WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — On Jan. 6, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye announced Bobby White will be appointed acting controller of the Navajo Nation. The decision came after the Navajo Nation Council removed Jim R. Parris as controller Jan. 4.
According to the Office of the President and Vice President, White was instrumental in establishing the Permanent Fund, the $554 million Historical Trust Fund Mismanagement Litigation and the Appropriations Act and the Bond Financing Act.
“Ensuring the financial stability and continuity of the Navajo Nation, as we face this abrupt change in controllers, is my primary concern,” Begaye said. “We are looking toward the expertise of former Controller Bobby White to protect the integrity of Nation’s reputation in overseeing the Nation’s finances as we transition forward in finding a full-time, permanent controller.”
During his previous tenure as controller, White rejected balances put forth by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) regarding trust funds. In rejecting these balances, he filed documents disputing the balances, which became the main sources of the litigation filed against the BIA.
That litigation led to the $554 million settlement that established the Síhasín Fund.
“If he accepted the BIA’s balances, the Nation wouldn’t have filed the lawsuit against the BIA,” Begaye said. “This is exactly the kind of financial fortitude I expect our controller to have in standing on their ethics and what is right for the Nation.”
Vice President Jonathan Nez, who was a former chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee, said White’s appointment is an effort to maintain the financial integrity of the Navajo Nation and that he knows White’s solid reputation and honest work ethic.
“He can handle the day-to-day operations of the tribal financial system while looking at the big picture, with regard to the tribal investment portfolio,” Nez said. “Who better to help us in this time of uncertainty?”
Council removes Parris
In a 17-5 vote, the Navajo Nation Council removed Jim R. Parris as controller of the Navajo Nation Jan. 4, effective immediately.
Legislation sponsor Council Delegate Seth Damon (Bááháálí, Chichiltah, Manuelito, Tsé Lichíí’, Rock Springs, Tsayatoh) asked for council’s support for the legislation and said he did not wish to discuss the details of the matter publicly during the special session because it was a personnel matter.
Throughout the three hour discussion, council members said one of the main issues was Parris’ contract with Begaye’s office only required Parris to work for the Navajo Nation three days per week while receiving a salary of approximately $140,000, with thousands more in quarterly bonuses. Council members said the contract document was never shared with the council.
“We have elderly people who are not receiving adequate services and have unmet needs, and yet we are paying him a large salary for working part-time,” said Council Delegate Nathaniel Brown (Chilchinbeto, Dennehotso, Kayenta).
The council also approved an amendment to include a “delegation of authority” memorandum issued by Parris in November that allows for an acting controller to assume the duties and responsibilities until Begaye appoints a replacement.
According to Navajo Nation Code, the controller is appointed by the Navajo Nation president, confirmed by the Navajo Nation Council, and serves at the pleasure of the council.
“The Nation has been without a controller before and it did not interfere with payroll for Navajo Nation employees, general assistance, burial assistance, and veterans’ assistance,” said Navajo Nation Speaker LoRenzo Bates.
Bates said the role of the controller is limited to overseeing the daily operations of the Nation’s finances, however, his position has no bearing on financial contracts, bond financing, agreements, leases, or the Nation’s bond rating.
The Navajo Nation Council’s standing committees and the Nation’s Investment Committee handle the majority of high-level financial matters, and if required, the president signs contracts and leases, Bates said.
“The burial assistance program ran out of funding and Begaye had to transfer the resources to the program because the OPVP missed the contract renewal deadline that would have replenished those funds,” Bates said. “Not to mention that the lack of veterans’ assistance has caused concern for council because the OPVP has failed to appoint an executive director for the Navajo Nation Veterans Administration.”
Recently, the Health, Education, and Human Services Committee received reports from Navajo veterans who said they have not received their assistance checks, housing and veterans burial assistance from the NNVA, which is currently under the control of OPVP.
Moments prior to voting on the legislation, Council Delegate Nelson S. BeGaye (Lukachukai, Rock Point, Round Rock, Tsaile/Wheatfields, Tsé Ch’ izhi) said if the Navajo Nation’s finances and investments are important to the Nation’s leadership then a full-time controller should be appointed as soon as possible.
White will be appointed as the acting controller until Office of the President and Vice President recommend a permanent controller to the Navajo Nation Council for appointment.