Tag Archives: Navajo Rehabilitation Trust Fund

9/28/2011 Navajo Times: Mold is suspect in building closure

9/28/2011 Navajo Times: Mold is suspect in building closure By Noel Lyn Smith: Potentially harmful mold inside the tribe’s Administration Building No. 1 has sent approximately 200 tribal employees packing. The building, which houses the Division of Finance, was ordered closed “indefinitely” on Sept. 9 by the Navajo Nation Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which enforces federal and tribal workplace safety laws.

Last Friday about 30 employees stood outside Admin No. 1 with empty boxes, waiting for Incident Management Team members to retrieve documents from the building.

Each department was asked to provide a priority list of essential documents needing retrieval.

A female employee who declined to identify herself said she smelled a “glue like” substance days before the closure. Other employees declined to comment and referred questions to the Incident Management Team.

Before entering the building, retrieval team members dressed in white protective suits and sterile gloves.

A clean room was set up inside and the requested items were brought into that room for decontamination before being removed from the building.

Incident Management Team members returned to the site Monday to continue the remediation process.

NOSHA Director Patrick Sandoval said the investigation and subsequent closure of the building was prompted by complaints from employees.

“It’s the employee’s right to have a safe working environment but it’s the employer’s responsibility to provide that environment,” Sandoval said.

This is the second time the building was closed due to mold in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, where mold spores can be sprayed into the air and inhaled by occupants. The first closure was Sept. 1-5.

As crucial documents were being retrieved last week, Dave Nez with the tribe’s Public Health Emergency Preparedness Office explained that an independent Arizona state-certified microbiologist collected samples to analyze and the results will be released to the Incident Management Team.

Nez said the building had water stains on interior walls and some inside paneling showed signs of bacteria or fungus growth. The mold, which can cause severe respiratory problems, thrives in dark, damp conditions.

Based on assessment reports, a large contributor to the problem is the declining condition of the roof and seepage of moisture into the building, according to an Incident Management Team press release.

The exact age of the building is unknown by most officials estimate it is about 30 years old. It has a history of problems, including a waterline break in 2007 that caused significant water damage.

Executive Office Communications Director Laphillda Tso said Tuesday that the test results had not been released. After they are received the Incident Management Team will determine how to remediate the building, she said, adding that an update on the situation was expected Wednesday.

Potential hazard

Mold colonies can start to grow on a damp surface within 24 to 48 hours and reproduce by releasing tiny spores that float through the air until landing in other locations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mold will continue to grow until steps are taken to eliminate the source of moisture and kill the existing colony.

Only certain molds are toxigenic, which means they can produce toxins but are not toxic by themselves.

It is the mold’s ability to destroy organic material that makes it a health problem for people.

Typical symptoms reported from mold exposure include respiratory problems, nasal and sinus congestion or coughing, irritation to the eyes, nose, throat or skin, headaches and body pains.

Individual with existing respiratory conditions, infants, children, pregnant women, and the elderly are at higher risks for adverse health effects, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

There is no way to eliminate mold but it can be kept to a minimum by preventing moisture from collecting inside. Water seepage, whether from an old roof, leaking pipe, or poor drainage, should never be ignored. Fix leaks immediately and dry out the area that got wet.

No routine inspections

“The Navajo Nation is obligated and liable for upkeep and maintenance services to ensure a safe and healthy work environment for its employees,” according to information posted on the Division of General Services Web site.

However, the tribe does not conduct routine inspections on tribal buildings, said Facilities Management Department Manager Marcus Tulley. Tulley’s department provides repairs and maintenance services to 625 tribal-owned facilities across the Navajo Nation.

Tulley said his department does maintenance service on buildings but only when an employee reports a problem or if an order is issued by NOSHA, the Office of Environmental Health, or the Safety and Loss Control Program.

Information about the closure of Administration Building No. 1 is posted at the building’s entrances in addition to copies of the order of closure.

