BIRDSPRINGS, Ariz. - Chapter officials were just as surprised as chapter members when they arrived at the business office on Wednesday, Aug. 20 to find the door securely padlocked - and a note from Chapter President Eddie Yazzie advising that the lock was not to be tampered with.
The Navajo Hopi Observer learned of the lockdown when an anonymous student called to report she had been trying to pick up her scholarship check and could not get in. She said that the chapter coordinator and the office specialist were also unable to access the business office and were doing their best to conduct business from the senior center cafeteria.
The event has sparked a great deal of conjecture - Yazzie has not communicated with fellow chapter officers, employees or delegates.
Chapter Vice President Isabelle Walker, Chapter Delegate Thomas Walker and Chapter Secretary/Treasurer Vernice Wagner-Morgan all verified that they had not received forewarning of Yazzie's action.
When asked what might have triggered Yazzie's action, Wagner-Morgan said that Yazzie had spoken to her in the past about the work performance of chapter employees Gloria Curtis (the office specialist) and Eileen Hardy (the community services coordinator).
"I told him that the Navajo Nation had policies and procedures in place, and that he needed to follow those protocols to address his allegations," Wagner-Morgan said. "I told him that he needed to sit down with myself, other chapter officials, and the Local Governance Support Center ... to discuss this so that everything is documented."
Thomas Walker indicated that he was confident that both Curtis and Hardy are doing a good job, and that they were both dedicated to proper procedures when it comes to chapter business.
Isabelle Walker said that Yazzie had previously received notice that orders of protection were being taken out against him, and his actions were in retaliation.
"Mr. Yazzie had attempted to place Eileen on investigative administrative leave. He called for an officer from Dilkon and gave her the notice and asked her to serve it on Eileen, [who] was advised not to sign anything. [S]he was later told that this incident was an administrative matter for the chapter. The next evening, out of frustration I believe, [Yazzie] came in and put a padlock on the door," Isabelle Walker said.
"I got a call from Lt. Lee from Dilkon, and he informed me of what was going on," she continued. "Chapter officials were getting calls that the chapter president put a padlock on the door and so I called the chapter office to verify this. Eileen told me there was a lock on the door, and a note not to tamper with the lock. Vernice and I met at the chapter and looked at the door, and sure enough there was a padlock on the door and his notice."
Isabelle Walker also expressed her confidence in Curtis and Hardy.
"I later learned that during our visit to Birdsprings, Yazzie was in Window Rock trying to get the white collar crime unit to remove computers and documents," she said. "I understand that ... he was afraid workers would start trying to destroy records. We didn't know [why] because the chapter documents are all in order and filed. We all worked hard to put the chapter records in order, and I know that chapter staff has filed our records with the Local Governance Support Center, so I don't know why he's suspicious ..."
Isabelle Walker, Thomas Walker and Wagner-Morgan have all heard complaints from chapter employees about what one described as Yazzie's "micromanagement" and bad temper.
"Having been a chapter official, I have been confronted at chapter and planning meetings but I can take it," Wagner-Morgan said.
Even though the two are closely related, she has had her differences with Yazzie. She added that Yazzie unprofessionally brought their personal relationship into the business arena after the filing of a protection order against Yazzie by Hardy.
"He brought up personal issues about my family and me that were uncalled for on a professional business level. I was hurt," Wagner-Morgan stated.
"I understand that Yazzie has made demands on chapter staff, including having access to chapter resources without proper procedure, such as receiving funds for travel. These disbursements must be approved at a chapter meeting," Thomas Walker said.
"I am not aware officially of what was behind his actions," Walker added. "I haven't heard from him. I was not consulted in the decision, and I deem this as an unofficial, improper closure of the chapter house. I understand that Yazzie said that he was exercising his authority as a chapter president, but I've seen no official documents or notification."
Walker said that to his knowledge there were few instances where a public tribal building can be closed, but that this was not one of them.
When asked what actions she expected arising from Yazzie's actions, Isabelle Walker was unsure.
"I know he's not communicating with anyone," Walker said. "I would think that there is just concern for the unauthorized closure of the business office, which interrupted the operation there [and] caused disservice to our constituents and community members, as well as a loss of revenue through hay and water sales. I got a flood of calls on why students could not access their scholarship money, as well as concerns about discretionary funding for elderly housing."
Walker added, "There are policies to deal with that. I would think the community members would raise the issue and ask for a formal response. Anytime anyone with authority takes improper action in this manner, there is a way to make that person responsible for his action - such as paying a fine or perform community service. I would hope the chapter and the Nation would address this like any other incident regardless of the fact that Yazzie is an elected official.
The 21st Navajo Nation Council passed legislation ERC-08-001 on Jan. 4, regarding regulations and standards of conduct for elected officials of the Navajo Nation.
Curtis verified that both she and Hardy have taken out orders of protection against Yazzie, but she did not wish to comment further at this time. Eddie Kee Yazzie could not be reached for comment.