WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. - The Navajo Nation Council voted to place the speaker of the council on indefinite paid administrative leave rather than remove him in response to charges filed against him by special prosecutors for bribery and conspiracy.
The Navajo Nation Council, which has 24 delegates, voted to place Speaker Johnny Naize on paid administrative leave April 4 by a vote of 12-0. Twelve delegates left the chamber before the vote.
Normally it takes a two-thirds majority to remove the speaker - 16 votes - but because the legislation was changed from removal to administrative leave, the council used a simple majority vote.
Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly expressed concern over the decision by the council to place Naize on paid administrative leave.
He said the Nation must be able to continue functioning, especially regarding the signature authority of the council for contracts, grants and other fiduciary considerations.
"The matter is in litigation," Shelly said. "We anticipate an immediate resolution as the court will make the appropriate decision."
Title 2 of the Navajo Nation Code mandates that the legislative branch sets policies for the government and approves various matters set before it by the executive branch. The executive branch carries out the administrative functions of the government and the judicial branch interprets the laws.
"The executive branch will continue with its administrative functions and the office of the president and vice president will continue to represent the Navajo people at the tribal, state and federal levels of government," Shelly said.
Shelly said continuity of government will be maintained for the Navajo people, while the Navajo Nation Council's case goes before the court for resolution.
He expressed the need for resolution and encouraged the courts to make a swift determination in the case.
The council chose Lorenzo Bates as speaker pro-tem. In a press release on April 8, Batesurged the council to move forward and said that the Navajo Nation government will remain intact to continue to serve the Navajo people.
"It's business as usual," Bates said.
Naize submitted legal documents for a temporary restraining order against the 12 delegates who voted to place him on administrative leave and against a legislative employee.
On April 8, Window Rock District Court Judge Carol Perry ordered a hearing on today to make a decision about Naize's temporary restraining order. In addition, she ordered an English transcript of the special session. She also ordered a "true account of the presence and absence of individual members constituting a quorum from the beginning to the end of the [special session].
Bates refuted allegations that threats of any nature occurred toward the speaker or his staff after the action by the council.
"To my knowledge, no threats by any members of the council were made against Speaker Naize or his immediate staff members," he said.
Bates called for an end to the divisiveness between council members and implored delegates to unite and work together for the betterment of Diné citizens and to begin to move forward.
"We are here to serve the Navajo people and that should remain the focus of council at this time," he said.
Naize said before the vote that his time in the speaker's chair was sacred to him and that the appropriate place for a judgment regarding the charges filed against him and former and current delegates is not in the council chambers.
"Let the court make that decision," Naize said.