2 former CDs among newly hired assistants

By Marley Shebala
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, March 1, 2012

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T welve of the 24 Navajo Nation Council delegates have selected their district assistant and two are former delegates in the 88-member Council.

The two former delegates are Kee Allen Begay (Many Farms/Round Rock), who chaired the Judiciary Committee, and Kee Yazzie Mann (Kaibeto), who served on the Public Safety Committee.

Begay was tapped by Speaker Johnny Naize (Blue Gap-Tachee/Cottonwood-Tselani/Low Mountain/Nazlini/Many Farms) and Mann will be the assistant of Delegate Duane Tsingine (Bodaway-Gap/Coppermine/K'ai'bii'tó/LeChee/Tonalea-Red Lake).

On Friday, the new assistants will be in the Council chamber for a daylong orientation by the speaker's office on topics ranging from the process for legislation to properly using their credit cards.

Their first training session took place Feb. 17 and was attended by nine of the 12 assistants hired so far. Each delegate can hire a district assistant.

The other 10 assistants are former legislative advisor Kathy Holtsoi, former Chinle Chapter coordinator Timothy Y. Begay Jr., Clifton Greyeyes, Nathaniel Brown, Claudia Jackson, Chancey K. Martinez, Steven Arviso, Sophina A. Tyler, Cindy M. Jim and Albert Francis.

Delegate Mel R. Begay (Baa'hastl'ah/Coyote Canyon/Naschitti/Mexican Springs/Tohatchi) selected Holtsoi and Leonard H. Pete (Chinle) picked Begay.

Greyeyes will work for Joshua Lavar Butler (Tó Nanees Dizí) and Brown will represent Katherine Benally (Chilchinbeto/Dennehotso/Kayenta).

Jackson will work for Elmer P. Begay (Dilkon/Greasewood Springs/Indian Wells/Teesto/White Cone), Martinez will work for Charles Damon II (Bááháálí/Chichiltah/Manuelito/Red Rock/Rock Springs/Tsayatoh), and Arviso was tapped by Edmund Yazzie (Church Rock/Iyanbito/Mariano Lake/Pinedale/Smith Lake/Thoreau).

Russell Begaye (Shiprock) selected Tyler and David Tom (Beclabito/Gadii'ahi-Tó' Koi/Red Valley/Sheepsprings/Toadlena-Two Grey Hills/Tsé Alnáozt'i'í') selected Jim.

Francis will represent Dwight Witherspoon (Forest Lake/Hardrock/Kíts'íílí/Piñon/Whippoorwill).

The green light to hire assistants came when President Ben Shelly, after eliminating them in two line-item budget vetoes, signed off Feb. 3 on legislation sponsored by Danny Simpson (Becenti/Crownpoint/Huerfano/Lake Valley/Nageezi/Nahodishgish/Tsé 'íí'áhí/ Whiterock).

Begay has been working as Naize's assistant since March 2011.

Simpson's bill, which was approved Jan. 25 by a 18-3 vote of the Council, appropriated $1.6 million from projected tribal revenues to pay for the assistants ($996,976), speaker's office ($264,819), Resources and Development Committee travel ($91,956), and the Green Economy Commission ($235,651).

Shelly used his line-item veto to cut out Green Commission funding and to trim off $37,150 from the speaker's office.

The $996,976 for legislative assistants represents an eight-month budget for 24 people, who are political appointees of the delegates.

Each assistant will be paid a $34,944 salary; have $8,000 for travel; more than $4,000 for office rental; $880 for cell phones and service; about $1,600 for utilities; and more than $3,000 for operating supplies.

Begaye said he "advertised" for his assistant by talking with chapter officials and administrators working for Indian Health Service, Navajo Agricultural Products Industry, Arizona Public Service, Diné College and community leaders, and posting it on his Facebook page.

He contacted educators, health care workers and tribal enterprise administrators, he said, because they hold leadership positions that allow them to know qualified individuals. That also eliminated the need for extensive background searches to check a candidate's credibility, he said.

He interviewed nine candidates ranging in age from early 20s to late 60s, from high school graduates to people with doctorates.

Begaye decided to select Sophina Tyler after talking to NAPI topsiders who had a "really high regard" for her skills in conducting meetings and connecting with employees, he said.

"So my main criteria was connecting with the community and that's her strong point," he explained. "I need someone to do public hearings on a lot of projects that I'm working on and move those projects along."

"I don't want a secretary," he added. "I don't need a secretary. For me, having someone at the ground level is very helpful." LoRenzo Bates (Nenahnezad/Newcomb/San Juan/T'iistoh Sikaad/Tsé Daa K'aan/Upper Fruitland) said Tuesday that he hasn't selected an assistant because the chapters in his district haven't said yes or no to the idea.

Bates said he hasn't seen a "detailed" job description, which he believes is required to set the limits on what the assistant can and cannot do.

"An assistant could get the delegate in trouble if there are no guidelines regarding the authority of the delegate," he noted. "For example, if the assistant makes a commitment to a chapter or chapters, it could get that delegate in deep water. The assistant needs to understand that he or she has limits."

Bates said that he expects his assistant to be able to make financial reports and answer questions about those reports to the chapters.

Bates, who chairs the Council's Budget and Finance Committee and has served two terms on the committee, said his reports to the chapters are primarily about what the committee and Council are doing financially.

He added that he also expects his assistant to understand that he or she cannot take any authority away from the chapters.

For example he said the Council's Resources and Development Committee approved the local governance certification of Upper Fruitland Chapter on Tuesday.

The assistant should know that means that the chapter officials and administrators are responsible for moving the chapter forward, which involves continuing with grant writing, seeking external funding and meeting with government entities, Bates said.

"We don't want to take away from what the six chapters in my district are doing," he said. "And we don't want the chapters using the assistant as a crutch. The assistant can assist the chapter but not to the extent that the assistant is moving the chapter forward."

He said that if and when he selects an assistant, the person will be from his district because he or she has to understand the concerns of the local people.

"That's imperative," Bates said. "I do."

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