11/10/2011 Navajo Times: Funds available for Freeze families, panel says By Bill Donovan, Special to the Times. WINDOW ROCK: The Navajo-Hopi Land Commission reports that it has nearly $4 million available to start helping Navajo families in the former Bennett Freeze area. “This is the latest funding for the recovery of the area,” the NHLC office stated in a recent report to the Navajo Nation Council. The money is from an escrow account. For 30 years, 1966 to 1996, Navajo families in the Bennett Freeze area were prohibited from making improvements to their homes because of federal restrictions put in place at the behest of the Hopi Tribe, which claimed prior rights to the land.
Meanwhile, land-use payments were held in escrow. In 2010, following a federal settlement lifting the Freeze, some $6.3 million was released to the Navajo Nation to benefit Navajos still residing there.
The land commission hasn’t yet approved the allocation of these funds, prompting the emergence of The Forgotten People, a grassroots group formed to demand an accounting of money spent and to push for needed improvements to the area.
The report to the Council said some $3.9 million of that $6 million has now been allocated to improve or replace dilapidated homes.
The commission also reported that lease fees from the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise, which is building the Twin Arrows Resort Casino on land acquired under the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute agreement, are beginning to roll in.
Commission officials said the land had been purchased for about $7 million with the commission and the casino paying half of the cost. The land was then taken into ownership by the commission and the casino agreed to make annual payments to the commission for use of the land.
The first payment of $375,000 was made in June, said Raymond Maxx, director of the NHLC office.
10/27/2011 Navajo Times: Bogus bonuses – 2 Tuba City officials removed for scamming illegal bonuses By Bill Donovan, Special to the Times: Two officials for Toh Nanees Dizi Chapter has been removed from office in the investigation into five officials accused of illegally paying themselves bonuses totaling over $80,000. Jimmy Holgate, who served on the chapter governing council, was removed on Tuesday when he failed to show up for a hearing before the Office of Hearings and Appeals. The hearing included witnesses who had traveled all of the way from Tucson. As a result of the default judgment, Holgate will have to reimburse the chapter $7,644 and cannot run for public office for five years.
Last week, Helen Herbert came to the tribe’s ethics Office and admitted she had defrauded the chapter.
She too was on the governing council. She agreed to reimburse the chapter $10,000 by paying $200 a month to the Ethics Office.
That still leaves the top three chapter officials facing hearings.
Robert Yazzie, council vice president, was scheduled to go before OHA on Oct. 20. He is accused of illegally taking $20,180.
Council President Max Goldtooth is scheduled to have a hearing Nov. 9 on charges of misappropriating $17,200.
The hearing for Secretary-Treasurer Charlene Nez, who is accused of taking $26,668, is scheduled Nov. 30.
All five are accused of giving themselves illegal bonuses for doing ordinary chapter business. For example, each got a $3,000 Christmas bonus as well as anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 for signing ordinary resolutions approved by the chapter.
The charges filed by the Ethics Office said the officials also violated tribal law by failing to present the payments for approval by chapter members before the checks were issued
10/20/2011 Navajo Times: Delegates say lawyer went too far with reform bill by Marlley Shebala: Should the people vote on proposed changes to the Navajo Nation Government Development Commission Act? The Navajo Nation Council’s attorney, Edward McCool, says yes. But the chairman and vice chairman of the Council’s Subcommittee on Government Reform say no. The disagreement between McCool and the subcommittee unfolded when Chairman Leonard Tsosie and Vice Chairperson Jonathan Nez saw that McCool had written the subcommittee’s proposal to change the commission as a voter referendum rather than an amendment to the act. Then he posted the referendum legislation on the Council’s Web site for public comment on Oct. 6.
Tsosie and Nez said in separate interviews this week that they believe McCool overstepped his authority, and that the subcommittee is expected to meet Monday, Oct. 24, at 1 p.m. in the Council chamber to discuss his actions.
Both delegates emphasized that the subcommittee had nothing to do with McCool’s decision to make their bill a request to the Council for a referendum.
“His clients tell him to do one thing and he does the opposite,” Tsosie fumed. “He’s just making our life harder.”
McCool said Tuesday that he was asked to draft legislation and he did that.
On Sept. 20, McCool sent a memo to Nez questioning the subcommittee’s plan to amend the law and reduce the commission from 12 members to five, eliminating representation for several groups in favor of putting more delegates on the panel.
McCool stated in his memo that the Navajo Nation Supreme Court noted the “significance” of the commission and its office in a July 2010 ruling: “Of all the entities established by the Title II Amendments, the Commission on Government Development and the Office of Navajo Government Development are the sole entities established according to the wishes of the people expressed through the coordinator of the Government Reform Project.”