Programs relocated

The programs housed there have been relocated as follows:

* Most of the controller’s office is now operating out of the Dine Education Center auditorium.
* The Credit Services Department is located at the Ethics and Rules conference room.
* Both the Cashier’s Department and some Accounts Payable staff have relocated to Property Management Department in Fort Defiance.
* Most of the Office of Management and Budget is housed in the Department of Information Technology, but OMB’s Contracts and Grants section is located at the Department of Behavioral Health Services conference room in Administration Building No. 2.
* Administration staff for the Division of General Services is in the Department of Information Technology.
* The Insurances Services Department, and Employee Benefits and Workers Compensation programs are located at the Safety Loss Control Program office inside the Navajo Nation Shopping Center.
* Risk Management is located at the Navajo Nation Museum.
* The Design and Engineering Services Program is located at the Division of Community Development conference room in Administration Building No. 2 but the project management staff is located at the Rural Addressing Office at Navajo Nation Shopping Center.
* The Department of Personnel Management is located at the Training Center.

Most departments have retained the same telephone number and people may call them, or the president’s office, for location information, Tso said. The president’s office also instructed KTNN to announce the relocations.

“We asked them to send out information daily because it’s public information and to relieve the stress on the public that comes out to these departments,” she said.

The building may be closed, but shuttering the Division of Finance was never an option, said Herman Shorty, director of the Office of Environmental Health.

“That’s the heartbeat of the Navajo Nation,” he said. “Everything that is key to the Navajo Nation is associated with that building, so you can’t close down operations.”

Related

Balaran gets court order to protect documents

Rehab fund spending report released: Report details how money intended for victims of the Bennett Freeze, in the Navajo-Hopi land dispute, was spent.

New special prosecutor to replace Balaran: Announcement expected within 10 days.

9/28/2011 Navajo Times: Rehab fund spending report released

Rehab fund spending report released Report details how money intended for victims of the Bennett Freeze, in the Navajo-Hopi land dispute, was spent. 9/28/2011 Navajo Times: Rehab fund spending report release By Noel Lyn Smith: WINDOW ROCK: The Navajo Nation’s Department of Justice has finally produced a draft summary of the accounting record for the Navajo Rehabilitation Trust Fund. Nine months after being ordered to do so, DOJ submitted the document during a Sept. 21 hearing for the lawsuit filed by the Forgotten People and 12 other individuals who are suing the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission to learn how money has been spent from the fund, which was established by Congress to benefit residents of the former Bennett Freeze and Hopi Partitioned Land.

As their name suggests, the Forgotten People contend that the assistance their region was promised in the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute settlement has failed to materialize, and they suspect the money may have been misspent.

Henry Howe, a DOJ attorney representing the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission, submitted an eight-page report that shows trust fund expenditures from 1990 to 2009 that went toward projects on the former Bennett Freeze area, New Lands, Navajo Partitioned Land and Hopi Partitioned Land.

The report also shows amounts Congress appropriated for land purchases and federal appropriation amounts from 1990 to 1995.

“This information provided to plaintiffs demonstrates good faith on behalf of the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission Office,” Howe said, speaking before a courtroom packed with spectators.

When plaintiffs filed their civil complaint in 2010, they asked for a full account of all income, expenses, profits, losses, assets and other financial matters for which the tribe, the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission and the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission Office have responsibility.

Window Rock District Court Judge T.J. Holgate asked Howe why it took months to produce the report after the court issued an order in January.

Howe explained that it took time to locate accounting documents and it was especially difficult for the office to locate the first five years of records.

Sitting with Howe were Navajo-Hopi Land Commission Chair Lorenzo Curley (Houck/Klagetoh/Nahata Dziil/Tsé si’án’/Wide Ruins) and Navajo-Hopi Land Commission Office Director Raymond Maxx and Deputy Director Thomas Benally.

James Zion, attorney for the Forgotten People, asked Holgate for time to examine the record since it was handed to him shortly before the hearing started.

Holgate granted Zion 30 days to review the document and to submit any written responses or questions.

The judge also ordered both parties to continue discussing the issue before the next hearing date in January.

In an impromptu meeting at Veterans Memorial Park after the hearing, Zion told the group that this was just a start.

“Today we had a victory for the Forgotten People,” Zion said to the group of about 30 people.

This document is a start in addressing the issue of when the money was received, how much was received and how it was spent, he said.

Forgotten People member Grace Smith Yellowhammer said it took a long time to obtain this financial record but the group will continue fighting until the issue is completely resolved.

“I want to see these elders win,” she said.

