14 school board members may be removed

By Alastair Lee Bitsoi
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, July 11, 2013

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T he Navajo Nation Board of Election Supervisors is scheduled to hear two reports today that could result in the removal of 14 school board members from office as well as removing Edison Wauneka as the board president of Navajo Preparatory School in Farmington.

Complaints against the elected officials were filed by the Department of Diné Education and Two Grey Hills, N.M. resident Kerby Johnson indicating these officials are in violation of the 2012 Navajo Nation Election Code amendments.

According to the amended code, it is unlawful for a person who was employed by a school within the previous five years to serve as a school board member.

The Navajo Nation Supreme Court case Sandoval v. Navajo Election Administration and Leo Johnson, Jr. also support the provisions of this law. On Dec. 20, 2012, the high court found Johnson unqualified to serve as a board member of the Shiprock Association of Schools, Inc. because he was a former employee of the school district, as outlined by Title 11 of the Navajo Nation Code.

The 14 school board members now under scrutiny include Bennie Chapo, To'hajilee Community School; Faith Chatter, Winslow Residential Hall; Robert Chee, Winslow Residential Hall; Carolyn Coho, Ramah Navajo School Board, Inc. and Leon Haskie, Lukachukai Community School.

Also being challenged are Tracia K. Jojola, To'hajilee Community School; Stanley B. Kedelty, Lukachukai Community School; Begay Maloney, Flagstaff Boardertown Dormitory; Darnell Maria, Ramah Navajo School Board, Inc., and Tracey Marilyn, Nazlini Community School.

David Martinez, Jr., Ramah Navajo School Board, Inc.; Cornelia Platero, To'hajilee Community School; Delrey Redhair, Rough Rock Community School and Elmer Yazzie, Ramah Navajo School Board Inc. round out the roster.

In an April 9 letter to Wauneka, who also serves as the executive director for the Navajo Elections Administration, DODE Assistant Superintendent Timothy Benally cited the Navajo Nation Council's passage of the 2012 Navajo Nation Election Code amendments, the high court's ruling in the Johnson case, and Title 11 as grounds for the removal of the school board members.

"The Department was also advised that the NEA has expressed concerns that removal of school board members may cause some schools to have quorum problems to legally conduct school business," Benally wrote.

In the letter, Benally continues to say that the lack of quorum should not be an issue that should prevent or delay the NEA from performing its duty of removing school board members.

"In situations where the lack of a quorum may occur, the Department can temporarily assume control of schools pursuant to 2 N.N.C. §1803(H) and 10 N.N.C. §106(G)(l)(a)," Benally said. "The Department took such actions with regard to the Hunters Point Boarding School, Inc., which allowed the business of the school to go forward."

Regarding the possible removal of Wauneka as board president of Navajo Prep, Johnson wrote a June 24 letter to Johnson R. Thompson, assistant program manager for NEA and the Board of Election Supervisors, stating that Wauneka was in violation of tribal election laws.

Johnson said that provisions under Title 11 and its 2012 amendments also prohibit employees of the Navajo Elections Administration from serving as members of local school boards.

Johnson, who won a high-profile election case in New Mexico in 2012, also cited the Leo Johnson Jr. case as a reason why Wauneka should be ousted from his school board position at Navajo Prep.

"Edison Wauneka should be barred from holding any elected Navajo Nation position for eight years, or in the alternative, immediately removed as Executive Director of the Navajo Elections Administration," Johnson said in the letter.

Johnson added, "On a final note, it's very concerning and disturbing that the Navajo Nation's Election Office and chief elections administrator, Edison Wauneka, isn't maintaining the integrity of the Navajo Nation's election laws because he isn't following it or enforcing it."

The letter by Johnson was also carbon-copied to Andrew Tah, superintendent of schools for DODE, Department of Justice Attorney Michelle Begay, Attorney General Harrison Tsosie and Victor Benally, program manager for the Office of Diné Accountability and Compliance.

As of press time on Wednesday, Wauneka was unavailable for comment. Contact Alastair L. Bitsoi at 928-871-1141 or by email at abitsoi@navajotimes.com.