reporter for the Farmington Times who evidently thought so little of the incident that it did not rate a mention in the next day's story on the meeting.

Zah also said there were a number of police officers on hand, including state and tribal police, as well as county deputies, and none of them reacted as the events unfurled.

"There was no physical altercation," said Zah, asserting that at no time did Shelly appear angry or look as if he was going to attack Yazzie.

According to Zah, Shelly was talking with county officials when Yazzie got the microphone and started speaking from the floor instead of at the podium.

Yazzie purportedly tried to get Shelly's attention several times but Shelly was engrossed in his conversation, which included the setting up of a meeting the following day to discuss the matters brought up at the Nageezi meeting.

When the incident occurred, said Zah, Shelly was sitting down and Yazzie was standing about two feet away, giving out "a lot of inaccurate information to the audience."

"At one point," Zah recounted, "President Shelly stands up as if he wants to address the audience and begins to ask for the microphone. He then steps back and sits down.

"He was calm and he wasn't yelling," Zah said. "Nothing happened."

Another onlooker, Council Delegate Leonard Tsosie (Baca-Prewitt/Casamero Lake/Counselor/Littlewater/Ojo Encino/Pueblo Pintado/Torreon/Whitehorse Lake), later said that Shelly did stand up and that he started shouting at Yazzie.

Yazzie himself says he can't recall Shelly saying anything, but that Shelly's demeanor was so angry that Yazzie thought he was going to be attacked physically.

After that, Yazzie said Nageezi Chapter President Ervin Chavez asked him to wrap up his presentation and took the microphone away from him, prompting objections from audience members who called for Chavez to let Yazzie talk. Yazzie said he finished his presentation without the microphone and then sat down.

Tsosie said he was at the meeting because he represents Eastern Navajo chapters and has been concerned about the lack of public safety for several years, which escalated to eight alcohol-related traffic fatalities on U.S. 550 in the past year.

Tsosie said in response to the community's concerns, Billison made a "feel-good (PowerPoint) presentation."

The community was upset because no one in the president's entourage seemed to have a plan to cure the problem, he said.

The Law and Order Committee has scheduled a meeting at the Dzilth-Na-O-Dithle police substation today (Jan. 19).

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