Begaye vetoes bill to reorganize Nation's chapters

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. - The Navajo Nation executive and legislative branches issued dueling press releases regarding legislation to reorganize the Nation's chapters with both branches saying they are representing the voice of the people.

On. Aug. 19, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye vetoed legislation that would have sent the matter to the Navajo people to vote on whether or not the Navajo Nation should regionalize the current 110 chapters into 24 regional governments.

The executive branch press release stated that if the Navajo voters are to vote in favor of the Regionalization Referendum, the Navajo Nation Council would have been authorized to pass enabling legislation to amend Title 26, which would reorganize the chapters into the 24 regional governments.

According to the legislation branch press release, in May of 2015, the Resources and Development Committee established the Title 26 Task Force for the purpose of reviewing accountability measures at the chapter level, exploring ways to empower chapters and to streamline the Five Management Plan System and transparency. The task force met regularly and held public hearings across the Navajo Nation since its establishment.

"Whether you agree with the regionalization concept or not, the underlying intent of the resolution and referendum was to give the Navajo people a voice to decide how their government should be structured through the casting of their ballots," said Navajo Nation Council Speaker LoRenzo Bates.

Begaye said the legislation language excludes public input and representation, which he feels is critical in this matter.

"We feel the voice of the Navajo people is critical in voting on this referendum and we are, by no means, taking this decision-making opportunity from them," he said. "However, in reviewing this legislation, we feel it's imperative that the Navajo people are represented justly in the process of reorganizing 110 chapters into the 24 regional governments - if that's how the people vote. This process shouldn't be based solely on the decisions of council."

If voters passed the referendum, the transition to the regional governments would have been implemented within a four-year period, in accordance with legislation passed by the council.

Council Delegate Leonard Tsosie, who sponsored the legislation, previously stated that the four-year time period would have allowed adequate time for input on how the regional governments would be structured. He said that Begay's reasoning for the veto is illogical and diminishes the role of democracy on the Nation.

"I was very disappointed with the veto, which wipes out the democratic process with the flick of a pen," Tsosie said. "Every Navajo voter would have been invited to participate and be represented by voting yea or nay on the referendum."

Tsosie also refuted Begaye's statement that indicated that the process should not be based solely on the decisions of the council.

"No members of council were part of the Title 26 Task Force," he said. "There were many possibilities had he signed the regionalization resolution. His veto will only keep the current system in place where less than 5 percent of the Navajo population participate and hardly any development.

Vice President Jonathan Nez said he'd like to see increased collaboration between the executive and legislative branches in considering overall governmental reform as opposed to focusing only on chapter level reform.

"Overall government reform should be considered and not exclusively just chapter reform," he said. "An overall government reform can bring about a more efficient and responsive government for our people. I believe that by working with council, pursuant to the public hearings, we can come up with more options for the people to vote on. We should work together to develop a restructured government. This legislation has potential to affect the overall Navajo Nation government beyond the regionalization of chapters."

On Aug. 13, the Office of the President and Vice President announced one public hearing held Aug. 14 in the community of Tuba City to gain public input regarding the referendum. On Aug. 14, five additional public hearings were announced from Aug. 14 - 18.

The regionalization legislation, which was approved by the 23rd Navajo Nation Council Aug. 8, was slated to be placed on the ballot in November if approved by Begaye.

In vetoing the legislation, the president said he wants to see this matter go for a vote but in a form that will give power and consideration to public input into the process of regional restructuring.

"This is an important decision," Begaye said. "In essence, it creates super chapters across the Nation. If this is the direction the people chose to move toward, I'd like to ensure the participation and input of the Navajo people in the process. I'd also like to see more public outreach so the voters are informed in making this critical decision. This decision will not only affect the chapters and communities but also future generations of the Navajo people."

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