Shelly lists 2011 accomplishments

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

WINDOW ROCK, Dec. 29, 2011

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Special to the Times - Donovan Quintero

Ben Shelly takes the oath of office in January 2011.

President Ben Shelly fooled a lot of people when he took office last January.

Many expected him to be a puppet of the Navajo Nation Council and someone who would ignore government reform.

After all, as vice president he was the only topsider in the Shirley administration who seemed to get along with the Council.

And as for government reform, those words never came out of his mouth during his five months of campaigning for the presidency.

But within months of talking office, Shelly felt the wrath of the Council after he used the line-item veto to chop some of the delegates' most favored budget items and, as the year ended, he talked about putting initiatives on the 2012 ballot for Navajo voters to address possible changes in the tribal government.

Shelly was the only branch chief not to agree to a year-end interview with the Navajo Times, despite repeated efforts since early December. On Wednesday, his staff said he was too busy for an interview.

Instead, he sent a two-page press release listing his accomplishments for the year, which included signing into law the Title 2 amendments to match the reduction of the Council from 88 to 24 members, amendments that were approved by the new tribal Council.

He also cited as a major accomplishment a series of five town hall meetings he sponsored around the reservation that "helped establish more precise goals to help meet the needs of the people."

The town hall meetings so far have not resulted in any major changes but Shelly said during the year that he would like to see some changes, based on the wishes of the Navajo people, before his first term is over.

A lot of his time has been spent working on energy issues. When he came into office he created an energy task force to develop a Navajo strategy on how to make better use of the tribe's energy resources.

Ultimately, according to previous interviews Shelly has done on the matter, this will result in not only more revenue for the tribe but also the creation of more jobs.

When it comes to job creation, the tribal casinos are still looked upon as the primary source of new job creation in the near future.

The Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise is within a month of opening a new casino in Upper Fruitland, N.M., and within 18 months of opening up a major casino resort at Twin Arrows, Ariz., near Flagstaff. Together, these are expected to create more than 1,300 jobs, most of which are expected to go to Navajos.

Much of the press that Shelly received in 2010 concerned his attempts to ban smoking in public places, including tribal casinos, but the Council refused to go along after gaming officials warned that it would sharply reduce gaming revenues and likely lead to job and profit cuts.

Shelly has indicated that this issue is not dead and may be revived in 2012 by way of a ballot question asking voters whether they want smoking permitted at the casinos.

Shelly did score a victory on his efforts, started three years ago when he was vice president, to launch a tribal ID card program. In November, the tribe began issuing the cards, which are similar to driver's licenses but include the holder's tribal enrollment number.

He wasn't, however, successful in another of his goals from the vice-presidential days - elevating veteran services to a division. Currently the Department of Navajo Veterans Affairs is part of the Division of Human Resources.

He is still working on it but it's questionable just how much Council support exists for it.

Speaker of the Council Johnny Naize, in his end-of-the-year interview, said he felt the delegates are waiting to see how the veterans feel about the issue, and opinion among them has been divided.

Shelly has said he has the support of veteran groups who feel that giving the veterans a division-level organization to address all of their needs, including housing, will make it easier for them to get needed services.

Shelly pointed out in his press release that many projects - including the building of tribal jail/court complexes in Tuba City, Kayenta and Crownpoint - began in the Shirley administration, and others, like the Navajo-Gallup Water Pipeline, were started by other administrations.

But, he pointed out that his administration has the responsibility of making sure these projects, worth more than $2 billion, "continue to their fruition."

Shelly also claimed credit for safeguarding $125 million of federal program money that otherwise might have been cut from programs like the Navajo Housing Authority, Navajo Head Start and the Navajo Indian Irrigation Project.

As to what he plans for 2012, Shelly had this to say in his press release:

"Looking into the next year, we will continue to create job opportunities for our Navajo people and fostering a business friendly environment on the reservation. We will continue to protect Navajo money at the federal level while preparing for challenges that may lie ahead," he said.

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