Human rights panel battles San Juan Co. for recordings

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

WINDOW ROCK, Feb. 23,2012

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T he Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission and the San Juan County Commission in Utah are battling over public records.

Leonard Gorman, executive director of the human rights commission, had requested a copy of the tapes of all county commission meetings from August 2011 to February 2012, saying that the written minutes of each of these meetings provided to the public on the commission's website were too sketchy.

The commission is asking for the tapes in connection with another dispute - voting redistricting lines for the county commission.

Currently, only one Navajo, Kenneth Maryboy, serves on the three-member commission but the Navajo Nation and the human rights commission believe that if the lines were drawn fairly, it would allow two Navajos to be elected to the county commission.

A suit filed in January by the Navajo Nation and six Navajo residents in the county contends that the map drawn by the commission, which is expected to result in two non-Natives being elected to the commission, is unfair since Native Americans make up 50.4 percent of the county's population, according to the 2010 federal census.

The Navajo Nation had presented a proposed redistricting plan to the commission which would have a majority of Navajos in two of the three districts but this proposal was rejected by the commission.

Instead, the commission approved on Nov. 14, by a 2-1 vote, a plan that kept Maryboy's precinct the same as it is now but shifted two precincts from the northern district represented by commission Chairman Bruce Adams to the central district represented by Phil Lyman. This provided a non-Native majority in both of those districts.

The commission at a later meeting looked at another proposal which was approved but the Navajo human rights commission felt that the new plan was just as biased against county Natives as the first.

Gorman had requested the county commission to release tapes of that meeting and others so the human rights commission could get an understanding of the county commissioner's thinking when they approved the redistricting plan.

Gorman appeared before the county commission on Tuesday to get clarification on why the county was refusing to turn over the tapes of the meetings, which Gorman says is public information under state laws - the Government Records Access and Management Act.

Adams, in a telephone interview on Wednesday, said nothing happened at Tuesday's meeting, except to explain to Gorman the county's position which denied immediate access to those records and explain to him the appeals process.

He said he couldn't go into any more detail over the dispute about the district lines because the matter is currently in litigation with the Navajo Nation.

In earlier meetings, the county said it could not release the recordings until the San Juan County attorney had a chance to go through them to make sure there was no privileged information on them.

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