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Court upholds Navajo council reduction

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By Daniel Kraker

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/knau/local-knau-904884.mp3

Flagstaff, AZ – Last fall the council voted to place President Joe Shirley Junior on paid administrative leave over allegations of unethical conduct. Those allegations are still unsubstantiated. Shirley challenged the measure, and was allowed to return to office. But that decision was appealed to the supreme court. Friday Chief Justice Robert Yazzie said the Council overstepped its authority.

"Administrative leave is a term used in employer-employee relationships. That can't be used in this situation, because the president is not an employee of the council."

The Supreme Court also upheld a special election in December where Navajo people voted overwhelmingly to reduce the size of the council from 88 members to 24. President Shirley had championed the ballot initiative for years, and called the court decision a victory for the people.

"For the first time in the history of Navajo people, the people are beginning to enact laws they want. It is the people who have won, proving that they are the governing body and that is the way it should be. The government is by the people and for the people, it is taking time, but we are bringing it around."

The Navajo Supreme Court also issued a third ruling Friday. The justices struck down an attempt by the Tribal Council to limit the courts' use of traditional tribal laws known as "Dine fundamental law" in making decisions.

The court's rulings Friday were announced in a park in the Navajo capitol of Window Rock. It was the first time the justices relayed their decision to an audience, instead of simply issuing a written ruling.