50 years ago

Budget a football in battle between factions

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

Aug. 7, 2014

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August 1964 has come and the Navajo Tribal Council and the tribe's chairman, Raymond Nakai, are still at loggerheads over the approval of a new budget for the fiscal year, which began on July 1.

Nakai has sent a budget to the Council of $3.1 million, which includes his salary of $18,000 and $15,000 for the Vice Chairman Nelson Damon.

Because the Council has not passed a continuing resolution to keep the tribe operating, the BIA had to step in and authorize the tribal controller to use up to $1 million to keep programs operating at their current levels.

However, all unnecessary expenses, such as trips and the purchase of equipment, has been sharply curtailed and requires approval of the BIA area director before it can be authorized.

In the opinion of some tribal leaders, the ongoing dispute basically means that the BIA has taken over the operation of the tribal government, something which BIA officials said was not true. Any decisions about expenditures of tribal monies are being made only after the consultation of tribal leaders.

By Aug. 18, the Council was going through the budget department by department giving approval to some and denying others. On that date they voted 32-30 to table the budget for the chairman's office. He was asking for an office budget of $111,614.

According to news reports written in the Navajo Times and the Associated Press, the problems stem from a fight between Nakai and Norman Littell, the tribe's general counsel.

Nakai wanted Littell fired but the anti-Nakai faction on the Council refused to go along with it and had proposed their own budget, which was also about $3.2 million.

Nakai was upset to learn that Littell had changed his contract with the tribe without the approval of the Council. The change allowed Littell to receive 10 percent of the value of the proceeds given to the tribe once the Navajo-Hopi boundary suit was settled, a provision that would eventually require the tribe to pay Littell more than a million dollars because of a congressional decision to divide the disputed land equally between the two tribes.

On Aug. 19, the Council, after a daylong debate, approved the budget for the tribe's legal department.

"Littell supporters sought to insert his name as general counsel in the budget proposal but this was opposed by Nakai supporters," the Times reported.

The matter was only resolved when Guy Morgan of Kinlichee, a Littell supporter, agreed to withdraw his motion to insert Littell's name in the budget.

Finally, on Aug. 20, a compromise was reached between the two factions, which provided for Littell being named general counsel at a salary of $35,000 for the year. In exchange, the Council, by a 56-0 vote, approved Nakai's office budget as it was submitted.

But that didn't mean that everything was settled between the two factions.

On the same day the Council approved Nakai's office budget, they spent more than two hours debating a budget for a public relations office. The anti-Nakai faction objected, terming it as a propaganda agency for Nakai, but Nakai was able to get enough support to get it approved by a vote of 28-25.

On the following day, the two factions were at it again when the Council voted to table the budget for the Navajo Times saying that the paper's editor, Marshall Tome, was running a "propaganda organ for the Nakai administration."

The anti-Nakai faction said that ever since Chet MacRorie resigned as editor in June, the paper had become very anti-Littell to the point where Tome published an editorial calling on Littell to stop getting involved in tribal politics and allow the Council to approve a budget.

Finally, on Aug. 26, the two sides met and decided to stop the fighting -- at least over the budget -- and the budget was finally approved.

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