Shirley curtails Shelly's power

By Marley Shebala
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, Aug. 12, 2010

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As the Navajo Nation primary drew to a close last week, Vice President Ben Shelly found himself in not one but two political battles.

It's well-known that on Aug. 3 Shelly was battling 11 other candidates for a spot on the November ballot for president.

Less well-known is that on the same day, President Joe Shirley Jr. - for reasons he has not explained - stripped Shelly of authority over vice presidential staff, and revoked his authority to fill a vacancy in the office.

In an Aug. 3, memo, a copy of which was obtained by the Navajo Times, Shirley informed Shelly, "Effective immediately, I am revoking the authority given you in January 2007 to have immediate supervision over three positions within the OPVP (Office of President and Vice President).

"Henceforward, these three positions will have immediate supervision from the president or his designee," Shirley stated. "Further, there will be no new hire in the position vacated by Sherrick Roanhorse until further notice from me."

On Tuesday, president's office legal advisor Michelle Dotson said she would speak with Shirley and provide an explanation for his action by 10 a.m. Wednesday.

As of press time Wednesday, the Times had received no further contact from Dotson.

Shelly said Monday that he was surprised by Shirley's memo.

"He didn't bring it over to my office," Shelly recalled. "It was brought over by his staff."

He added that Shirley took the same action against former Vice President Frank Dayish towards the end of his first four years in office.

"He survived and I'll survive," Shelly said with a big smile.

Shirley persuaded Shelly to replace Dayish as his vice presidential candidate when he ran for re-election in 2006.

Shelly said Shirley has not talked to him about why he decided to remove his authority over the three staffers.

He said Shirley's memo came shortly after he asked to have Deswood Tome fill the position of his executive staff assistant, which was vacated when Roanhorse resigned recently to take a position with the New Mexico Indian Affairs Office.

Tome is a former director of the Navajo Nation Telecommunications Regulatory Commission also has served as public information officer in the Navajo Nation Washington Office.

Tome was with Shelly at the Window Rock Sports Center on Aug. 3 when the unofficial results of the primary election were announced. Tome was also with Shelly on Monday for the announcement that Delegate Rex Lee Jim (Rock Point) would be his running mate on the Nov. 2 ballot.

Shelly said that he could only guess that Shirley is retaliating for his willingness to meet with the council and council delegates, especially during the time when Shirley was leading the move to reduce the council's membership from 88 to 24.

"I have nothing against (Shirley)," he said. "The difference between me and him is I take the center lane."

"We shouldn't be for or against the council," Shelly said, "but the president ran with the initiative to reduce the council and took sides."

He also said he didn't think Shirley's takeover of his staff signaled a "break up" between him and Shirley.

Late Tuesday afternoon, Shirley and Shelly both attended the groundbreaking for the new Navajo Nation Division of Transportation building.

And earlier Tuesday, Government Services Committee Chairman Ervin Keeswood Sr. (Tsé Daa K'aan) said that he and his committee had received copies of Shirley's Aug. 3 memo but that Shelly had made no request to the committee to discuss it.

"It's an internal matter," said committee member Orlanda Smith Hodge  (Cornfields/Greasewood Springs/Klagetoh/Wide Ruins). Other committee members nodded in agreement.

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