Drought, energy company among special session topics

By Noel Lyn Smith
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, July 4, 2013

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In a close decision, Navajo lawmakers voted down a bill calling for the removal of Navajo Nation Attorney General Harrison Tsosie.

Tsosie, who was appointed the tribe's top lawyer in 2011, was facing removal from office by legislation that was considered at the June 29 special session of the Navajo Nation Council.

Dwight Witherspoon (Forest Lake/Hardrock/K’ts'’’l’/Piñon/Whippoorwill) sponsored the bill and acknowledged Tsosie as he sat inside the Council chamber to listen to the debate.

Witherspoon reminded delegates that the attorney general and deputy attorney general serve at the pleasure of the Council and can be removed by the legislative body.

"I did make a decision that I believe is in the best interest of the Navajo Nation to get new counsel and we have multiple reasons why and to assert those multiple reasons in an open public forum, I believe is not appropriate," Witherspoon said then requested an executive session.

After spending more than an hour in executive session, the Council voted 6 in favor and 7 opposed.

Energy company

Prior to taking action on the special session's pieces of legislation, delegates heard a report on the Navajo Transitional Energy Company LLC, which is overseeing the tribe's interest in purchasing Navajo Mine.

This may have been the delegates' first introduction to the members and officers of the NTEC management committee.

Those members are: Chairman Steven E. Gundersen, Vice Chairman Timothy McLaughlin, Secretary Peter Denetclaw Jr., Treasurer Steve Grey as well as Grant R. Wood, Peter E. Jenkins and Richard Passamaneck.

John W. Grubb is serving as NTEC's acting management executive.

Gundersen mentioned that the anticipated closing date for the mine purchase was moved from July 1 to Oct. 1 due to continuing discussions surrounding the retrofitting of the Four Corners Power Plant.

Danny Simpson (Becenti/Crownpoint/Huerfano/Lake Valley/Nageezi/Nahodishgish/Tsé '’’'áh’/Whiterock) asked if the due diligence report that was authorized in April was completed because it sounded like NTEC was in the process of purchasing Navajo Mine.

Gunderson said the report was completed and it would be submitted to the Navajo Nation Department of Justice then provided to the Council.

Drought's impact on livestock

In other action, Mel Begay (Bahastl'ah/Coyote Canyon/Mexican Springs/Naschitti/Tohatchi) successfully added a bill to the agenda as emergency legislation to request $3 million in supplemental funding from the Minimum Fund balance for the Unreserved, Undesignated Fund balance.

The money would be allocated to the Navajo Nation Department of Water Resources to repair, construct and rehabilitate livestock earthen dams, windmills, storage tanks, waterlines and water wells.

The Council also approved a request from Alton Joe Shepherd (Cornfields/Ganado/Jeddito/Kin Dah Lich’’/Steamboat) to add $1.1 million in supplemental funding to address the feral horses issue.

As of June 27, the UUFB is at $14.1 million but tribal law prohibits the Council from making supplemental appropriations until projected revenues are met and the UUFB has a minimum balance equal to 10 percent of the prior fiscal year's budget.

In this case, that would be $17.3 million since the 2012 budget was $173 million.

It is now waiting for President Ben Shelly's consideration and action to veto or to concur with the Council's decision.

On Monday, Shelly declared a state of emergency for tribal lands because of the drought and its impact on the Navajo people and livestock.

"We recognize that much of our land is dry, our wells aren't producing water like they have in the past, and now we must do what we can to help our people who are suffering in these dry conditions," Shelly said.

The president also signed memorandum directing all executive branch divisions to formulate plans to assist in drought relief.

In a separate legislation, the Council approved $846,000 in supplemental funding from the UUFB to pay the stipends for district grazing committee members, the Eastern Navajo Land Board, and members of the tribe's farm boards to attend chapter planning meetings and regular chapter meetings.

The special session saw passage of issuing a $155 million bond to raise money for needed economic development projects on the reservation.

The Council approved an exemption for the Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Company from the tribe's fuel excise tax and redirecting that revenue to fund the construction of a convenience store and gas station near Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort as well as other areas on the Navajo Nation.

They appointed Deborah Cayedito as the Fort Defiance Agency Council representative to the Navajo Nation Government Development Commission.

Contact Noel Lyn Smith at 928-871-1139 or nsmith@navajotimes.com.

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