Power to the people
McCool also quoted the ruling’s warning for the Council not to usurp the right of the people to determine their preferred form of government, which the commission was set up to determine.
The high court stated that “the power over the structure of the Navajo government is ultimately in the hands of the people and (the Council) will look to the people to guide it” and “that the power of the people to participate in their democracy and determine their form of government is a reserved, inherent and fundamental right expressed in Title I of our Dine Fundamental Law and the Navajo Bill of Rights,” McCool quoted in his memo.
Tsosie said the subcommittee already had a discussion with McCool about whether the Supreme Court’s decision meant the subcommittee’s amendments to the commission had to go before the people as a ballot referendum.
“We didn’t ask for (referendum) language,” Nez said Tuesday. “The chief legislative counsel has his own interpretation of the Supreme Court decision. We, as delegates, have our own interpretation. We’re following the Supreme Court order.”
10/20/2011 Navajo Times: Former MacDonald prosecutors replace Balaran By Bill Donovan, Special to the Times: The Special Division of the Window Rock District Court has decided to go with experience in replacing Alan Balaran as special prosecutor. The division last week approved hiring Santa Fe law firm of Rothstein, Donatelli, Hughes, Dahlstrom & Schoenburg as the new special prosecutor. “The Rothstein law firm, led by attorneys Eric Dahlstrom and Richard Hughes, will continue the investigations into alleged misuse of discretionary funds by high ranking officials of the Navajo Nation,” a press release from the attorney general’s office stated.
The firm will also look into allegations of mismanagement of funds in the OnSat, BCDS and Tribal Ranch Program and other matters assigned by the special division, which is composed of three judges.
Balaran, according to the press release, has agreed to assist with the transition.
The law firm was instrumental in the late 1980s in the prosecution of then chairman Peter MacDonald Sr., his son Rocky and others in MacDonald’s administration for a variety of crimes while in office.
Dahlstrom, who has been a member of the Navajo Nation Bar Association for at least 30 years, was deputy attorney general of the Navajo Nation from 1987 through 1991.
Hughes has also been a member of the Navajo bar for at least 30 years and was one of the lead prosecutors in the MacDonald case.
In the press release, the attorney general’s office said it was “fully supportive” of the appointment. Both the current attorney general, Harrison Tsosie, and his predecessor, Louis Denetsosie, are named defendants in the civil suit filed by Balaran.
The attorney general’s office stated that it “is fully committed to the resolution of these matters pursuant to Navajo laws, principals and cultural values.”
Dahlstrom, interviewed by phone at his Phoenix office, said Wednesday that the firm is not making any statements at this time about how it plans to proceed in the investigation and the prosecution of those who have already been named in civil suits filed by Balaran.
10/14/2011 Law firm selected as special prosecutor By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau, Gallup Independent: WINDOW ROCK – The law firm that successfully prosecuted former Navajo Nation Chairman Peter MacDonald and other tribal officials 20 years ago has been named to succeed Alan Balaran as the Nation’s special prosecutor. Deputy Attorney General Dana Bobroff announced Thursday that the Special Division of Window Rock District Court appointed the nationally prominent Rothstein Law Firm to continue the investigations into Navajo Nation Council delegates’ use of discretionary funds, alleged crimes by tribal officials involved in contracts or payments to OnSat Network Communications and BCDS Manufacturing, the tribal ranch program and other matters assigned to the Special Division.
US News & World Report, in its 2010 ranking of “Best Law Firms,” gave the Rothstein Law Firm (Rothstein, Donatelli, Hughes, Dahlstrom, Schoenburg & Bienvenu LLP) the highest possible ratings both nationally and regionally.
Though Bobroff was not at liberty to release the name of Balaran’s successor when asked Wednesday, she said she thought the Navajo people would be reassured by the Special Division’s choice.
The Rothstein Law Firm was the first firm ever retained by the Special Division as special prosecutor. Balaran was notified a little more than a month ago by the three-judge Special Division that his contract would not be renewed.
“Mr. Balaran has graciously agreed to assist with the transition of the special prosecutor cases prior to beginning his new assignment with the federal court,” Bobroff stated in the press release. Balaran received his sixth appointment in August to serve as U.S. District Court special master for victims of the 1983 Beirut Marine barracks bombing.
Asked Thursday about his successor, Balaran said, “The firm comes with a superlative reputation.”
The firm’s Richard W. Hughes and Eric N. Dahlstrom, both of whom have been members of the Navajo Nation Bar Association for at least 30 years, will lead the special prosecutor investigations.
