Navajo Council and president dispute budget vetoes

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — A dispute has broken out between the Navajo Nation Council speaker’s office and the Office of the President and Vice President (OPVP) on whether the vetoes issued on the budget are valid or not.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye had issued 17 line item vetoes including vetoes of $1.4 million for the Navajo Area Agency on Aging, $1 million for each of the Nation’s 110 chapters, $847,000 for grazing officials and money for 24 legislative district assistant positions.

On Oct. 3, Navajo Nation Council Speaker LoRenzo Bates informed Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye that the resolution passed by the Navajo Nation Council approving the fiscal year 2017 budget for the Navajo Nation would be in place despite Begaye’s use of line-item vetoes because Bates’ said in a press release that Begaye issued the vetoes while he was in Washington D.C.

Bates also issued a memorandum to Dominic Beyal, director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Controller Jim Parrish informing them of the dispute and instructing them to carry out the budget that was approved by the council.

During the Oct. 4 Budget and Finance Committee meeting, the Office of Management and Budget director told the committee that the budget they are using right now is the one the president signed and that they are awaiting a legal opinion from the attorney general on the budget, according to the speaker’s office. There was no comment from the Office of the President or Vice President.

Bates said the president being in D.C. when the vetoes were issued is a clear violation of Navajo Nation law that states that the president is required to be within the jurisdictional boundaries of the Navajo Nation when he takes such action.

“The Navajo Nation Code clearly spells out the legal procedure and President Begaye did not comply with the procedure and, therefore, his line-item vetoes are invalid,” Bates said.

The president’s office disputed that conclusion in the morning of Oct. 3 with a press release saying that the act of line item vetoes “occurred within the territorial jurisdiction of the Office the President and Vice President on Sept. 24.”

The confusion stems from a press release sent out by the president’s office Sept. 28 that included the following statement, “That sentiment was expressed Sept. 27 when Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye executed his line item veto authority in 17 areas of the comprehensive budget that was approved by the tribal council on Sept. 28.”

“The Navajo Nation Council is continuing to negate the will of the people when it was the Navajo people [who] gave the president line item veto authority,” Begaye said. “Raising the issue that this particular action was taken outside of Navajo Nation jurisdiction is both frivolous and a further attempt by council to negate the will of the people.”

Bates said that it is clear Begaye is inconsistent and misinforming the public.

“His accusation that this is a frivolous issue is unfounded,” Bates said. “This is a serious matter that would have affected many of our people had the line-item vetoes been valid. Words have meaning and leaders must choose their words carefully.”

The Office of the Speaker said they delivered the memo and the legal opinion issued by the Office of Legislative Counsel to the Office of the President and Vice President in the afternoon of Oct. 3 before it was released to the media, which the president’s office disputes.

“By leaking the memo to the media before delivering a copy to OPVP, Speaker Bates and the Navajo Nation Council are being underhanded,” President Begaye said. “Our goal at OPVP is always to be transparent in all that we do. By using my line item veto authority, I am protecting the people’s money so it won’t be misused nor appropriated improperly and illegally.”

Bates said that the president took an oath of office to abide by the laws of the Navajo Nation.

“He should follow those laws and let our elders, veterans, chapters and others benefit from the peoples’ funds,” Bates said. “President Begaye has had the opportunity on numerous occasions to meet with council to discuss the budget and he did not. This affects our constituents, I expect the local chapters will respond to the president’s action. Delegates will be available to discuss this issue at the chapters.”

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