Records show 'assistance' account was overspent by last Council, president
By Marley Shebala
WINDOW ROCK, Aug. 4, 2011
Controller Mark Grant confirmed on July 25 that the assistance account is another name for discretionary funds.
In October 2010, discretionary funds, or slush funds, became a household word after Special Prosecutor Allan Balaran indicted then Vice President Ben Shelly and 77 of the then 88-member 21st Navajo Nation Council on criminal charges involving conspiracy, theft, fraud, and forgery of about $1.9 million in discretionary funds.
That was followed by a Jan. 4, 2011, Navajo Nation Supreme Court order to temporarily halt the doling out of slush funds until the 22th Council created policies and procedures with "requisite checks and balances."
On July 28, slush funds once again became the talk of the reservation, after Balaran dismissed all his criminal charges and replaced them with a civil lawsuit that charged 85 top tribal officials with breach of fiduciary duty.
According to July 2011 "Budget Status-Income Statement(s)," the 21st Council overspent its "assistance" account by $2,486.06, while the executive branch had a balance of about $2 million.
The 21st Council budgeted its assistance account at $30,496.48 and the executive branch's at $22.9 million, which reportedly included funds for the 110 chapters. The tribal government's annual budget begins on Oct. 1 and ends on Sept. 30.
Sharon Clahchischilliage, chief of staff for Speaker Johnny Naize, said on July 29 that the 21st Council, which included her boss and 16 members of the 22nd Council, was responsible for the overspending in the Council's discretionary fund account.
Clahchischilliage, a former presidential candidate who eventually backed President Ben Shelly, adamantly denied any spending of assistance money by the 22nd Council, which came into office in January 2011.
She explained that the deficit spending occurred while the 21st Council was still in office from October to December 2010.
Shelly's chief of staff, Sherrick Roanhorse, on July 29, also denied any discretionary fund spending by Shelly and Vice President Rex Lee Jim.
"At the moment, we are not providing discretionary funds, as ordered by the courts," Roanhorse said. "We are in the process of establishing a more transparent process. We will be in touch to provide (the Navajo Times) with more information."
Grant, a Shelly political appointee, provided additional financial information and explanations on Monday.
Grant pointed at a breakdown of the executive branch's assistance account that showed 18 sub-accounts.
He explained that most of the 18 sub-accounts belonged to the government's 110 chapters, which is why spending continued in the executive branch's assistance account after the Supreme Court's moratorium.
Grant emphasized that there was no spending in the executive office's discretionary fund sub-accounts after the Jan. 4, 2011, moratorium by Shelly and Jim.
The Council and executive office have three specific discretionary fund sub-accounts that are titled "burial assistance", "emergency assistance" and "other public assistance."
According to the July 2011 financial reports, Shirley and Shelly spent $109,313.91 from the executive office discretionary fund sub-accounts from October to December 2010.
A breakdown of the $109,313.91 shows $34,800 was spent for burial assistance, $69,824.55 for emergency assistance, and $4,689.36 for other public assistance.
The 21st Council's $32,964.54.54 was spent on $3,500 for burial assistance, $28,713.06 for emergency assistance and $751.48 for other public assistance.
Discretionary funds are tribal government money that the Council gave to itself, the speaker and the president, and vice president during the annual budget process and at various times during the budget year since 2005.
The money, according to policies from the speaker's office and an application from the executive office, is for Navajo people in need of emergency financial assistance to cover some of the costs of burial expenses, school clothing and books, winter coats, utilities, wood, vehicle repairs, and other basic costs of living.
Among the 77 delegates that faced initial criminal charges involving discretionary funds in October 2010 was then Delegate Rex Lee Jim (Rock Point), who Shelly picked as his running mate in the presidential election.
Soon after Shelly and Jim won the election, an out-of-court settlement was reached that resulted in the dismissal of their charges.
Shelly was charged with conspiracy, forgery and fraud involving $8,850 in slush funds. Jim's charges of conspiracy and theft involved $3,200.
The dismissal agreement between the tribe's two top leaders and Balaran also called for Shelly and Jim to repay the assistance funds identified in their charges.
At press time, both Shelly and Jim had not responded to questions about their repayment of discretionary funds.
Then-delegate Young Jeff Tom (Mariano Lake/Smith Lake) also had his charge of theft involving $12,500 in slush funds dismissed without prejudice, which meant that his charges could be refiled.
Tom was among the former Council delegates named in Balaran's July 28 civil lawsuit for breach of fiduciary duty.