Hughes, whose office is in Santa Fe, started the firm’s Indian law practice. Prior to becoming a partner in September 1988, he spent eight years in legal service on the Navajo Nation and was a lead attorney in the MacDonald prosecutions, according to the firm’s website. His areas of practice include Indian law and civil litigation.
Dalhstrom, whose office is in Tempe, was Navajo Nation Deputy Attorney General from 1987 through 1991 and has practiced Indian law for more than 30 years, representing tribes in Arizona and Wisconsin. His areas of practice include Indian law, natural resources and civil litigation.
“The Office of the Attorney General is fully supportive of the appointment of the Rothstein Law Firm and stays fully committed to the resolution of these matters pursuant to Navajo laws, principles and cultural values – which requires that those who are proven to have engaged in wrongdoing are held accountable,” Bobroff stated.
“The Office of the Attorney General has the utmost confidence in the Navajo Nation’s system of justice that those who have not engaged in wrongdoing will have their names cleared,” she said.
Nearly a year ago, on Oct. 20, 2010, former Navajo Nation Attorney General Louis Denetsosie announced that Balaran had filed criminal charges against more than 70 of the 88 delegates from the 21st Navajo Nation Council. The charges alleged conspiracy, fraud, forgery, abuse of office and theft of funds ranging from a low of $650 to a high of $279,175.
This past May, after being stymied in his efforts to prosecute the cases, Balaran filed a plan with the Navajo Nation Supreme Court to streamline the court process by withdrawing the outstanding criminal complaints without prejudice – meaning they can be refiled – against all but a few defendants.
In place of the criminal complaints, around the end of July Balaran filed a single civil complaint charging more than 80 current and former Navajo Nation officials with breach of fiduciary duty, including Denetsosie and current Attorney General Harrison Tsosie, who has formally delegated all his responsibilities concerning the special prosecutor to Bobroff.
10/11/2011 The New York Times: Groups Sue After E.P.A. Fails to Shift Ozone Rules JOHN M. BRODER: WASHINGTON — Five health and environmental groups sued the Obama administration on Tuesday over its rejection of a proposed stricter new standard for ozone pollution, saying the decision was driven by politics and ignored public health concerns. The groups said that President Obama’s refusal to adopt the new standard was illegal and left in place an inadequate air quality rule from the Bush administration. Near the end of his presidency, George W. Bush overruled the Environmental Protection Agency’s scientific advisory panel and set the permissible ozone exposure at 75 parts per billion.
The current E.P.A. administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, wanted to set the standard at 70 parts per billion, near the maximum level recommended by the advisory panel. But President Obama rejected that proposal on Sept. 2, saying that compliance would be too costly and create too much regulatory uncertainty for industry. He ordered the E.P.A. to conduct further scientific studies and come up with a new proposal in 2013.
The decision infuriated environmental groups, who called it a betrayal, but cheered business leaders, who said that the ozone rule was one of the most onerous of the administration’s proposed environmental regulations.
The E.P.A. said last month that it would adopt the Bush-era standard and work toward tightening it in the future. The five groups that sued — Earthjustice, the American Lung Association, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Appalachian Mountain Club and the Environmental Defense Fund — said that was not adequate and asked a federal court in Washington to review the administration’s action.
“The rejection of stronger standards was illegal and irresponsible, in our view,” said David Baron, a lawyer for Earthjustice. “Instead of protecting people’s lungs as the law requires, this administration based its decision on politics, leaving tens of thousands of Americans at risk of sickness and suffering.”
The same groups had sued the Bush administration over its ozone policy, but agreed to suspend the suit when the Obama administration came to office and promised to reconsider the Bush standard. That reconsideration was delayed several times before finally being killed by the president last month.
Ground-level ozone is the main ingredient in smog, which is linked to premature deaths, heart attacks and lung ailments, including childhood asthma.
The standard rejected by Mr. Obama would have thrown hundreds of counties out of compliance with air quality regulations and imposed costs of $19 billion to $25 billion, according to E.P.A. estimates. But the resulting health benefits would have been $13 billion to $37 billion, the agency calculated.
Vision Ministry of America volunteers Jonathan Yazzie, right, and Marvin Begaye, work on putting the finishing touches on the roof of the hogan Sept. 22 in Lukachukai, Ariz: 9/29/2011 Navajo Times: A Helping Hand: Ministry builds hogans to help elderly, family in need By Alastair Lee Bitsoi: To help address the housing shortage on the Navajo Nation, Vision Ministry of America has decided to build hogans for those in need.
