Standing committees approved, but not without controversy
Speaker Seth Damon’s appointees to the Navajo Nation Council Standing Committees were approved through legislation today, but not without some fireworks over some of the choices he made.
“You can’t please everybody,” said Damon. “Everyone wants to be on RDC (Resources & Development) and B & F (Budget and Finance).
Committee assignments are as follows:
- Budget and Finance Committee: Amber Kanazbah Crotty (Northern); Jamie Henio (Eastern); Elmer P. Begay (Fort Defiance); Jimmy Yellowhair (Central); Nathaniel Brown (Western); and Raymond Smith Jr. (Fort Defiance).
- Health, Education and Human Services Committee: Charlaine Tso (Northern); Daniel Tso (Eastern); Pernell Halona (Fort Defiance); Edison J. Wauneka (Fort Defiance); Nelson BeGaye (Central); and Paul Begay (Western).
- Resources and Development Committee: Rickie Nez (Northern); Mark Freeland (Eastern); Wilson Stewart Jr. (Fort Defiance); Kee Allen Begay Jr. (Central); Thomas Walker Jr. (Western); and Herman Daniels Jr. (Western).
- Law and Order Committee: Eugenia Charles-Newton (Northern); Edmund Yazzie (Eastern); Vince James (Fort Defiance); Eugene Tso (Central); and Otto Tso (Western).
A new speaker normally considers agency caucus recommendations and makes effort to match preferences, experience and skill sets to the needs and requirements of the respective committees. Additionally, by law, each committee requires at least one delegate from each agency.
In five hours of back-to-back meetings of the Naabik’iyati’ Committee and a special session on Monday, delegates voiced their thoughts and concerns about how exactly how Damon went about making his choices.
While about half of the room wished to “move-on” and “go forward,” the other half was not ready to approve the legislation.
Delegate Nelson BeGaye, who was recommended for the Budget and Finance Committee by the Central Agency Caucus, said he was surprised to find out he had been assigned to the Health, Education and Human Services Committee.
BeGaye pressed Damon on why the caucus recommendations hadn’t been respected.
“If you ask us to go into caucus, please honor that,” BeGaye said to Damon. “If not, it creates tension. Hopefully I’m wrong, but I’m seeing the Council is divided.”
A five-term senior delegate, who has served prior on the B & F Committee and has years of business and finance experience, BeGaye said he felt overlooked.
He also suggested that he had heard about “secret meetings” that might have influenced Damon’s choices.
“If there were secret meetings about how these committees were made, I don’t even want to go there…,” he said. “It’s really embarrassing.”
Delegate Otto Tso came straight out and said, “The caucus stuff was just baloney. I’m serious. Just baloney.”
Tso was first assigned to the Resources and Development Committee, but was moved by Damon to the Health, Education and Human Resources Committee due to an error in the first legislation dropped on Feb. 5.
In the end Tso and Delegate Paul Begay took matters into their own hands and decided between themselves to trade committee appointments outlined in an amendment they added to the legislation, which puts Tso back on the Law and Order Committee he served on in the 23rd Council.
Damon said that if a delegate wants to “change the world” they can have the opportunity to do that on any committee, even if it wasn’t their first choice.
“Everybody’s going to bring their own initiatives and their own ideas to the table and I look forward to working with them,” said Damon.
Delegate Herman Daniels said that even if a delegate wasn’t assigned to a committee they wanted to be on, they can still attend any other committee meetings, participate, contribute and even drop legislation.
“In regards to committee assignments, I think they were rushed,” said Delegate Eugenia Charles-Newton. “I ask you, speaker, what experience were you looking for when you were making these assignments?”
An outspoken Delegate Charlaine Tso came straight out and told Speaker Damon she didn’t believe he had considered everyone’s resumes and background, and felt therefore that the selection process was unfair.
Two separate motions to table the legislation for additional review and reevaluation of assignments were made by Delegates Charles-Newton (upheld in the Naabik’iyati’ Committee) and Charlaine Tso (voted down in the special session), but ultimately the Speaker’s choices prevailed and passed, 14 in favor and 9 opposed.