Naize: Increase salaries, eliminate stipends

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

WINDOW ROCK, Dec. 26, 2013

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Even Johnny Naize was surprised recently when members of the Navajo Nation Council voted down a proposed resolution that would have allowed the tribe to start issuing bonds to finance economic development projects and build infrastructure.

That was just one of the topics discussed by the Speaker of the Navajo Nation Council Tuesday as he talked about the events of the past year and how they affected the Council and the Navajo Nation.

This isn't the first time that the Council had rejected a bond proposal. Tribal leaders as far back as Peter MacDonald in the early 80s had proposed issuing bonds only to have the talks go nowhere. Joe Shirley saw the same thing happen about eight years ago.

Naize said he thought the $220 million proposal would get enough support to pass when it came before the Council -- twice -- in early December. But it failed and two weeks later, Naize still wasn't sure why it happened.

"The bill was sponsored by Katherine Benally and she couldn't even get her committee to support it," he said.

It's possible, he said, that Council delegates from one area of the reservation felt that other parts of the reservation were going to get more money.

To get the proposal approved, he said it may take giving all areas the same level of funding. He added that he expected the proposal to come back tot he council in early 2014 after sponsors have time to make changes that would attract more support in the council.

He also talked about another story that broke in early December -- the approval to allow the Navajo Gaming Enterprise an extra year to start paying off a $100-million-plus loan from the tribe to build the Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort.

This was also somewhat of a surprise, Naize said, since the tribe had no problem getting customers to go to the first three casinos that were opened in New Mexico.

He agreed with officials of the gaming enterprise that the problem stems from lack of marketing although none of the other casinos had to do promotions to get enough customers to make a profit.

"I know that they have changed their marketing strategy and are doing more promotions," he said, adding that since the casino put up a huge neon sign and took other steps, the revenue has increased by 10 percent.

"I still believe in it," he said.

He said he also believes that there is a major need -- before the next election in November -- for the Navajo people to approve a pay raise for the tribal president and vice president, who now make $55,000 and $45,000 a year.

The $55,000 salary level was approved in the early 1980s. When Peterson Zah was elected president in 1982, he opted to go back to the original salary and not receive the raise but Peter MacDonald had the new rates put back into effect when he came back into office in 1987. It has not been changed since.

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