Members of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission (NNHRC) attended the September 1 meeting of the San Juan County Commission to express concern about voting rights in San Juan County.
Leonard Gorman, the Executive Director of the NNHRC and Lauren Benally, a policy analyst, said they are concerned about the county policy to hold elections by mail-in only ballot.
Gorman said it was too late to respond to the new policy by the time they became aware of the procedure last year. And, he added, now the primary election for 2015 has been held in the same manner.
Gorman said he is concerned that the policy can be used as a way to screen voters. He backed up this claim by saying he had polled the post office on the reservation and was told that a lot of ballots were thrown away in the garbage at the post office.
Gorman said he mailed postcards from two county facilities back to himself in Window Rock, AZ. He reports that the mail from the Montezuma Creek Post Office was not postmarked until it reached Provo, UT and the mail from Navajo Mountain was postmarked in Phoenix, AZ.
Gorman said this is proof that ballots could be received and not counted, as the postmark would indicate they were not mailed timely, when that may not actually have been the case.
Gorman added that the Utah Navajo Commission passed a resolution, along with one local chapter council, which denounced the vote-by-mail process for the reservation.
Gorman said that at one meeting he attended, a San Juan School Board member said the process is not good for Anglos either, for many of the same reasons.
As a conclusion of his statement, Gorman asked that three items be reversed immediately, including:
1. The Language Assistance Program for citizens needs to be reinstated as part of the election process.
2. Eliminate closure of the polling places, because it necessitates traveling a great distance to cast a ballot at the one open polling place in Monticello.
3. Mailing out ballots, as many are returned as not deliverable and many are thrown away.
Commissioners said that none of the actions could be taken at the meeting because it was a work meeting and it was not an agenda item.
Gorman then requested election reports for the past three elections from the Clerk’s office, so he could have comparative data to determine what all of the issues might be.
Commissioner Bruce Adams said this was the first he had heard about the Utah Navajo Commission passing a resolution regarding mail-in ballots. Adams also wants it known that he never intended to impede any rights of anyone.
Commissioners Adams and Phil Lyman said they would look at all the data and make a decision when Commissioner Rebecca Benally was present, so they would have the benefit of her input.
In other business at the September 1 Commission meeting, Monte Perkins received the support of the commission to send letters to property owners from the weed board for areas where weeds are out of control, and the owners have previously been notified. Perkins will provide a copy of the first notice so land owners can see what the process is.
There are thousands of miles of roads (some called trails) in San Juan County. County employees Nick Sandberg and John Fellmeth wanted direction from the commission regarding which roads to include on the county Travel Plan. These would also be put on the Public Land Initiative proposal. They said some of the roads may have been developed by seismic and drilling crews and never been used for public travel.
This has been a point of discussion in Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service coordination meetings with the county. Many of the roads running through lands managed by those agencies are not included in the agency Travel Management Plans.
Fellmeth said that roads need to be elevated to the level of other resources addressed in the Public Lands Initiative bill. Adams said he agrees.
Adams would like the Travel Plan included. Lyman has concerns about trails, many of which were once roads, which do not show up on any Travel Plan. A few of the trails are included as B roads, but many others will now not accommodate a full-sized vehicle.
Sandberg brought to Commissioners the concern that the Energy Zone on the current maps overlaps the proposed National Conservation Area (NCA) on Cedar Mesa. He asked if the Commission wants that boundary moved. The preference of Lyman is to move forward with the overlap of areas.
Lyman would also like the Commission to review the language of the proposed Public Lands Initiative bill before it goes for a vote. They would like to see if county language is included in the bill.
They want the opportunity to make sure the work of the Public Lands Council is represented fairly or have the opportunity to pull their support from the bill. Lyman said he will make a written request to the congressmen.
There were multiple changes in departments, some with employee changes and some affected by changes in volunteers. Two new hires were approved, including Ben Sanchez as a heavy equipment operator and Jaimee Bailey as a new part time deputy clerk.
Shawn Begay was named to the San Juan County Public Health Board, while Sue Morrell and Dorothy Pipkin Padilla resigned leaving the board still in need of one member. This also necessitates Commissioners Lyman and Benally remaining as board members, at least for the time being.
Human Resource Director Walter Bird received approval of a new Policy and Procedures Manuals, which were updated into compliance with state law.
A letter will be given to each employee which includes the website where the manuals are available. The county will give training to the department heads, and the department heads will be asked to share that training with their staff.
The request was made again by Public Health District Director Worthy Glover for raises for two supervisors. The request was again tabled until September 15.
A request by County Recorder David Carpenter was declined until more information is provided. Carpenter seeks to begin advertising to find a replacement for Deputy Recorder Dena Hunter, who plans to retire at the end of the year.