Reform Act amended for a more accountable, transparent government

By Alastair Lee Bitsoi
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, October 18, 2012

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A fter six hours of debate and eight amendments on Tuesday, the Navajo Nation Council unanimously passed the Navajo Nation Title 2 Reform Act of 2012.

The legislation, co-sponsored by Council delegates Leonard Tsosie and Dwight Witherspoon, is an effort by the Nabikiyati Committee's Government Reform Subcommittee and Navajo Government Reform Commission to begin comprehensive government reform for the Navajo Nation through continued changes to Title 2.

Members of the Government Reform Subcommittee include Tsosie, as chair, Witherspoon, Jonathan Nez, as vice chair, Jonathan Hale and Russell Begaye.

As prescribed by tribal law, amendments to Title 2 occur only during regular Council sessions and require a super majority vote.

On Tuesday, the Council spent most of its day debating sections of Title 2 and passed 8 additional amendments before the bill passed the Council floor, 16-0.

"Our goal and purpose was to improve the governmental process as we were challenged by the chief justice to try to streamline the process and we have some amendments that we were able to get through that will make improvements," Witherspoon said. "And we had some that didn't get through. It's a process to try to continually improve what we have before us to work with."

Just as Witherspoon pointed out, Tsosie said reforming the tribal government is a continual process.

"All in all, I think this is a continual improving step that the Council took," Tsosie said. "We'll never get to the final step. We will always try to improve things…"

With the new amendments to Title 2, the Council is moving toward becoming a more accountable and transparent government.

One amendment Tsosie likes that should improve the tribal legislative process is the idea of a consent agenda, or consent calendar.

"At the moment, we don't have consent part of our agenda," Tsosie said. "Everything is regular item. If legislation is going through the committees and is unanimously approved, your finding consent among committee members. We're indirectly already practicing it by putting noncontroversial items in the front."


Another amendment drafted under Section 184, or the Navajo Nation Council and Committee Legislative Process, is allowing the Speaker of the Council to set the agenda for a Council session, rather than assembling into a session to approve an agenda.

According to the new language, "After a resolution has completed the process and procedures of this section, it shall automatically be placed on the next Navajo Nation Council agenda. The Speaker shall publish the final proposed agenda on the Navajo Nation Council website no less than three calendar days prior to the start of the regular session and no less than one calendar day prior to the state of special sessions."

Other significant changes to Title 2 include a committee's quorum to be satisfied by the presence of two members of each standing committee or a majority of delegates of the Council.

"The physical presence of a quorum is only required to call the meeting to order and or any vote affecting a resolution," the new language reads. "A quorum is not required for committee vote on acceptance of a report(s)."

One amendment Tsosie and Witherspoon favored that they say would have eliminated red tape was allowing the Nabikiyati Committee to approve grant money from any federal, state or regional authority above $500,000. All other grants below that would have only needed the approval of the division, department or program, which applied for the agreement.

Because of the tribe's recent revelation of reverting back $63 million in federal and state funds from FY 2007 to FY 2012, Council delegate Jonathan Nez motioned to delete and restore the original language allowing the Nabikiyati Committee to authorize, review, approve and accept any and all contracts, grants and associated budgets.

"We have heard a report on federal funds being reverted back," Nez said. "The point was to empower division and departments, but it's not the time to do it with the reversion of money. I believe it's not the time to give authority to divisions and departments to renew grants under 500K."

Efforts to change the five-day comment period to four-days to allow the Council to act on legislation within a week's timeframe, rather than what has become a two-week process under the current comment period, failed.

"We are hopeful our new changes will make the legislative process and government more transparent," added Nez.

For the first time in history, the Council's session has been streamed online at www.ustream.tv/channel/navajo-nation-council. As of Wednesday, there were 2,034 views and 35 followers on Twitter.

"Today, we were web streaming and it's causing different behavior to happen," Tsosie said on Tuesday, adding, "I forced myself to be on time."

As of press time on Wednesday, the Council was considering legislation to authorize the Navajo Board of Election Supervisors to develop and approve school board apportionment plans and the Navajo Nation Sales Tax Distribution Reform Act of 2012, among other pieces of legislation.

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