With the help of 28 volunteers from Tennessee and Texas, the ministry coordinated a mission to construct three hogans at a total cost of $9,000 in the communities of Cove, Lukachukai and Red Valley. Vision Ministry is based in Azle, Texas, outside Fort Worth, and is supported through a network of individuals and an association of churches.
“There is a need out there for elderly, handicapped, and single-parent families as far as housing is concerned,” said Norman Begay, a contract compliance officer with the Navajo Area Agency on Aging.
Begay said the recipients of the new hogans were identified based on a needs assessment conducted by his agency, which helped determine the housing need for elderly, disabled, and single parent family populations.
Based on the standards used, Begay said, Betty Mae Joe of Cove, Charles Morgan of Red Valley, and Shawna Yazzie of Lukachukai were selected. Joe and Morgan are elders while Yazzie is a single parent with six children.
Begay, a community leader and member of Lukachukai Community Church, said he coordinated the projects with Ray Benally of Red Valley, who reached out to local churches in Cove and Red Valley to identify Joe and Morgan.
“I just left it up to the churches,” Benally said, explaining that contact with Vision Ministry occurred this past spring through Danny Migil, a petroleum engineer and consultant with Northern Oil and Gas of Houston, which drills oil and gas fields in the Red Valley area.
Benally is a lease operator for Northern Oil and Gas in Red Valley.
Once needs were identified, the ministry and the local churches went to work.
Mike Helton, pastor and president of Vision Ministry, said it was the first time the group ever built hogans, which was a learning experience in itself.
“I knew it was traditional, and I knew that it was round and knew the door opened toward the east – toward the rising of the sun – the same way the kivas are made,” Helton said. “We wanted to stay as close to tradition as we could.”
Helton said two Navajo Christians – Marvin Begay and Jonathan Yazzie – helped explain both the construction methods and the significance of the hogan design.
The three hogans, which are different sizes, are eight-sided wooden structures bolted to a concrete foundation, and have double-pane windows and heavy-gauge doors.
“It’s plenty good enough, if I had the opportunity I would like to have one myself,” Helton said. “We didn’t use anything cheap nor did we try to cut any corners.”
It took four days of intensive labor for the ministry to build them.
“”We’re really proud of all three houses, they are going to make good houses,” Helton said, adding that it’s important for local chapter governments to be involved in building foundations for more hogans.
Before coming to the Navajo Nation, Helton said he was not sure if the people would welcome him and his ministry members into their communities because of their “lighter” skin, but that certainly was not the case.
He was not shocked by conditions on the Navajo Nation, however, explaining that he grew up with poverty in the Appalachians.
“Norman identified the needs,” added Kyle Beverly, who pastors the Potter’s House Fellowship Church in Harriman, Tenn. “We just want to help people in need.”
Helping improve the lives of people through the construction of homes is nothing new for Beverly and his church, which built the Tennessee Baptist Children’s Home in Oakdale, Tenn., March 21-26 for an episode of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”
Beverly said his church sponsored fundraisers, including donations from church members, bake sales and a golf tournament, in Tennessee to generate funds to build Yazzie’s hogan.
“We wanted to change their lives and give them something they may not have got on their own, and share the love of Christ,” Beverly said, adding that nine members of his church participated in this mission trip. “We raise a lot of money for missions.”
The Potter’s House Fellowship Church has built missions overseas including in Brazil, China, Jamaica, Kenya and Mexico.
“Were honored to be here, so honored,” Helton said. “We like it here and we’ll be back.”
Begay said the work of the ministry could not have come at a better time because the Navajo Area Agency on Aging has depleted its annual funding to help its target population, Navajo elders. The budget year ends Friday, Sept. 30.
In addition to building the hogans, Vision Ministry brought 3,000 winter coats, 1,000 bags containing personal hygiene items, 4,000 pounds of rice and beans, and 33 plastic barrels for water storage.
“There’s no one in the organization that won’t give or won’t work to help someone,” Helton said. “They’re all pretty special people.”
“The three hogans, which are different sizes, are eight-sided wooden structures bolted to a concrete foundation, and have double-pane windows and heavy-gauge doors. “It’s plenty good enough, if I had the opportunity I would like to have one myself,” Helton said.
“We didn’t use anything cheap nor did we try to cut any corners.” It took four days of intensive labor for the ministry to build them. “”We’re really proud of all three houses, they are going to make good houses,” Helton said, adding that it’s important for local chapter governments to be involved in building foundations for more hogans.
