Delegates dump bills to fire AG, deputy

By Marley Shebala
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, Jan. 6, 2011

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When it was time for the Navajo Nation Council to consider removing the attorney general and deputy attorney general, the votes were not there to do it.

And a third bill aimed at reversing the reduction of the Council approved by voters on Dec. 15, 2009, also went down to defeat.

On Dec. 23, the Council voted 3 in favor and 65 opposed on the removal of Deputy Attorney General Harrison Tsosie. A separate bill to remove Attorney General Louis Denetsosie died for lack of a motion to bring it up for discussion during the special session.

The outcome was a significant reversal of the vote on Nov. 4, when the delegates voted 42-0-2 to have the removal bills drafted. They blamed the two officials for allowing the special prosecutor's investigation to veer away from executive branch problems and instead focus on legislative branch activity.

In late October, Special Prosecutor Alan Balaran filed criminal charges against Vice President Ben Shelly and 77 delegates for alleged misuse of discretionary funds.

However, after the Council decided not to remove Denetsosie and Tsosie on Dec. 23, everyone was in a conciliatory mood. Delegate Kee Yazzie Mann (Kaibeto), sponsor of the two removal bills, walked over to the two men, smiled and shook their hands. He chatted with Denetsosie.

Mann, a former prosecutor with the Navajo Nation's Department of Justice, which Denetsosie heads, said he's known Denetsosie for several years.

He said he sponsored the bills because that's what his colleagues wanted.

Denetsosie said the delegates' vote on Harrison Tsosie and their refusal to even discuss his removal shows they want peace and harmony.

"In that same spirit, I promote peace and harmony," he said with a huge smile. "This is a good sign."

Harrison Tsosie said the Council recognized the need for "stability" in the Navajo government.

Delegate Norman John II (Twin Lakes), who voted against removal, said, "The Council sent a strong message to the attorney general that the Council still has a heart."

John added, "The atmosphere kind of lifted. There's a feeling of relief."

Delegates walked across the chamber to shake hands with Denetsosie and Harrison Tsosie.

Delegate Elmer Milford (Fort Defiance) played "Silent Night" on his harmonica as delegates joked with each other and visited.

Delegate Lorenzo Curley (Houck/Lupton/Nahata Dziil), who was among the three votes in favor of removing Tsosie, said the issue was whether the attorneys had been giving "preferential" treatment to some of their clients, which include both the president and the Council.

Denetsosie is a political appointee of Shirley but under Navajo law he serves at the pleasure of the Council. Tsosie is his second in command.

Curley said both attorneys failed to honor the professional code of conduct for attorneys to be loyal to all their clients, mentioning Denetsosie's unwillingness to seek a special prosecutor after the Council first asked for one to investigate Shirley's relationship with OnSat and BCDS, two ill-fated business deals.

Denetsosie later relented after the Council spent $500,000 to have outside law firms investigate OnSat and BCDS, and called for a special prosecutor.

However, soon after Balaran was hired in January 2010, his mandate was expanded to include probes of Council and executive branch discretionary funds, and the tribal ranches program. This led to the charges against the delegates.

Curley believes his fellow delegates decided against firing Denetsosie because they think it will lead to the removal of the charges against them.

During the debate over Harrison Tsosie, a majority of the delegates pleaded with their colleagues to vote no and to also vote against the removal of Denetsosie.

Delegate Leonard Tsosie (Pueblo Pintado/Torreon/Whitehorse Lake) reminded the Council that the tribe's main outside source of development capital, KeyBank, had voiced concern about the Council's interest in removing top officials of other branches.

On Nov. 17, William M. Lettig, KeyBank's Native American Financial Services director, told Grant that he was concerned about legislation "to terminate" Denetsosie, Harrison, and all three justices of the Navajo Nation Supreme Court.

"The independence and separation of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the Navajo Nation's government were critical in Key's extension of a full faith and credit loan to the Navajo Nation and Key's landmark agreement to have Navajo law govern the transaction and have disputes heard in the courts of the Nation," Lettig said.

Delegate Edmund Yazzie (Thoreau) acknowledged Mann's "bravery" in sponsoring the controversial bills to remove the attorney general and deputy attorney general, and for a ballot referendum to reverse the reduction of the Council's membership.

But Yazzie, who is among 16 incumbents elected to the Council of 24, said he was going to vote no.

"We have a new year coming and I pray that we move forward," he said. "We've wasted trees and time on this legislation."

Delegate LoRenzo Bates (Upper Fruitland), another incoming member of the smaller Council, said the removal of Denetsosie and Harrison Tsosie would send a message of "fear" to the tribe's college students.

Bates noted out that the only reason given for removal was "displeasure."

"By virtue of that word, we're sending a message out to individuals that we have provided scholarships that if we, as Council, don't like them or for whatever reason, we will send you down the road," he said. "We already have a brain drain. Why promote it by instilling fear?"

On Dec. 22, the first day of the two-day special session, the Council voted 8 in favor and 55 opposed on another bill sponsored by Mann, which would have put a referendum before voters to reverse the reduction of the Council.

Delegate Tsosie said the vote showed the Navajo people and the world that the Council is honoring the people's vote for a 24-member Council and wants stability.

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