Tribal Council puts leader of Navajo Nation on suspension
by Dennis Wagner - Oct. 27, 2009 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic
Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. was placed on administrative leave Monday by the Tribal Council, escalating a power struggle on America's largest Native American reservation.
Shirley, who has promoted a December ballot measure that would dramatically reduce the number of council members, said he has no idea why he was removed. Six top members of Shirley's executive staff also were referred for investigation.
Last week, the council received two independent reports concerning Shirley's dealings with contractors who provide satellite and wireless services to the tribe, and a third report about a loan agreement. Joshua Lavar Butler, communications director for the Tribal Council, said Shirley received summaries but was not advised of specific allegations.
"There's no presumption of innocence. There's a presumption of guilt," said George Hardeen, a spokesman for Shirley. "Nobody has said that he's done anything criminal. The worst that I've heard is that he's accused of an ethics violation."
Navajo Attorney General Louis Denetsosie has been directed to consider hiring a special prosecutor to look into possible ethical, civil and criminal charges, Butler said. He has 60 days to decide.
Last week, Hardeen said, the council rejected a resolution to fire the attorney general because he refused to hire a special prosecutor in 2004 to investigate other allegations against Shirley.
The Navajo Nation covers portions of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah and has a population estimated at 250,000. Shirley, 61, took office in 2003.
The council voted 48-22 to transfer Shirley's duties to Vice President Ben Shelly. A news release issued by Butler said Shirley was suspended in part to prevent him from "obstructing or otherwise interfering with the investigation and possible prosecution."
Hardeen said he believes the suspension was politically motivated; Shirley has promoted two December ballot measures that would dilute the Tribal Council's power. One initiative would reduce the Council size from 88 members to 24. The other would give the Navajo president line-item veto authority.
Butler said the investigations had been in the works for several years.
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