9/30/2011 Gallup Independent: No k’e for Shelly after veto By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau: WINDOW ROCK – When it comes to money, even among the closest of kin, relationships can become strained. Nowhere was that more evident than Thursday’s Nabiki’yati’ Committee when delegates basically threw k’e out the window and hammered Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly at length for slashing their budget. Exercising line-item veto authority, Shelly cut more than $2 million from the Legislative Branch budget for Fiscal Year 2012. He whittled $130,050 from the travel budget for the Resources and Development Committee chaired by Delegate Katherine Benally after she gutted $433,988 from the Executive Branch budget.
The money intended for Executive salary adjustments and consultant fees Benally gave to a private day-care facility and the Navajo Area Agency on Aging – before Shelly’s line-item veto wiped out her good intentions.
“Anyone wanting to fight the elders, they need to go through me first. Anybody wanting to fight the kids, I’ll take them on. Bring it on, Mr. President!” Benally said.
When it was proposed they invite the president to Nabiki’yati’ and try to talk through their differences, she said, “I will not beg him for a penny.” Then, addressing Shelly in absentia, added, “You practiced your prerogative to veto our committee’s travel line-item. Thank you. We just will not meet.”
Council is in the midst of trying to do a bond initiative for capital improvement projects. Benally said Shelly has been invited to her committee numerous times to discuss his plan for prosperity, but has not come.
“Where’s this pitch that he gives to us about prosperity?” Salaries for the president’s staff range from approximately $70,000 to $93,000, she said. “That’s where the prosperity is, just in his office. I don’t want us going over there and meeting with him. He used and abused that veto power. I say our staff needs to challenge that.”
Lorenzo Curley said this year was the worst budget experience of his eight years on the Navajo Nation Council. “There’s too much exercise of patronage in our budget system and I think that’s what we’re talking about here. We know every year that the Executive budget is padded. Some of us talk about trimming those padded monies in Executive Branch,” he said.
“We kind of give the Executive Branch the respect, the k’e, and so we let it go, and we expect the same reciprocal treatment from the president. It didn’t happen. He double-crossed us,” Curley said.
Alton Shepherd reminded delegates, “ ‘The pen is mightier than the sword.’ That’s what the people have given him, and that’s what I, too, have given him as a president” as a result of the line-item veto initiative. “I had to also dread the day when it becomes as painful as using a sword. I think that’s what happened,” he said.
Leonard Tsosie, who represents eight chapters, said it was unfair for the president to have staff assistants and Council not have any. “Because what we were going to work with has been vetoed, maybe we should reexamine the amount of assistants we give him. He’s telling us to make do with nothing, no assistants. Maybe we should limit the number of assistants he has.”
Tsosie said he sent a letter to the president which Shelly said he was going to make public. “I said, ‘So be it. I don’t mind.’ My letter indicated that some of us supported the line-item veto power and we campaigned for it. When we were out there, we didn’t tell the people that it would be used to target political adversaries.”
The recent sequence of events is “like walking on thin ice,” according to Delegate Leonard Pete. He said that when Shelly was a Council delegate he nearly got into a fist fight over an issue that arose on the Council floor. “He was taken out for disorderly conduct. … That kind of a leader, that kind of a person, that kind of a background, I hate to see something started. I hate to see his true colors.”
LoRenzo Bates said later that the president didn’t go back on his word. “They could have had their assistants. But when they went and put in their own personal feelings and agendas and went against the stream, we brought it on ourselves – and my colleagues better realize that.
“If Council chooses to go to war against the president’s office based on his action, and that includes going to court, and the court makes a decision in favor of the president’s office, you have given more authority to the chief justice to make determinations that could give more power to the chief justice to legislate,” Bates said. “If they’re willing to do that, then go for it.”
Walter Phelps told delegates he did not agree with all the sentiments. “I am concerned that we are taking this down the wrong path. I think, in my mind, it’s just a matter of a need to improve areas of communication between Executive and Legislative, and setting down guidelines for future appropriations.”
Speaker Johnny Naize said he was told by the president to bring some more numbers. “I have the numbers available for him. We can negotiate on those numbers.”
He said he would provide a memo to delegates explaining the action they are going to pursue.