9/24/2011 Gallup Independent: Court halts NN mold cleanup

9/24/2011 Gallup Independent: Court halts NN mold cleanup  By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau: WINDOW ROCK – At the request of Special Prosecutor Alan Balaran, District Court Judge Carol Perry issued a temporary restraining order Friday afternoon temporarily halting cleanup of black mold at Administration Building One until after a hearing Monday. Balaran filed a motion for a temporary restraining order, application for preliminary injunction and appointment of a special master at 1 p.m. Friday. He alleged that the building, which is the principal storehouse for the Navajo Nation’s financial documents, has been declared an environmental hazard.

“Locks have been replaced on all the doors and the financial records of the people are being removed and are slated to be destroyed,” he said.

No environmental hazards have been circulated confirming the ostensibly deadly mold that is supposedly infecting the building; no federal or state organizations have verified any findings or have generated any reports which would shed light on the gravity of the situation and propose realistic solutions, he said.

In addition, the effort to destroy all financial documents is spearheaded by Patrick Sandoval, former chief of staff to former Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr., who is named in a civil complaint filed by the special prosecutor alleging breach of fiduciary duty during his presidency. Also named are more than 80 current and former Navajo Nation officials.

“Mr. Sandoval’s intimate involvement is of particular concern in light of the fact that he was named by three law firms as being a central player in the alleged criminal actions involving the Nation and OnSat, the E-Rate Program and BCDS,” Balaran said. “The timing of the proposed destruction appears particularly coincidental – coming on the heels of the Special Prosecutor’s imminent departure.”

Destruction of the records would make it virtually impossible for a new special prosecutor to pinpoint those involved in any of the alleged events cited in the special prosecutor’s complaints. The loss of records also would place the new special prosecutor “in the untenable position of being unable to subpoena any records with the assurance that he or she had received all that was available only weeks earlier,” he said.

The Navajo Nation’s governmental staff has not been apprised of how the Nation intends to inventory, store, and scan all records removed from the Administration Building, and documents received to date indicate there is no plan, according to Balaran.

“Indeed, the one outside company with whom the Nation has contracted to assist with the assessment of environmental contamination, ‘Environmental Consultant, Inc.’ is not licensed to do business in either New Mexico or Arizona.”

Laura Johnson, a manager with the Office of the Controller, stated in an affidavit that around Aug. 31, the entire staff in the Administration Building were informed that the Nation intended to close the building and clean it, beginning Sept. 2 due to “mold.”

On Sept. 6, financial personnel were allowed to return to work. “It was noted some of the staff items were moved out of its usual area,” she stated.

On Sept. 8, staff were told the building still had a mold issue and would be closed again beginning Sept. 9, with no definite date of reopening. “We were advised to take what we could since we may not be allowed back in for weeks,” Johnson said.

As of Sept. 20, financial personnel were informed that the building would be closed for six months to a year. “They were further informed that all documents in the building were contaminated and would be scanned and destroyed. All of the door locks were changed,” she said, adding that Sandoval was spearheading the decontamination effort.

The Office of the Controller maintains hundreds of thousands if not millions of documents supporting the Nation’s accounting needs. “Many of these documents are originals in paper form that, if lost or destroyed, cannot be duplicated,” the affidavit states.

In the order issued at 3:38 p.m., Judge Perry noted the “significant implications” to the case The Navajo Nation v. Alice W. Benally, et. al., associated with the alleged destruction of the Nation’s financial documents.

Perry said the court was aware that Balaran had been trying to obtain various financial documents during his investigation and tenure as special prosecutor. She said the court must consider whether the procedures currently in place are adequate to protect the Nation’s financial records as they relate to the ongoing case.

“As such, the Court is forced to balance the severity of the potential harm associated with the allegations of the destruction of financial documents, against the hardship that may be caused by temporarily halting Navajo Nation Occupational Safety and Health’s ongoing efforts to address mold in Administration Building One.”

Upon review, Perry granted Balaran’s temporary restraining order and set a hearing for 11 a.m. Monday on the motion for a preliminary injunction to determine whether the allegations have merit. She ordered Sandoval, incident commander Wilfred Keeto and any other Navajo Nation employees instrumental to the cleanup efforts and Operation Breathe Safe to be in attendance, with counsel, at the preliminary hearing.

Navajo Division of Public Safety was ordered to stop Navajo OSHA’s cleanup efforts, secure the premises – down to replacing the locks if necessary – and not permit any employees into the building until the court decides the pending motion. She instructed law enforcement to take any violators into custody.

