Wauneka steps down from school board post

Conference a way to mend from 1979 uranium spill

By Alastair Lee Bitsoi
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, July 18, 2013

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T he possible removal of 14 school board members from their elected positions has been put on hold through a motion directive by Navajo Board of Election Supervisor Lenora Fulton, meaning that these officials can still continue on with conducting business for their respective schools.

Navajo Elections Administration Executive Director Edison Wauneka, however, announced he was voluntarily stepping down from his post as Navajo Prep's school board president effective July 29.

At a regular board meeting for the election supervisors on July 11, Fulton issued a directive to the Navajo Elections Administration to meet with Ron Haven, legislative counsel, and Paul Spruhan, attorney for Department of Justice, to find a solution for the 14 school board members allegedly in violation of tribal election laws and a recent Navajo Nation Supreme Court case.

Fulton's directive motion passed by a vote of 5-3, with one abstention. While explaining her reason for the motion, the election supervisor said, "We're all innocent parties and no one is guilty of any crime."

She also said because there is a high need to fill school board positions, it's best to be fair.

"These individuals are highly qualified," she said, referring to the 14 school board members.

Wauneka, one of the 14, had a case filed against him in the Office of Hearings and Appeals on July 11 by Kerby Johnson.

On July 12, OHA dismissed Johnson's claim against Wauneka.

Following Fulton's motion, the election supervisors also voted unanimously to table two reports - one on the 14 school board members possibly being removed from their posts and the other against Wauneka - until a viable solution is reached among the NEA, Haven and Spruhan.

The Department of Diné Education and Johnson had filed complaints against these elected officials with the Navajo Elections Administration, which is overseen by Wauneka.

The complaints claim the elected school board members violated the 2012 Navajo Nation Election Code amendments, Navajo Nation Supreme Court case Sandoval v. Navajo Election Administration and Leo Johnson, Jr. and provisions under Title 11 of the Navajo Nation Code.

According to the amended code and high court's case, it is unlawful for a person who was employed by a school within the previous five years to serve as a school board member. Also barred from serving are those employed with the elections administration or election supervisors because of conflicts of interest.

The directive motion by Fulton didn't bode well for election supervisors Nelson Begay, Frannie George and Jonathan Tso, who were the three dissenting votes.

Tso said Fulton's motion bypasses the Office of Hearing and Appeals process, which has rules for administrative hearings under the election code when a grievance against an elected official is filed.

Following the decision to table the reports, Ramah Navajo School Board Inc. member David Martinez Jr. exuded relief.

He told the Navajo Times that a DODE official had interrupted a "legally called" board meeting on July 9. The DODE official told the school board that DODE would take over the school, pursuant to provisions under Title 2 and Title 10 of the Navajo Nation Code, because he and his colleagues were allegedly in violation of tribal election laws and the high court ruling.

"We stopped our meeting mid-meeting and now we can continue with our business," Martinez said. "We're still a legal board until otherwise (informed) by the NEA, which is the ultimate authority."

But for Kerby Johnson, the directive by Fulton and the tabling motion were a major disappointment.

"There's a huge conflict of interest within the Navajo Elections Administration, and I'm pretty upset they tabled it," he said.

The next regular meeting for the election supervisors is July 25, where they are scheduled to hear a report from the NEA, Haven and Spruhan.

Contact Alastair L. Bitsoi at 928-871-1141.