Before coming to the Navajo Nation, Helton said he was not sure if the people would welcome him and his ministry members into their communities because of their “lighter” skin, but that certainly was not the case. He was not shocked by conditions on the Navajo Nation, however, explaining that he grew up with poverty in the Appalachians. “Norman identified the needs,” added Kyle Beverly, who pastors the Potter’s House Fellowship Church in Harriman, Tenn.
“We just want to help people in need.” Helping improve the lives of people through the construction of homes is nothing new for Beverly and his church, which built the Tennessee Baptist Children’s Home in Oakdale, Tenn., March 21-26 for an episode of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” Beverly said his church sponsored fundraisers, including donations from church members, bake sales and a golf tournament, in Tennessee to generate funds to build Yazzie’s hogan.
“We wanted to change their lives and give them something they may not have got on their own, and share the love of Christ,” Beverly said, adding that nine members of his church participated in this mission trip. “We raise a lot of money for missions.” The Potter’s House Fellowship Church has built missions overseas including in Brazil, China, Jamaica, Kenya and Mexico. “Were honored to be here, so honored,” Helton said. “We like it here and we’ll be back.”
Begay said the work of the ministry could not have come at a better time because the Navajo Area Agency on Aging has depleted its annual funding to help its target population, Navajo elders. The budget year ends Friday, Sept. 30. In addition to building the hogans, Vision Ministry brought 3,000 winter coats, 1,000 bags containing personal hygiene items, 4,000 pounds of rice and beans, and 33 plastic barrels for water storage.
“There’s no one in the organization that won’t give or won’t work to help someone,” Helton said. “They’re all pretty special people.”
10/10/2011 Navajo Times: Court orders protects documents, Balaran ends job: ‘going fishing’ By Bill Donovan, Special to the Times: Alan Balaran, who stepped down as special prosecutor on Friday, stirred up a hornet’s nest with his court filings over concerns for financial documents housed in Administration Building No. 1. It’s an issue that seemingly didn’t want to die even after Window Rock District Court Judge Carol Perry ruled in a hearing on Sept. 26 that no documents could be removed from the building. Last Friday, Perry issued a formal order saying no documents could be taken out of the building or destroyed without the court’s permission.
Tribal attorneys were still saying that Balaran was wasting the court’s time since no one was making plans to destroy any of the documents, despite a president’s office press release issued two weeks before saying that because of the closing of the building suspicions of mold, documents were going to be scanned and then destroyed.
The president’s office issued a press release the day after the Sept. 26 hearing stating that information on the earlier press release was incorrect.
“All documents will be preserved according to Navajo Nation, federal or any other pertinent entities’ record retention policies and procedures and any other applicable law,” the release states.
Tribal officials at the Sept. 26 hearing had stated that because environmental officials were saying that it may be six months or more before the building could be re-opened, some employees wanted to get documents they would need to keep their offices running.
With Perry’s order last Friday, tribal officials will now have to get the court’s permission before any of these documents could be removed from the building.
As for Balaran, he said on Friday that he still feels his efforts to protect the records – some of which are needed in his civil prosecution of former and present tribal officials for misuse of discretionary funds – was justified.
He said he saw videos and has transcripts of meetings in which tribal officials responsible for investigating the possibility of mold in the building talked about the destruction of tribal documents after they were scanned.
He said he felt he had no recourse but to get the court order to make sure that whoever is appointed to replace him has the evidence they need to prosecute the case.
Balaran was still hoping for the court to appoint a special master to oversee the safety of the hundreds of thousands of financial records being stored in the building but Perry has not agreed to this request.
Assistant Attorney General Paul Spruhan, in a memo filed with the court last week, agreed that such a master was not needed and adding that the incident management team overseeing work in the building has the expertise to make sure that all of the documents are protected.
“The team demonstrated at the hearing (on Sept. 26) that it is acting with the utmost integrity and professionalism with no ulterior motive concerning the merits of the current civil case filed by the special prosecutor,” he said.
Despite the fact that the tribe currently has no special prosecutor, the civil case against 77 members of the previous Council, former president Joe Shirley Jr., Controller Mark Grant, former attorney general Louis Denetsosie and current attorney general Harrison Tsosie continues.
It will be up to whoever is appointed the new special prosecutor to decide whether to proceed with the case, change the civil suit back to criminal cases or go in a different direction.
Officials for the attorney general’s office have continued to hold meetings with the special district of the court set up to oversee the operations of the special prosecutor.
Perry noted that officials for the attorney general’s office had indicated that a new special prosecutor may be appointed as early as this week. If that doesn’t happen, she said she wanted a written report submitted to her by Oct. 7 to give a progress report.
As for Balaran, asked what his plans are now that he is no longer special prosecutor, a job he held for 18 months, he said, “I’m going fishing.”