During a Sept. 15 Budget and Finance Committee meeting, Controller Mark Grant stated that the building was vacant and that they were “in the process of contracting for security.”

“We don’t want anyone breaking in now and just having a good time throwing documents around. I think that would be very damaging if that happened. Our servers are still in the building and we don’t want anybody messing with those,” Grant said.

9/23/2011 Gallup Independent: Forgotten People gets first list of expenditures in accounting suit

Show me the money Glenna Begay (left), Leta O’Daniel and Lena Nez traveled to Window Rock Wednesday for a district court hearing on Navajo Rehabilitation Trust Fund monies. 9/23/2011 Gallup Independent: Forgotten People gets first list of expenditures in accounting suit By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau: WINDOW ROCK – The grassroots group Forgotten People took the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission to court Wednesday and compelled the disclosure of how federal trust fund monies were spent.

In response to an accounting lawsuit filed in August 2010 by their attorney, James W. Zion of Albuquerque, Navajo Nation Assistant Attorney General Henry Howe turned over eight pages of information pertaining to how the Land Commission spent Navajo Rehabilitation Trust Fund monies designed to help Navajos displaced by the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute.

The trust fund was established by Congress in 1974 for improvement of the economic, educational and social condition of families and Navajo communities affected by the division of the former Navajo-Hopi Joint Use Area.

Approximately 30 members of the Forgotten People, most of them elderly, traveled three hours or more from Western Navajo Agency to Window Rock District Court for the hearing before Judge T.J. Holgate.

Howe said the case involved hundreds of projects between 1990 and 2009, and that record-keeping was not very good in the early years of 1990-95. A draft summary showed expenditures amounted to $16.8 million and included $14,500 to a Navajo Nation Council delegate whose home had burned.

“They bought him a new house, and I’m going to ask why did that Council delegate get that house,” Zion said. “Why did he get a house when people on waiting lists didn’t get houses?” Howe asked the judge about the confidentiality of that information, however, Holgate said that as long as they were within the bounds of the law, he didn’t mind the discussion.

The judge also was firm about setting some time parameters for the attorneys due to a previous lack of dialog on the part of the Navajo Nation. Howe said the parties had not met because he had just been given the information. “We have given a draft summary of receipts for Mr. Zion to share with his clients and we believe this demonstrates more than a good-faith effort on the part of the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission,” he said.

Howe also offered to have all documents together by November, and to make a presentation between December and April to all chapters impacted by the trust fund.

Holgate gave the attorneys from October to December to exchange information and said he will set another hearing for January. The attorneys are to present a joint report to the judge 10 days prior to the hearing outlining what they have done.

The Navajo-Hopi Land Commission was represented at the hearing by Raymond Maxx, executive director; Lorenzo Curley, chairman; and Thomas Benally.

“The people that were here, they’re the very reason why we’re here ourselves,” Maxx said. “We serve them and they need to be more comfortable on how we handle and do things.” It takes a lot of personnel time to account for numbers, he said, and having Administration Building 1, which houses the financial section, closed due to black mold, has not helped.

“We rely on the Division of Finance for some of our numbers. When we ask for information, it takes a long time and sometimes they’re not the same, depending on who you talk to; so I hope the Nation really takes a look at funding our Finance Department adequately to where we’re accountable.”

Curley said that when he became a commission member in 2005, they were already buying property for the purpose of commerce. Back in the early 1980s, the Navajo Nation was looking at Paragon Ranch as a source of coal, and a decision was made to go after that property using Relocation funds to acquire it. Subsequently, the Nation abandoned that plan.

“Now we have thousands of acres over there, we can’t really use it for anything. My view is we’ve got to salvage this situation in some way. One of the ways that we’re looking at is to use the property for solar. There has been some talk about coal gasification and some investors have been talking with the officials about that, but we haven’t seen anything develop from that yet,” he said.

At a meeting with the Forgotten People at Veterans Park following the hearing, Zion elaborated on the court’s action.

“When Congress told the Navajo Tribe that it could take out so much land in New Mexico and so much land in Arizona, there’s a thing in there that says that any time the Navajo Nation gets that land, it is to be used for the benefit of Navajos who have not yet been relocated. What that means is Rena Babbitt Lane (who lives on HPL) owns the Twin Arrows Casino!” Zion said.

Regarding Paragon Ranch near Farmington, he said some of the relocatees went to look at the land and talked about getting homes there, but “what really happened was the Navajo Nation picked that land because of the coal, and they were going to make a whole bunch of money selling coal to the power plant.”

Congress, when it authorized $10 million a year for six years to help the Navajos that were affected by the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute, also stipulated that the Navajo Nation had to repay that money to the United States, Zion said.

“The Congress of the United States created these two trusts. The Secretary of the Interior is responsible to oversee the trust. Where is the oversight? You’ve got another situation exactly like the Cobell case, and I’m wondering if the United States is not looking over the Navajo Nation’s shoulder to make sure you folks are treated right in all this,” he said.

Vice President Rex Lee Jim joined the Forgotten People as they sat under the trees near the statue of the Navajo Code Talker and was immediately bombarded with questions and concerns. He extended an invitation to the people to be open and honest, and to meet with him so they can work together on issues such as health, housing and water.

Edith Holmes, a U.S. military veteran from Tuba City, told Jim, “We’ve made the sacrifices. The people need to have their needs addressed. Now we hear that a casino is being built and they’re going to get the necessary amenities – infrastructure like running water and things like that – and we don’t get nothing.” When her home burned she came to Window Rock for assistance, she said. “We just get the run-around.”

Leta O’Daniel, who lives on Hopi Partitioned Land at Big Mountain, asked for Jim’s help. “All the roads to the windmills where the waters are, are all washed out,” she said. “We can’t go get water, we can’t get things we need to keep our lives moving forward, so I’m here to plead on behalf of my people. There’s many needs that need to be addressed on HPL.”

Norris Nez, a medicine man whose family once had a farm plot in Sand Springs before they were fenced off from the water sources by Hopi, said there are many other issues besides the land dispute that are affecting the people. “Water is being given away … Why aren’t you protecting those resources that are vital for the life of the people?

“The people hear a recurring theme – ‘No money,’” he said. “Because of that and problems with leadership, it feels like the lights are dimming and going out on us on the west end.”

Grace Smith Yellowhammer of Teesto said many of the youth have been made homeless by Relocation, and have turned to drugs and alcohol while living in border towns. She pleaded with Jim to make a difference. “Please, take care of our youth. One day they’re going to be like us. We don’t want them to come over here and start begging.”

9/15/2011 Navajo Times: Forgotten People seeking DOJ report

9/15/2011 Navajo Times: Forgotten People seeking DOJ report By Noel Lyn Smith: A court hearing has been set for the lawsuit filed by the Forgotten People and 12 other individuals seeking an accounting of the Navajo Rehabilitation Trust Fund. A pretrial conference is scheduled Wednesday, Sept. 21, at 1:30 p.m. before Judge T.J. Holgate in Window Rock District Court. The focus will be on a report the Navajo Nation Department of Justice was supposed to produce on the fund accounting, but has not yet, said a lawyer for the plaintiffs. The trust fund was established by Congress to benefit residents of the former Bennett Freeze and Hopi Partitioned Land. These funds, including accrued interest or investment income, are made available to the tribe “solely for purposes which will contribute to the continuing rehabilitation and improvement of the economic, educational and social condition of families and Navajo communities” affected by various events of the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute.

Money for the trust fund comes from federal appropriations and from money generated by surface and mineral interests in Paragon Ranch, located in northwest New Mexico.

James Zion, attorney for the Forgotten People, said his clients want to know the trust fund’s balance, how much has been spent, and what projects any money was allocated to.

The Forgotten People are residents of the former Bennett Freeze Area and is an association of survivors of the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute.

Both the account balance and expenditures have never been fully disclosed, Zion said.

The group continues to question the use of $7.4 million from the trust fund to purchase a 405-acre tract of land east of Flagstaff for the Twin Arrows Navajo Resort Casino.

In their civil complaint filed in 2010, plaintiffs asked for an accounting of all income, expenses, profits, losses, assets and other financial matters for which the tribe, the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission and the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission Office have responsibility.

This is the second time a pretrial hearing has been scheduled.

The first pretrial conference was in January, where it was decided that the Navajo Nation’s Department of Justice would produce a report on the accounting actions of the trust fund, but that report was not made, Zion said.

“We’re hoping to move things forward on Wednesday,” he added.

The Forgotten People is inviting all interested parties to attend the conference.